The San Francisco 49ers have a roster as deep as the Mariana Trench and are looking to go further this offseason. With fortuitous planning during the last offseason the 49ers managed to add an extra third-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round pick. They also still have all seven of their original picks, wherever they may end up being.
Despite the depth on the roster and the expected influx this April, there are still several positions on the field that could lose some players to free agency.
Dashon Goldson at FS is going to be looking for a large, multi-year deal that the 49ers may not be willing to pay in light of their recent commitment to NaVorro Bowman. At nose tackle, Isaac Sopoaga and his backup, Ricky Jean-Francois, are both free agents this offseason and neither has played with much consistency this year. Sopoaga is going to be 32 in September and has already shown some signs of slowing down this season. Randy Moss and Ted Ginn most likely won't return and Kyle Williams' ACL tear could delay the start to his season next year as well. At TE, Delanie Walker isn't expected to return unless he takes less than market value to stay in San Francisco. Added depth on both sides of the defensive line and at cornerback couldn't hurt either.
So let's take a look at position-by-position draft needs for the 49ers, who they might address these needs with and in what rounds.
Position Need: 9
The 49ers simply don't need any more quarterbacks at this point. They probably won't keep Alex Smith beyond this year if Colin Kaepernick continues to play at his current level or higher. Scott Tolzien looks like he might be worth keeping around as a developmental backup while the front office brings in a solid veteran to serve as Kaepernick's backup next season.
If the 49ers were to take any quarterbacks in the draft, I can't see them doing anything other than taking a flyer on a guy in the 7th round. Perhaps a big passer with a good arm like Sean Renfree from Duke or a proven winner like Colby Cameron out of Louisiana Tech, should either find themselves available that late.
Position Need: 6
The 49ers probably aren't looking to draft any running backs in the first two rounds, but beyond that I imagine they'd like to add another big back in the 5th or 6th round, perhaps earlier. I also imagine that if Stepfan Taylor fell to the Niners' laps with their second pick in the third round, Harbaugh might think long and hard about taking his former recruit, whose running style perfectly suits the Niners' offense.
Or perhaps Talyor isn't there or Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke wait until a later round and try to snag a big, bruising runner such as Rex Burkhead out of Nebraska or Knile Davis out of Arkansas with one of two fifth-round picks the Niners have at their disposal.
With Kendall Hunter's effectiveness by next year in question and Brandon Jacobs' likely departure, the 49ers are suddenly looking a little thin at the position for next season should LaMichael James struggle in increased playing time. Stepfan Taylor is the most intriguing pick in my mind. He knows the system well enough to possibly step into Hunter's role at the start of next season and he has the potential to round into a back capable of shouldering the lion's share of the carries by the time Gore's time as the feature back is done.
With two picks in the third round the Niners could easily take a chance with one of them on a relatively safe pick at a position it seems a team can never have enough of.
Position Need: 3
The 49ers did a lot to address their receiving corps this past offseason. They may very well have to do the same work again this offseason. Randy Moss will most likely depart, as will Ted Ginn, and Kyle Williams may not be back by the beginning of next season. Most don't recuperate from a torn ACL as quickly or effectively as Adrian Peterson.
That being said, the Niners still have Manningham, Crabtree and AJ Jenkins available. I think the Niners will look for another big receiver to complement the smaller, quicker Manningham and Jenkins, probably around the third or fourth round. They might give a look at taller receivers like Florida State's Rodney Smith (6'5") or Marcus Davis out of Virginia Tech (6'4"), both of whom will probably be available in the fifth or sixth round. They might also take someone like Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt (6'3") in the third or fourth round. Either way, look for the Niners to add a little size to give Kaepernick a bigger, taller target in the red zone on the outside.
This is also an area that I expect the Niners to shore up through free agency as well. Although this is still going to be a large area of concern next offseason, don't look for the 49ers to spend another 1st or 2nd round pick on a wide receiver this April.
Position Need: 5
Delanie Walker doesn't put up huge numbers every week, but every team out there knows about his athletic ability and the myriad ways he contributes on both offense and special teams. He will be a free agent this offseason and the fact is that he might be good enough to start on a lot of teams willing to pay him that kind of money. With Vernon Davis at TE already, the Niners won't be one of those teams. Unless he takes a deal worth significantly less than what he might earn on the open market, his days in San Francisco are numbered.
Vernon Davis and Garrett Celek are excellent blockers in their own right, so the Niners will most likely look to address the loss of Walker with someone who has big-time pass-catching potential. Local product Ryan Otten out of San Jose State and Joseph Fauria from UCLA are both big, tall tight ends who can get down the field and out-jump defensive backs and safeties. Speed may be a question for both, but at 6'5" and 6'7", respectively, these two represent intriguing picks with some risk but a lot of upside as well that could be there in the 4th round at the latest. Ben Cotton out of Nebraska is another big target they might think about in the 7th round. Look for the Niners to spend one of their two fifth-round picks or a fourth-round pick on this position.
