Following the conclusion of the 2009 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers’ roster remained littered with X’s, O’s, and ?’s.
This is not to say that the 49ers didn’t land impact players at positions of need.
Even the late and great Bill Walsh couldn’t find a franchise quarterback, starting right tackle, impact wide receiver, long-term backup running back, stout Ted linebacker, elite blocking tight end, ball-hawk free safety, anchoring nose tackle, and terrorizing pass-rushing outside linebacker all in the same draft.
With limited selections, in a subpar draft class, the 49ers made the most of mediocrity.
To kickoff their draft day San Francisco landed Michael Crabtree, the impact receiver they lacked since Terrell Owens’ 2004 departure.
With their third round selection they picked up Glenn Coffee, providing the 49ers their first long term Frank Gore insurance plan and a much needed tough, north-south runner.
They grabbed their long-term solution at Ted linebacker in fifth-round pick Scott McKillop, a tough and stout tackler to pair next to Willis down the road.
Later that round San Francisco addressed their long-term backup quarterback with the selection of Nate Davis, a high intangible quarterback with starting potential.
Even into the late rounds, the 49ers managed to grab future starters and role players, grabbing their long-term blocking tight end in Bear Pascoe, and much needed positional depth in safety Curtis Taylor and defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois.
The only two things preventing the 49ers from fulfilling all of their team needs was a plethora of holes and limited draft picks.
Although listed as team “needs”, any offensive tackle, quarterback, nose tackle, outside linebacker or free safety short of a first day selection would be unlikely to start for the 49ers, yet alone make the final roster.
Beyond the first round, there were no signal callers with more developed skill sets than the high intangibles of Shaun Hill or the high tangibles of Alex Smith. With that in mind, passing on a starting quarterback in a franchise quarterback-less draft was a wise move.
Likewise with former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Marvel Smith and the versatile Adam Snyder onboard, any tackle short of an elite first round talent would be superfluous.
Outside of BJ Raji, and possibly Ron Brace, not many defensive linemen provided a better skill set or positional fit for the nose tackle position than the solid rotation of Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, and Kentwan Balmer.
Even at free safety, the up-and-coming Dashon Goldson has flashed explosiveness and potential, leading the 49er organization to entrust him the starting role in 2009.
In a draft void of impact free safeties, the top-rated Louis Delmas presented little, if any upgrade over Goldson.
Lastly, at outside linebacker, the 49ers already have a franchise starter in Parys Haralson (who the club recently locked up in a long-term deal), and a potential starter in the high-potential Manny Lawson.
Outside of Brian Orakpo (and possibly Aaron Maybin), no outside linebacker prospects possessed the combination of athleticism and production that Manny Lawson had coming out of college (making him the 22nd overall pick of the 2006 draft).
Lawson has yet to receive his overdue on-field opportunities. Given the rookie learning curve, a 2007 ACL tear (causing him to miss 14 games), and his on-field absence on third downs, Lawson has yet to reach his high potential.
In addition, with promising and unproven players such as Jay Moore, Ahmad Brooks, Marques Harris, and Diryal Briggs, outside linebacker depth would have been an unnecessary draft addition.
After trading away their 2009 second and fourth round selections to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a 2010 first-round pick, the 49ers only further limited their 2009 draft purchasing power.
Unlike most bottom-feeder teams whose rosters have more holes than frat house walls, the 49ers strategically postponed the selection of several positions given the high-potential, yet unproven talent currently on the team roster.
In having two first-round and three first-day picks entering the 2010 NFL draft, the 49ers have the firepower to add impact players at need-tested positions. Fortunately for San Francisco, the 2010 draft-eligible class appears to be talent-loaded at potential positions of “need.”
The following is a breakdown of the positional competition to unfold at 4949 Centennial Blvd., and the potential 2010 first-round caliber replacements to follow.
During the 2009 NFL season, a few potential outcomes may unfold for the 49ers at right tackle.
New addition, and starter Marvel Smith, can prove that he can remain healthy, allowing him to revert to his healthy Pro Bowl-level. In this case, Smith at age 31 should provide a medium term solution at the position.
Secondly, Adam Snyder could take over the position by means of outperforming or outlasting (in the case of a Smith re-injury) Marvel Smith.
In this case, Snyder can finally have his due time to develop, and potentially prove to be the future at right tackle.
Snyder may also disappoint in his opportunity in place of Smith.
In this case San Francisco may still have one last wild card up their sleeve. Of the 49ers more noteworthy undrafted free agents was Alex Boone, Ohio State's top rated recruit coming out of high school. Despite being a four year starter at offensive tackle, against top competition no less, Boone has yet to live up to his high ceiling of potential. In addition, his well-documented case of alcoholism , including a DUI and drunk "rampage" (from which he had to be tasered), caused him to drop from a potential third round prospect to an undrafted free agent.
