Is Justin Smith's eventual replacement the highest priority?
The 49ers have definitely had an up-and-down 2012 season. In fact, it was a very rhythmic up and down. Two impressive wins, one head-scratching letdown, repeat.
While the team is stacked in many areas, there are some areas that obviously need improvement in depth and height.
For the purposes of this draft, I make an assumption that I do feel is obviously the right answer, that being that the 49ers recognize what Dashon Goldson, was, is and will be to their secondary and defense as a whole, and reward him with a deal to stay in town.
Delanie Walker, however, doesn't have such luck, as he is a victim of the available talent pool, team need and how many players can be on the field at one time.
I am an Alabama fan and a bit of an SEC homer, so I will put that out front, but I do think that these players, if available at the given junctures, would help the 49ers tremendously both immediately and in the future.
If you don't like this pick, I have a hard time believing you watched the 49ers play without Justin Smith. How Smith does what he does at only 290 pounds is unexplainable and is not something that you can expect any lighter DT like a Sheldon Richardson to do.
The only solidly planted person on the 49ers defensive line right now is Ray McDonald. He was given a five-year extension shortly following the team letting previously franchised NT Aubrayo Franklin walk (a move I was hugely in favor of). Justin Smith is playing at a high level and is perhaps the most important member of this defense, which is why we need someone who is capable of continuing what he brings to the table.
However, Sopoaga is also getting up there and may already have exceeded the useful life expectancy of an NFL nose tackle. If there is one player who you would be willing to take off the field to get your first-round draft pick into the line up, I'd tell you that has to be Sopoaga at this point.
Isaac Sopoaga is more than adequate at the NT in the sense of occupying blockers, but who else at his size is? I'm not convinced personally that Ricky Jean Francois isn't a better backup to either DE than a viable option at nose tackle. Aside from Sopoaga, I'm not sure that those players have the strength and power to take focus off Ray McDonald and Justin Smith.
The bottom line is, we all know that Justin Smith is getting up there in age, but what we don't know is where the next hole on the line will open up.
Sopoaga's backups are 30 pounds lighter than him. The 49ers' previous nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, was slightly smaller but significantly weaker than Sopoaga. When Sopoaga took the nose and Ray McDonald took over his former spot at DE, a significant improvement in the run defense was noted statistically.
Still, against elite offensive lines, the 49ers could stand for an improvement to aid them in getting pressure into the backfield. The 49ers need a massive, workout warrior nose tackle to keep that steak alive.
Enter Jesse Williams, a 6'4", 320-pound monstrosity capable of playing and excelling at any position on a 3-4 defensive line. Williams relies solely on power and technique. He moves towards where he wants to go and does not get stopped by one man. He is deceptively heavy for his physique
While at Alabama, Williams played both 3-4 defensive end and nose tackle. He lit up Twitter when he bench pressed 600 pounds while working out with Alabama kicker Cade Foster. He demonstrated Justin Smith-like toughness by going back into the SEC championship game against Georgia and teaming up to make a key stop on 3rd-and-short. He has 49er written all over him.
"Third and short, you have to block Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga and Jesse Williams on the line. Who's got Willis and Bowman? Sound good to you?"
Alternatives: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (reach), John Jenkins, NT, Georgia (settle)
My initial inkling was to go Zach Ertz here; however with the boost that Colin Kaepernick has provided in the passing game, it does now appear to be limited by the personnel available to catch the ball. Michael Crabtree has evolved into a solid possession receiver, but is lacking in top end speed. Aside from that, the 49ers receiving core is greatly undersized.
The 49ers recently saw their divisional opponents all beef up their secondaries with several top-flight cornerbacks (to name a few: Richard Sherman, Janoris Jenkins, Patrick Peterson and Brandon Browner), and the 49ers have struggled in terms of passing production against these foes.
