As I wrote the headline to this column, I mistyped and spelled “409ers.” It immediately reminded me of the old Beach Boys hit, “409,” one of the great car songs of the 1960s.
The tune started out, “She’s real fine, my 409,” and went on to describe a truly sweet ride. And that’s what the Niners are like right now—a great-looking, great-driving car that will get you to the beach, the mountains and everywhere in between.
About the only thing a car like that needs is a hula girl shimmying from the rear-view mirror. Likewise, the 49ers’ needs right now are very few—just at wide receiver and on the offensive line.
With the tremendous talent available this year, the free-agent market is the way to go for the wide-receiver spot. The 49ers need a game-breaker, and probably no one coming out of the collegiate ranks can fill that role the way an NFL veteran can.
True, there were several impressive performances at the NFL Combine, including a surprising one from Stanford’s Chris Owusu. Along with Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech and Travis Benjamin of Miami, Owusu posted a 4.36 in the 40-yard-dash. All three players were top performers in three events.
What San Francisco needs, however, is someone who right now can consistently get open, grab the ball and make defenders watch his cleats all the way to the end zone. As good as this crop of collegians may be, there’s an even more potent cadre of free agents out there.
My favorite is Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's fast and tough, with excellent hands and the ability to pick up yards after the catch. When it comes to the current draft, two players from Stanford—and one from rival USC—could help solve the 49ers’ problem with pass-blocking on the offensive line. In particular, the 49ers are in need of a backup guard or tackle who can spell the first-stringers while protecting Alex Smith in the pocket.
Offensive guard David DeCastro and tackle Jonathan Martin of Stanford, along with tackle Matt Kalil of Southern California, tore up the Pac-12 this season in both the run- and pass-blocking departments.
DeCastro and Martin—both expected first-round picks—anchored the outstanding offensive line that opened big holes for Cardinal running backs and admirably protected presumed No. 1 draft selection Andrew Luck.
Kalil, meanwhile, was a stalwart on a USC offensive line that helped the rapidly improving Trojans beat Oregon after losing a thrilling, triple-overtime contest to Stanford (the latter was the most exciting college football game I’ve ever seen).
Kalil led the combine’s offensive linemen with an overall score of 94. DeCastro finished second with 92.5, and Martin third with 87.
CBS Sports.com calls Kalil, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil, “more athletic” than Sam Baker, chosen in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, and “more technically sound” than 2011 first-round Dallas Cowboys pick Tyron Smith.
The website NFL Draft Season.com, meanwhile, calls DeCastro “the best interior offensive lineman in the entire 2012 NFL draft” and predicts that he may go in the top 15.
The first round is often reserved for quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. But the 49ers did tremendously well last year by selecting outside linebacker Aldon Smith in the first round. This year may be the time to find an offensive lineman.
If they do that, and pick up a wide receiver through free agency, then they may well have the old 409 humming on all cylinders and pointed deep into the playoffs again next season.