49ers' 2011 Round 1 draft pick Aldon Smith
The San Francisco 49ers struck gold with their 2011 first-round draft pick, Aldon Smith. He totaled 14 quarterback sacks last season, only one-half a sack away from the all-time rookie record.
In today's NFL, with salaries skyrocketing for the top free agents on the market, it's critical for a team to have a successful draft. The 49ers got productivity with players selected throughout their most recent draft.
Third-round pick Chris Culliver was the nickelback for most of the season and fourth-round selection Kendall Hunter proved to be an explosive situational running back, as Frank Gore's understudy.
49ers' GM Trent Baalke received great value later in the draft also. Colin Jones, who was taken in the sixth round, was outstanding on special teams.
Bruce Miller, who was selected in Round 7, made a successful transition from a college defensive end to a starting NFL fullback. He supplanted veteran Moran Norris, was more effective and had a much smaller contract than Norris. Miller was one of the steals of the 2011 draft.
If second-round pick Colin Kaepernick develops into a top-flight quarterback, the 49ers will look back on the 2011 draft and consider it a grand slam. Even if Kaepernick washes out, this will still be considered a good draft for the 49ers.
The 2012 draft will be much more difficult for Baalke and the 49ers. With a record of 13-3 this past season, the 49ers will be selecting at No. 30 in Round 1 and towards the end of each subsequent round, also.
Let's take a closer look at how I see this year's draft panning out for the 49ers.
Mohamed Sanu would be an excellent pick for the 49ers
Mohamed Sanu stands 6'2'' and weighs 215 pounds. The wide receiver out of Rutgers had a monster season in 2011, with 115 receptions for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sanu is adept at catching the ball in traffic and has good hands. At his size, Sanu is strong and does a good job getting open against tight man coverage and also knows how to find the seams against a zone.
The one knock against Sanu is that he is not exceptionally fast, although the same was frequently said about Jerry Rice. Sanu is not the ideal deep threat, but the long ball is not Alex Smith's strength as a quarterback, anyway.
Sanu does have the size, strength and speed to be good after the catch. With the top three receivers in the upcoming draft, Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Floyd long-gone, the 49ers would be very pleased to land Sanu. He has the ability to step in and start right away in San Francisco.
Coby Fleener is a favorite of Jim Harbaugh
In Round 2, the 49ers should make a bold move and trade up aggressively. I really like former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener with this Round 2 selection. In order to get Fleener, the 49ers would have to trade up, probably about 25 spots.
If the 49ers were to give up their second-round pick, plus a fourth in 2012 and another fourth in 2013, I think they may be able to get a deal like this completed. If there's any way the 49ers can draft Fleener, he would be a tremendous addition to their offense.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh likes running two or three tight end sets and Fleener would excel, along with Vernon Davis. The 49ers have Delanie Walker under contract only through 2012, so Fleener would also give them some excellent insurance if Walker was to depart after this upcoming season.
Harbaugh is also a big fan of Fleener, who would have a leg up, as he already has a good understanding of the type of offense that Harbaugh likes to run.
In his last year at Stanford, Fleener caught 34 passes for 667 yards, a 19.6 yards per catch average. Fleener does not have blazing speed, but found ways to get open deep down the field, as his gaudy yards per catch would indicate. He would be a great fit for the 49ers.
The 49ers were incredibly fortunate last year as their starting defensive line sustained no serious injuries. However, when Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga did miss a game or two, there was a noticeable drop in productivity.
With Ricky Jean-Francois an adequate backup at nose tackle, the 49ers can definitely use some more depth, especially at the defensive end position. Trevor Guyton would provide that solid depth and would be a step above current reserve Demarcus Dobbs.
At Cal, Guyton, who is listed at 6'3'', 280 pounds, was their best defensive lineman. He was a good run defender and also a decent, though not spectacular pass-rusher. Guyton reminds me a lot of Justin Smith, as he plays with a lot of heart and has a non-stop motor.
Jaymes Brooks would be a good value pick in Round 5
In my mock draft, the 49ers have traded up to acquire Coby Fleener in Round 2, so they have no fourth-round selection. Therefore, in Round 5, GM Trent Baalke goes for value and selects Jaymes Brooks, a guard out of Virginia Tech.
Brooks is 6'2'', 310 pounds, not overly tall for an offensive lineman. He does have good skills, however, and could slide over to center if necessary. Brooks is fundamentally sound and is a hard worker. He is not the type of punishing blocker like Mike Iupati is, but utilizes good leverage and footwork.
With their current starter Adam Snyder a free agent, the 49ers would be wise to add depth to their offensive line. In addition to Snyder's potential departure, I would be very surprised to see Chilo Rachal back in 2012. Rachal, who was drafted in the second round in 2008, has been a bust.
If both Snyder and Rachal were to leave, that leaves Daniel Kilgore, who played very little in 2011, as the next in line to start.
Even if the 49ers were to retain Snyder, Brooks would be a good selection at this stage of the draft. Snyder's versatility will come in handy in case of injury to any of the other 49er offensive linemen, as he can play any position along the line.
The 49ers were extremely fortunate in 2011, as their line stayed healthy and very few games were missed by any of them. The odds are that it will be very unlikely for the 49ers to get through 2012 unscathed, so adding a player of Brooks' caliber is a good move.
Asa Jackson is a cornerback out of Cal Poly, located in San Luis Obispo, California. Jackson is 5'10'' and 188 pounds, not big for a defensive back, although he possesses good reach and leaping ability.
Jackson is the only defensive player in history to be named as a first-team All-Great West player. This is an honor that will be uniquely his, as the Great West Conference has folded, having played its final season in 2011.
Coming from a small school, and having played against lower-level competition, it may take Jackson a couple of years to get up to speed. He does show good instincts and athleticism, and I believe he would be a good special teams performer.
Jackson does have excellent speed, having run a 4.4 for the 40-yard dash. He also has experience in the return game and could be a replacement for free-agent Ted Ginn, who the 49ers are unlikely to bring back.
Daryl Richardson is a versatile running back out of Abilene Christian. In 139 carries, he rushed for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 5.9 yards per carry average is what sparked my interest. Richardson also caught 40 passes for 371 yards and two more touchdowns this past season.
He is 5'11'' and 195 pounds with decent speed. Whether his skills can make the jump from a small program like Abilene Christian to the NFL remains to be seen, but based on his versatility, he's worth a look in the seventh round.
Alex Smith scores against the Saints in the playoffs
The NFL draft begins on April 26, roughly two months away. In the meantime, the top priority for 49ers will be to sign their own free agents and perhaps add a couple additional impact players.
The 49ers' free-agent list includes some major contributors to their success in 2011. Alex Smith is almost certain to return, but the picture is less clear when it comes to Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers, Adam Snyder and Ahmad Brooks.
The status of their free-agent signings will be a major factor as to the direction the 49ers will go in the draft. For example, if the 49ers were to lose Rogers and Goldson, without signing top-flight replacements, then the defensive backfield will suddenly become a much more glaring need.
With two months before the draft and the free-agent signing date beginning on March 13, so much can still change. It will be interesting to see which collegiate players entering the draft rise or fall in the coming weeks.