What will Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh have up their sleeves this spring?
The NFL's offseason is more exciting than that of any other sport, and the reason is because of the excitement that surrounds the draft and draft-related events preceding it. The NFL Combine. Pro days. And, of course, mock drafts, which will be a very big part of our lives from now until the end of April.
We love it all.
The Niners are attempting to move on from a heartbreaking Super Bowl defeat and must now work on making the roster as powerful as possible before the 2013 season gets underway.
San Fran currently has 14 selections to play with, starting with the 31st overall pick in the first round. Who knows whether or not Trent Baalke and Co. will decide to trade or use that selection, but here are the top five prospects (in order) they must target should they remain at No. 31.
John Jenkins is a beast that the 49ers could unleash on opposing offenses if they snag him in the draft.
Extremely similar in name, stature and future occupation, Jonathan Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins are two massive defensive linemen who would excel as nose tackles in the Niners 3-4 defense.
Both players San Francisco used at this spot in 2012, starter Isaac Sopoaga and reserve Ricky Jean Francois, are now free agents. Sopoaga is 31 and didn't make much of a positive impact throughout the 49ers' Super Bowl run. If he were to return, it would have to be at a discount.
Either way, the Niners need some fresh beef on the interior of the defensive line. A true space-eater who can engulf multiple blockers every snap he's on the gridiron. Jenkins and Hankins can both do that.
Jenkins, who is 6'4", 359 pounds, is undeniably the more massive of the two. He's a superior run-defender who would make life much easier for the ends on the outside and inside linebackers behind him.
Hankins is 6'3", 335 pounds and, like Jenkins, very solid in run defense. Neither is a pure pass-rusher, but wouldn't exactly need to be. When the 49ers go into a nickel or dime package on defense to stop the pass, the nose tackle doesn't see the field anyway.
Both of these monsters warrant a serious look leading up to draft day.
Justin Hunter could be a great fit in the 49ers offense.
When I try to think of receivers available in the draft that Colin Kaepernick would love throwing to, Justin Hunter is the first name that comes to mind.
Hunter enjoyed a dominant season in 2012 with the Tennessee Volunteers despite suffering a torn ACL the year before. He finished his junior season with 73 receptions for 1,083 yards and hauled in nine TD passes.
At 6'4", 200 pounds, Hunter could use a little extra bulk on his frame, but was impressively one of the fastest wide receivers at the college level before the knee injury. Hopefully the raw speed continues to make its way back, but what intrigues me the most about this particular wideout is his natural ability to catch the ball in stride and away from his body.
That's one of the reasons I think he would mesh well with Kaepernick while providing the young QB with a target he can utilize in all areas of the field. Remembering that Kaep has a cannon for an arm, it can be beneficial to bring in receivers who excel in plucking the pigskin the way Hunter does.
Kaepernick's passes arrive at their destination in a hurry, and his intended target's time to react isn't lengthy. He's been extremely accurate, but his passes sometimes require the receiver to have a large catch radius.
Michael Crabtree handles it, and I think Hunter has the hands and ability to do the same.
Jesse Williams is another first-round option for a future nose tackle.
If not Jenkins or Hankins (yes, those names are fun to type together), Jesse Williams should prove to be a fine alternative.
Obviously, I seem pretty intent on the 49ers selecting a nose tackle with their first pick of this year's draft. While I don't believe their big board must be ordered by position of need, I do view the NT as the team's most pressing need, and there just happens to be plenty of first-round-caliber interior defensive linemen in this year's draft.
San Fran's D allowed seven rushing touchdowns in 2012 after surrendering just three in 2011. The 49ers were still solid in run defense, just not spectacular. They need a true impact player on the interior of the D-line who will once again prevent offenses from running between the tackles.
Williams, at 6'3", 320 pounds, is a bit smaller than the first two DTs we've covered, but he's faster and is a more effective pass-rusher. Most nose tackles are known for being fearless, but this guy is downright dangerous on the field. He plays with a motor that never stops and would be a fine addition to the Red and Gold.
Frederick (No. 72) could replace Jonathan Goodwin at center in the future.
Wisconsin offensive linemen succeed in the National Football League. It's just what they do.
Travis Frederick should prove to be no different. At 6'4", 335 pounds, the big guy is packed full of power, which naturally means he is a road-grader in the run game. Oh, he's also surprisingly mobile and excels in downfield blocking situations.
Right up the 49ers' alley.
Jonathan Goodwin enjoyed a solid season at center in 2012 but is now 34 years old and entering the final year of his current contract. The upcoming season could very well prove be Goodwin's last effective year in the league, so the time to find your future at the position is now.
I'm not sure Frederick fits into much, but he sure seems like an ideal choice for San Francisco. He's also experienced at guard and could fill a depth role in 2013, possibly seeing time in the offense's jumbo packages as a rookie.
Zach Ertz is a solid pass-catcher with potential to develop as a run-blocker.
Delanie Walker's latest contract has expired and the do-it-all tight end may opt to search for starter's money in another NFL city. Personally, I hope he re-signs with San Fran, but the 49ers might be in the market for a new tight end come April anyway.
Zach Ertz isn't the best prospect you'll come across in terms of blocking, but he sure can catch.
The 6'6", 249-pound tight end is also a solid route-runner and displays a willingness to haul in passes over the middle of the field. He and Vernon Davis would have a blast creating mismatches all over the gridiron for Michael Crabtree to exploit underneath.
Another former Stanford tight end, Coby Fleener, was a popular mock draft selection for the 49ers leading up to last year's draft. Fleener wound up slipping to the Colts in the second round, but San Fran can make sure Ertz doesn't last that long if they choose to add another dynamic pass-catcher to the roster.