Position Need: 8
Like running back, it's hard to have too many good offensive linemen. Daniel Kilgore represents a solid, versatile backup but they could use some more depth, especially at center and tackle.
I think this is another position the Niners might look to address through free agency. But I think they might also start looking to replace center, Jonathan Goodwin. He's the weak link on a very strong offensive line, and a very strong weak link at that. But he's on the wrong side of 30 by a few years now and his contract is up in another year.
I really like Sam Schwartzstein from Stanford to step in and play a backup role with an eye toward starting in the near future for the Niners. He has good size and good awareness in space, and he's a smart player, something Jim Harbaugh demands of his team. He might be someone the Niners grab with one of their two sixth-round picks.
Position Need: 1
Defensive line is the most important area of need for the 49ers this offseason. First of all, they've repeatedly shown that they are a much different defense when they can get consistent pressure on the quarterback and stop the run. Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francois and Ray McDonald have all looked suspect at times in the run game and there isn't a whole lot of depth up front. Sopoaga and Jean-Francois could both depart via free agency this offseason as well.
Fortunately for the Niners, there are a plethora of quality defensive linemen in this draft and two of the better fits for their team could be available when they make their first pick.Kawann Short out of Purdue is probably a stretch to drop to where the Niners will likely pick from, but Sharrif Floyd from Florida is another big, athletic 3-4 defensive end who can slide into the nose tackle spot from time to time and who might be available at the end of the first round.
Look for the Niners to also spend one of their two third-round picks on another big defensive lineman who can plug up the middle. Sylvester Williams from North Carolina and Akeem Spence out of Illinois could be sitting there in the third round and I expect the Niners to take a long, hard look at both as they look to add depth along the front. With a guy like Floyd or Short plus Spence or Williams, they potentially could have four quality interior linemen (McDonald and Justin Smith also) and still might bring Sopoaga or Jean-Francois back on one- or two-year deals.
Position Need: 7
Will Parys Haralson come back from injury and prove effective in at least a backup role? The answer to that question may go a long way toward determining what the 49ers do with the outside linebacker position this offseason. They're set with Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks for the next several years, but don't have much in the way of depth right now. That being said, with guys like Smith and Brooks starting, there isn't the same need here as at other places and I don't expect the Niners to spend a lot of mid- or high-round picks on this spot.
At best, they might pick someone in the fifth or sixth round, perhaps Travis Long out of Washington State or Cornelius Washington out of Georgia and the SEC, which seems to produce reams of quality pass-rushers.
Position Need: 10
There is no need to upgrade any further here, not with the league's premier tandem in place in NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis and a very capable backup in Larry Grant. The 49ers might take a flyer on someone like Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor or Boston College's Nick Clancy if they fall to the seventh round, but these would be strictly special teams additions.
Position Need: 2
The free safety and strong safety positions could be radically different if Dashon Goldson leaves via free agency. I think the 49ers will sign him longterm and select a couple of bigger safeties to push Donte Whitner in the last year of his contract.
But the 49ers might not re-sign Goldson and the best player available to fit either need--after they address the defensive line in the first round--could be Kenny Vaccarro out of Texas. Vaccarro has good size at 6'2", 215lbs and has the speed to play either safety position, although he's best closer to the line of scrimmage. If Goldson comes back, he and Vaccarro could make a scary, big-hitting tandem at the safety position, or he could possibly step in and replace Goldson should he leave. His coverage skills need work though.
Another intriguing player is Shamarko Thomas out of Syracuse. He has elite speed at the strong safety position with a reported time of 4.39 in the 40, although he is a bit undersized at just 5'10" but a stout 210 lbs. Thomas could be a stretch to take in the 6th round, but the Niners might grab him just to get more speed on special teams.
Position Need: 4
Carlos Rogers has looked shaky at best against some of the faster receivers he's squared up against, specifically Danny Amendola and Victor Cruz both this year and in last year's NFC Championship game. While he is signed for several more years, the 49ers could look to bring in another cornerback to play some special teams while developing behind Rogers for a couple years. They might also look to someone in the second or third round who might push Chris Culliver or Tarell Brown for playing time in nickel or dime packages.
Two guys with good speed who might be around by the end of the fourth or fifth round are Leon McFadden out of San Diego State and Bildi Wreh-Wilson from UConn.
Well, here's a guess at what the 49ers draft will look like this April.
Ist Round: Kawann Short, DT Purdue
2nd Round: Matt Elam, S Florida
3rd Round: Stepfan Taylor, RB Stanford
3rd Round: Margus Hunt, DE SMU
4th Round: Kwame Geathers, DT Georgia
5th Round: Michael Williams, TE Alabama
5th Round: Eric Gordon, CB Tennessee
6th Round: Rodney Smith, WR Florida State
6th Round: Sam Schwartzstein, C Stanford
7th Round: Nick Clancy, ILB Boston College
7th Round: Dan Buckner, WR Arizona