Patterson is 6'3", 210. In one season with Tennessee, Patterson has 46 catches for 778 yards with five touchdowns. He also has 25 runs for 308 yards with three touchdowns. He is dangerous in the return game as well and broke the all-purpose yardage record for a single season at Tennessee in his only year there.
Michael Crabtree has proven he is a quality starting receiver in this league and is very good for the role he plays, and Cordarrelle Patterson on the opposite side would bring them everything else that they lack in a 1-2 receiving package.
Wide receiver is a big need. The 49ers scouts have missed on several quality players and have done poorly on many they did pick. Michael Crabtree has finally looked like the draft pick that was spent on him, but he can't do it alone. We'd love to get that quality of a player to complement him without spending that high of a pick on the other side. Luckily, the 2013 NFL draft has another player that fits that bill.
Da'Rick Rogers, the former Tennessee Volunteer, was a highly-touted SEC recruit. He was kicked off the Volunteers team for failing drug tests, but his performance at Tennessee Tech seems to indicate that he has decided to refocus himself.
Rogers is 6'2", 215 and has been clocked as quick as 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, but appears to play more in the 4.45 range. This is exactly what the 49ers need to start across from Michael Crabtree now that a quarterback with legitimate deep-ball accuracy is under center.
Rogers will be in high demand in the third round, and luckily, the 49ers acquired Carolina's third-round pick to give them a shot near the beginning of the round.
Marcus Lattimore will fall in the draft due to concerns about his knee, probably to the 3rd round, much the same way Frank Gore did.
Marcus Lattimore needs no introduction. I could see him going in the second round if this was his first knee injury, but he falls to the third round due to his second major knee injury and the uncertainty surrounding it. I believe his circumstance will put him in a place where to draft him, the timing of him coming up to speed must make sense. Not many teams are as deep and have as few needs as the 49ers do, and outside of the defensive line and wide receiver, I believe they can (as they have definitely shown) make an investment in their future here.
I think come draft day, teams in the second round will look for more of a solid option health-wise at RB. This is a match made in heaven. Frank Gore appears to have at least one year left, and even after he's done, Kendall Hunter has shown extreme promise of being a go-to replacement and a swifter back for running outside.
Lattimore has time to work his way back to form at a relaxed pace on a team that has a superb run blocking offensive line. He is 6'0", 210 and has an excellent combination of vision, balance and power to be a successful inside runner at the next level. This is exactly what Harbaugh likes to do.
Those who have seen Lattimore's play know this is a chance well worth taking.
Bennie Logan is a DT with the type of athleticism that the 49ers need on the defensive line.
Bennie Logan is another risk vs reward player. He's a 4-3 DT that would obviously translate to a 3-4 DE in the 49ers system. Logan is 6'3", 295 pounds and was selected by LSU to wear the prestigious No. 18 jersey for the 2012 season. This honor represents a player who exemplifies what it means to be an LSU Tiger.
"He's a hard-working guy," defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. "He showed all last year that he has that motor. He motivates his team. He's a leader. He does everything right that needs to be done. He's just a good player, a good guy."
Sound like Justin Smith attitude-wise? It should. Logan is a player who shows the will to do what it takes to be successful, which likely would only mean slightly bulking up and learning the playbook. In my book, a mid-round pick well spent.
Ronnie Wingo has been lost on the depth chart among other talent, however he fits the bill in a big way for the 49ers not to spend a late round pick on him.
Wingo was, at one time, a highly-rated prospect, to the point he was showing up in the first round of mock drafts. Initially overshadowed by fellow razorback RB Broderick Green, he had a brief window to showcase his talent. However, with the return of Knile Davis and the emergence of Dennis Johnson, it seems he's being omitted from many mock drafts, even the seven-round variety.
My gut is that if Baalke's guys can make a top-quality fullback out of a late-round DE in Bruce Miller, he can spot this talent in the mid to late rounds as a perfect fit for this team.
