Why the San Francisco 49ers Won the 2013 NFL Draft

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IApril 30, 2013

The rich just got a whole lot richer.

The San Francisco 49ers are coming off back-to-back NFC Championship Games and a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. I considered their roster to be the best in the NFL before the 2013 NFL draft even began.

While their selections over the weekend didn't dramatically bolster their roster for the 2013 season, it improved the likelihood that the 49ers will be a dominant team for years to come. They continue to build for both short- and long-term success.


Considerable Value

Florida State outside linebacker Tank Carradine was selected in the second round, but he might have been a first-round pick were it not for a knee injury. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was considered a first-round talent, but injury concerns drove him into the fourth round.

Auburn outside linebacker Corey Lemonier may have been more highly regarded if Auburn's defense hadn't been so horrible in 2012 (28.3 points allowed per game).  

Quinton Patton was a second- or third-round talent, yet he was available in the fourth round (perhaps because he didn't go up against elite competition at Louisiana Tech).

There was a reason for them all being available later than expected, but the risk is worth the potential reward for all four, given their draft slotting.

The only questionable value was LSU safety Eric Reid, taken with the 18th pick in the draft. He was valued as a fringe first-round talent, but the 49ers moved up to get him. Chances are they identified him as the prospect they wanted and were wary of taking a chance on him falling to them.

Considering the 13 selections they had entering the draft, it's hard to hold them at fault for sacrificing an extra pick (No. 74) to move up for their guy.


Filling Roster Holes Now and For the Future

The 49ers lost a few key players this offseason with the free-agency departures of safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Delanie Walker. Wide receiver Randy Moss was not retained either.

Drafting Eric Reid, Rice tight end Vance McDonald and wide receiver Quinton Patton fills the spots left vacant by those three departures. In fact, the 49ers arguably upgraded in all three instances. 

Reid will require some polish in his tackling technique and should learn to take better angles when attacking the ball-carrier, but his versatility to play deep zone and to match up in coverage on tight ends gives him the opportunity to instantly pick up where Goldson left off.

Like Walker before him, McDonald is built like a blocking tight end, but he has more athleticism and versatility than his predecessor. He also has experience working out of the slot. In fact, 28 of his 36 receptions in 2012 went for a first down. 

Patton doesn't have the freakish size of Randy Moss, but he is a much younger version of what Moss was to the 49ers last season. He is more comparable to Greg Jennings, though, so Patton could be auditioning for a future in Michael Crabtree's role.

These prospects will have an opportunity to contribute now, but it's clear that the 49ers were not using the draft solely as a means to put them over the top in 2013.


No rushing to the field

Some people think the measure of a good draft is whether the players selected can have an instant impact. For a good team like the 49ers, though, it's just as important to build for the long haul.

NFL coaches are making life easier for their incumbent rookies by simplifying playbooks and relating college strategies to the pros (Colin Kaepernick, for instance). While we've seen several players thrive when handed the reins in their rookie year, there's still a learning curve.

Players like Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Marcus Lattimore, Quinton Dial and others may not hit the field immediately, but that's fine.

Drafting players at positions that could fill future needs allows them time to develop into impact players.

The chart here doesn't even do justice to the laundry list of potential departures. Three wide receivers—Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree—are all due new contracts next offseason (Crabtree pending a roster bonus). Safety Donte Whitner is also among the potential 2014 departures.

With so many key players set to become free agents next offseason, drafting players at those positions this year gives the 49ers an opportunity to see whether they can move on from existing players on the roster.

Even two years down the road, the 49ers have some more big-name free agents in 2015, with running back Frank Gore and linebacker Aldon Smith's contracts set to expire that year.

One of the strengths of this draft class for the 49ers is that there's no panic in any of the picks. They were clearly thinking long term with every selection they made.


More Picks, More Opportunities

One problem some draft pundits may have with the 49ers draft is the number of selections. How are 11 players supposed to make a talented roster that just went to the Super Bowl?

They're not all going to make the roster, and the 49ers know that.

Not every pick is going to turn into a good player. The more picks a team has, the more chances it gives itself to find talented players. 

If I have one small issue with the 49ers draft, it's that they didn't trade more of their picks for future selections. That being said, the 49ers already lead the way with 10 selections in next year's draft, so the scrutiny may be unwarranted.

At this point, we don't know how many of the players will contribute. But with 11 players selected, it's safe to say the 49ers greatly improved their chances at striking gold.

In a draft process that is often regarded as being far from a perfect science, the best you can hope for is as many opportunities as possible.


Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.comFollow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.