In the 2012 NFL draft, I was very surprised that the San Francisco 49ers did not select an impact defensive player. The jury is still out as to whether the 49ers' moves in the 2012 draft were good ones.
I was caught off-guard with the first-round selection of wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, after the 49ers had just signed free agent receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
I was also surprised by the 49ers' selection of LaMichael James in the second round. The 49ers already had a back in Kendall Hunter that has many of the same skills and assets that James possesses. Neither Jenkins or James has played in any of the 49ers' first eight games.
Then, when the 49ers traded their third-round pick to drop down and acquire future picks, they potentially could have very little to show for the 2012 draft. The jury is still out on Jenkins and James, as it's much too soon to denigrate them yet, but they have produced nothing thus far.
The San Francisco 49ers have an outstanding defense, but there are areas they could be looking to strengthen. The main area of concern is the defensive line. Justin Smith is 33 years of age and although he is still very productive, he cannot be expected to play at this high level forever.
Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is 31 years old and is more of a run-stuffer, who's job is to occupy blockers. He is not a strong pass rusher.
Ray McDonald is the only starter on the defensive line who is under 30 years old. The 49ers do not have a lot of quality depth along the defensive line either, so this is an area they should focus on this offseason.
Kyle Van Noy, an outside linebacker at BYU, is the type of player that the 49ers will consider. He is one of the top outside linebackers in college football. At 6'3" and 235 lbs., Van Noy combines good size with excellent speed and energy. He currently leads BYU with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Van Noy is a junior, but could leave school early to enter the NFL draft. He is very likely to be a first-round draft selection, which could compel him to skip his senior season at BYU.
The 49ers are set at linebacker for the time being with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman inside and Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks on the outside. The starting group is outstanding, but there are questions about depth, especially at the two outside spots.
If the 49ers were able to get someone like Van Noy, they would most likely have to trade up for him. With Smith and Brooks already strong players and in place, even if the 49ers somehow got Van Noy, he would likely be a reserve in his first year or two. I don't think the 49ers would trade up to get a reserve.
Even if Van Noy is not the right fit for the 49ers, I believe they should focus on drafting an impact defensive player, specifically on the line. Even this might be hard to do, especially if the 49ers have a good record. At this time, it certainly appears as though that will happen.
If the 49ers achieve their goal of winning the Super Bowl, they would have the very last pick in the first round. A Super Bowl title would be well-worth the weaker draft position.