The biggest reason for Ronnie Wingo's inclusion on this list is that this is a contract year for Delanie Walker. The 49ers have so many good players they'll want to lock up that they won't have the money for Walker that he may get somewhere else. A similar player to Walker, Marcel Reece, was in recent contract negotiations with the Raiders for a pretty sizable sum of money.
Delanie Walker is 6'0", 240. Ronnie Wingo is 6'3", 231, with room to add bulk if needed. Wingo is good for pass protection and is a deadly receiver out of the backfield with great hands and good-open field moves. Wingo is a talent that flat-out got lost on a roster with top flight talent at RB and WR. At one point, he ran a 4.27 40, but he does still possess sub 4.5 speed.
Walker was a late-round gem himself; here, they replace him with the same.
Michael Williams is a big athletic man whose stats fell victim to the talent around him.
I previously mentioned it would be hard for us to pass on Zach Ertz, but wide receiver is a much higher priority. Williams was expected, based on his physical ability and play he's shown, to produce big in his senior year. Due to the emergence of several WRs, specifically freshman Amari Cooper, it didn't happen statistically.
Those who have seen Vernon Davis in the media lately might like to know that Williams is used to being primarily a blocker, having blocked for Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. He is 6'6" and tips the scales at 272, a weight for which he is VERY athletic. His presence on the line could free up Vernon Davis to line up out wide, and they wouldn't lose anything in the blocking department.
Look at Trey Millard's side profile. Does he look like 6'2" and 256#?!
Trey Millard is the answer to what the 49ers thought Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon would materialize to be. This guy is a true athletic specimen. At 6'2", 256 pounds, you can find pictures and videos of him hurdling defenders; however, he does know how to run inside and is a receiving threat out of the backfield. He is Dixon without the learning curve and Brandon Jacobs with a team-first mentality.
Bruce Miller has done well, but Harbaugh brought in competition for his long snapper; don't think for a second he won't do it to his fullback.
Millard's NFL upside is Le'Ron McClain.
Here, the 49ers get another rotational player for the defensive line. Josh Boyd was relatively overshadowed by Fletcher Cox (the 12th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, who played at the other DT last year) for the early part of his career, and although he posted good numbers, not many seem to have heard of him. He's not far behind Cox, yet is not generating much buzz.
I think Boyd's biggest asset is that he is able to take on double teams, but has good moves for an interior linemen which can make him very disruptive in the backfield in the event he's singled up on a blocker.
That's OK with us; he can wait till he dons the red and gold to do this. Ian Williams is the odd man out here.
Dustin Hopkins of Florida State
If David Akers replicated his success of 2011, the 49ers would already have locked up a first-round bye. Pretty much says it all.
Hopkins is a high-percentage kicker with a strong leg. The 49ers have a lot more draft picks than they do roster openings, so bringing in some competition for David Akers makes sense. In his last three years at Florida State, he missed one extra point in 159 attempts and increased his field-goal percentage consistently through his four-year career.
Melvin White reminds me of Phillip Adams in a lot of ways, a player who I was honestly sad to see go. He has good size for a CB, shows the willingness to support the run, has good vision and reacts well to what he sees. He'd likely try the practice squad unless he really impressed on special teams, but he shows the potential to work his way up in a big way.
Dial provides a developmental DL project with tremendous upside.
Quinton Dial is probably better known for the hit on Aaron Murray in the SEC title game at this point; however, the senior did give the Crimson Tide a solid pass-rushing DE in the rotation who was no slouch in run support.
Looking at his picture, he somewhat reminds me of Aldon Smith with the long, muscular arms.. not so fast. Dial is 6'6", 304 pounds, and he has all kinds of frame room to bulk up if necessary to find his best playing weight. Dial would definitely go to the practice squad at this point, but he has the perfect frame to develop for the future. His limiting factor is speed, but looking at all the bulk he could carry on this frame, he may not need it.
Again, definitely a reach at this point that reflects my homerism, but remember, Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams were both undrafted.