The 2012 NFL Draft will be a big moment for the San Francisco 49ers. With the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants on the 2012 schedule, the 49ers must get their roster ready for some tough games.
Alex Smith, Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rodgers, Adam Snyder, Ahmad Brooks and Josh Morgan are all free agents this offseason. They likely will not bring them all back, which means there will be serious holes to fill.
The biggest area of need for the 49ers is a receiver who can finally give Smith a reliable target on the outside. After that, they need to add another pass-rusher, a cornerback and depth to the offensive and defensive lines.
This slide show will highlight players the 49ers need to target in order to compete with the NFL's best teams in 2012.
Wide Receiver Jeff Fuller
As mentioned, wide receiver is the 49ers' biggest need. This offseason they will have plenty of opportunities to find the primary receiver they have lacked since losing Terrell Owens.
This year's draft features a lot of talented wide receivers. Alshon Jeffery, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd should all be off the boards by the time the 49ers are selecting 30th overall.
Mohamed Sanu out of Rutgers is the next best option (should San Francisco choose to address its biggest need in the first round). At just under 6'2", Sanu is a well built target with good hands. 2011 was his best year as a receiver; he caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns. In his first two seasons, he ran the ball more than 100 times and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. With his ability to take hand-offs from the quarterback, he could replace Ted Ginn Jr. as the go-to man on their "fly sweep" play.
However, with the possibility of Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Desean Jackson all being free agents, the 49ers will likely make an offer one of these all-stars cannot refuse.
The best way for San Francisco to immediately improve its receiving corp would be to sign one of these big name free agents and then look for a talented receiver in the middle rounds. Brian Quick and Jeff Fuller are huge receivers who could immediately contribute in the redzone the way Braylon Edwards could not.
San Francisco had the best front seven in the NFL last season.
Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are equally effective at getting pressure on the quarterback as they are stopping the run. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga consistently ties up offensive linemen and allows Patrick Willis and company to fly around the box making tackles.
However, the 49ers have no depth behind them. If any of these three were to suffer a serious injury, the entire defense would suffer.
With the first pick of the draft, San Francisco should find a defensive linemen who can immediately contribute as a backup. Dontari Poe, Alameda Ta-amu and Jared Crick should all be on the 49ers' wish list heading into the draft.
Dontari Poe (6'5" 350 pounds) and Ta-amu (6'3" 341 pounds) were born to play nose tackle in the 3-4 defense. They both possess the girth and strength needed to dictate the line of scrimmage. Poe (who is a border line first rounder) and Ta-amu (who will go somewhere in the second or third round) can both fill in for Sopoaga who can either get a breather or move to defensive end to give Smith or McDonald a brief break.
Jared Crick is a defensive end built like Justin Smith. He is a relentless player who relies on his motor and strength more than technique. In any case, his strength is occupying blockers. He is projected to be picked in the first half of the second round. The 49ers could either reach for him (which would be justified because he is a perfect fit for their system) or trade their pick to a team like Jacksonville or Cleveland who need receiver.
If the 49ers are not able to resign Carlos Rodgers or find an equally talented corner in free agency, they may be forced to pick a corner with their first pick.
Morris Claiborne is the best corner in the draft and will be a Top 10 selection. After him there is a lot of debate as to who the next best corner is.
First-round worthy corners include Dre Kirkpatrick, Janoris Jenkins, Stephon Gilmore, Alfonzo Dennard, Jamell Fleming and Chase Minnifield.
If the 49ers are in need of a first round corner, Dre Kirkpatrick would be the best fit. At 6'2", he is one of the tallest corners in the draft and would give San Francisco a someone who can compete with Larry Fitzgerald for the jump ball. Due to a run in with the cops this offseason, his stock is falling. However, after he won a National Championship with Alabama, he was projected to be the second best corner in the draft.
Assuming that the 49ers are able to resign Rodgers to a short term deal, they should target Trumaine Johnson in the second or third round. He is a tall, lengthy athlete with the potential to be a shut down corner. However, he is very raw and needs a couple offseasons to fully develop.
With Ahmad Brooks looking to sign a big contract this offseason, the 49ers will likely need to find another pass-rusher off the edge.
Vinny Curry is an underrated defensive end in this years draft. He's had tremendous production in his last two seasons at Marshall collecting 23 sacks and forcing seven fumbles. At 6'3" 265 pounds, he will have to transition to outside linebacker in the 49ers 3-4 defense. His pass-rushing abilities will be expected, but he will be surprisingly effective at stopping the run. He has a knack for extending his body toward the ball carrier to make tackles when he is seemingly out of the play.
If the 49ers want Curry, they will have to reach for him with the 30th pick overall, which would be justified because he will be one of the most talented players left at the end of the first round.
Brandon Lindsey is another pass-rusher the 49ers should target. Coming out of Pittsburgh, he mainly played as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense but has experience as a stand-up pass-rusher. Because of his ability to get to the quarterback, Lindsey could be a steal in the middle rounds of the draft.
Losing Adam Snyder would be a huge blow to the 49ers' inconsistent offensive line. Not only did he overachieve this season when asked to start at right guard, but he is versatile enough to line up at any position on the offensive line.
Regardless of whether he is resigned, the 49ers need to add depth to their offensive line.
Amini Silatolu is a little known prospect out of Midwestern State (a Division II school). He was dominant in college, but his success will be overshadowed by the sub-par competition he faced. At Midwestern, he lined up at left tackle but projects to be a guard in the NFL. He is a strong player with unexpected athleticism. Silatolu is known to play "nasty" which teams generally like out of their offensive linemen as long as they can stay in control.
Silatolu is projected to be picked in the third round. This could change for better or worse depending on his performance at the NFL Combine. San Francisco will be especially interested in him because of his experience playing at tackle.
Another guard the 49ers should target is Ryan Miller out of Colorado. He has a tackles body (6'7" 326 pounds) but played guard in college. He is a late round pick who has the potential to be a versatile lineman.
Both Miller and Silatolu will not start immediately for the 49ers but are intriguing prospects with high ceilings.