The San Francisco 49ers will look to improve upon their 13-3 regular-season record from last year, but more importantly, they hope to finish the upcoming season with a Super Bowl appearance and/or victory.
It starts with the draft and free agency.
Free agency in particular has been kind to the 49ers. They have picked up several key players on the cheap with the angle of winning in the picture.
Before last season, the Niners would likely have had to overpay for a player in free agency, but with recent success, they have given prospective free agents a fresh incentive: winning.
Now, with the better part of free agency all but finished, the Niners will turn their attention to the 2012 NFL draft.
While they don't have a "sexy" selection in the first round (30th overall), the 49ers can still snag a few impact players if they play their cards right.
With that in mind, I've listed several scenarios that could prove extremely beneficial to the 49ers in the upcoming NFL draft.
David DeCastro is likely one of the safest prospects at guard.
He would instantly bring stability to the right side of the 49ers line and form one of the nastier duos at guard, with the young Mike Iupati anchoring the left side.
It's a dream scenario to expect DeCastro to fall to the 49ers at the end of the first round, but if the Stanford guard's stock falls just a bit, the Niners should jump at the opportunity.
Even more intriguing about DeCastro is the possibility of him playing center. While he played guard in college, he showed scouts at the Stanford pro day that he can take snaps under center.
I expect DeCastro to go in the mid-teens or even earlier, but if he miraculously drops to the low 20s, Trent Baalke should pounce on acquiring the Stanford guard.
If the 49ers fail to land their guy in the first round, the Niners could possibly move out of the first round.
The 49ers could move out of the 30th overall selection and possibly receive a future first-round pick. The last time the Niners acquired an extra first-round selection, they were able to select bruising guard Mike Iupati.
The Niners could still get a solid receiver or an interior offensive lineman in the second round, but they'll have to sell some team to take the bait.
Mike Wallace is one of the more explosive receivers in the NFL, but Larry Fitzgerald, he is not.
If the 49ers are to acquire Wallace, paying him a large contract in addition to giving up a first-round selection may be too steep of a price.
It's no secret the Niners need help at receiver, despite their moves to improve the receiver corps with additions such as Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
I can see this move occurring only if the Niners fail to land their guy in the first round and additionally fail to find the right package to move down.
The 49ers will likely find less value with DBs available in the first round. After Stephen Gilmore of South Carolina, there is a pretty steep drop in terms of upside.
There are corners available in the later rounds, with lower ceilings, that could make an impact right away.
With the addition of Perrish Cox and the re-signing of Carlos Rogers––and the solid play of Chris Culliver and Terrell Brown—the Niners should be fine next season, but injuries could come into play (see: New York Giants last season).
Also, with the league passing more than it ever has, having depth in the defensive backfield wouldn't hurt.
Isaac Sopoaga played at a Pro Bowl-level last season, despite preseason doubts about his ability to anchor the nose in Vic Fangio's 3-4 defense.
He answered those questions with his surprising play, but despite his production, Sopoaga is turning 31 in September.
It wouldn't hurt to find a young interior lineman to mold, especially considering Sopoaga's age. This isn't a huge need, but if the Niners can find value, I wouldn't be surprised if Baalke takes a defensive tackle in the first round.
A guy to watch out for is Jerel Worthy out of Michigan State. The Niners may snag him with their first-round selection if the right receiver or interior lineman doesn't fall to them.
The 49ers could also move down and select Worthy with a high second-round selection if they choose to take that path.