Although unlikely to make the final active roster due to current depth, Boone remains a favorite to land on the practice squad. This is an ideal scenario for the raw, yet massive offensive tackle to develop. If Smith can't stay healthy, expect Boone to make an appearance in the shiny new Red and Gold on Sunday.
If Smith, Snyder, and wild card Boone all fail to provide a formidable right tackle, 49er fans can still talk themselves down from the ledge.
After all, the 49ers could rest assured knowing that their future right tackle was not on the roster, and be in position to draft a franchise bookend in the 2010 draft.
Fortunately for the 49ers, who postponed selecting their franchise right tackle, the 2010 draft class should be littered with elite large-bodied offensive tackles. These first-round caliber tackles include:
1- Bryan Bulaga: Iowa (underclassman)
2- Russell Okung: Oklahoma St.
3- Trent Williams: Oklahoma
4- Anthony Davis: Rutgers (underclassman)
5- Ciron Black: LSU
6- Lee Ziemba: Auburn (underclassman)
7- Adam Ulatoski: Texas
Shaun Hill playing as Alex Smith in Madden football would be a lethal combination. By infusing Hill’s Pro Bowl-caliber intangibles into Smith’s Pro Bowl-caliber tangibles, the perfect quarterback storm would form.
As a draft prospect, the 2005 Alex Smith would’ve been a top three quarterback and first round selection of the 2009 NFL draft.
With a pathetic offensive supporting cast, five offensive coordinators over five years, and a devastating shoulder injury to date, Smith has been a victim of poor circumstances.
Although he was undrafted, Shaun Hill has been phenomenal in the limited opportunities he’s received. As a starter, he lead the 49ers to a 7-3 record, with a 90.5 quarterback rating.
Both of these quarterbacks have long-term starting potential as evidenced by their respective 7-3 starting record and first overall draft selection, and therefore the victor from such competition will come out the better quarterback for it.
If Hill can develop his tangibles, or Smith can learn a thing or two from Hill’s school of improvisation, one of these quarterbacks may prove worthy of being a long-term starter.
Although fifth round selection Nate Davis has the potential to be a franchise starter down the road, his impact in 2009 will likely be limited as he adjusts to the speed and complexities of the NFL.
If the Smith-Hill experiment backfires, the 49ers should have a high enough pick to land an elite franchise-potential quarterback with one of their first round selections. These draft-eligible quarterbacks include:
1- Sam Bradford: Oklahoma (underclassman)
2- Colt McCoy: Texas
3- Jevan Snead: Ole Miss (underclassman)
4- Jimmy Clausen: Notre Dame (underclassman)
5- Tim Tebow: Florida
The free safety position will be Dashon Goldson’s to lose, as the electric and high-potential defensive back gets his turn under the spotlight. If Goldson can stay healthy (an if so large that it obscures the words to follow), than expect him to win over the starting free safety role for years to come.
If the injury bug returns, expect the 49er organization to look for a more durable solution.
Given that the best 2009 college safety prospects decided to remain in school, the 2010 draft should be significantly more promising at the safety. These ball hawking, first-round caliber talents include:
1- Eric Berry: Tennessee (underclassman)
2- Taylor Mays: USC
3- Major Wright: Florida (underclassman)
4- Kam Chancellor: Virginia Tech
With the coaching staff committing to Lawson as a three down starter, the former 22nd overall pick will get his chance to reach his endless potential. After bulking up in the offseason, look for Lawson’s once frail frame to attack the outside edges of offensive tackles.
If Lawson fails to make an impact, he’ll likely revert back to first and second down situations, providing Brooks, Moore, Harris, and Briggs an opportunity.
If that rag-tag pass rush by committee fails, then look for the 49ers to end their pass rushing woes once and for all in a well-stocked 2010 draft class. These notable 3-4 pass rushing prospects include:
1- Sergio Kindle: Texas
2- Greg Hardy: Ole Miss
3- George Selvie: USF
4- Jerry Hughes: TCU
5- Antonio Coleman: Auburn
6- Everson Griffen: USC (underclassman)
7- Brandon Lang: Troy
Despite being the figurative anchor of the 3-4 defense, the 49ers have yet to invest in a franchise nose tackle.
They brought in the wide-bodied stop gap Aubrayo Franklin, shifted around the All-World strong Isaac Sopoaga, and considered rotating 2008 first-round pick Kentwan Balmer from his defensive end position, but no solution has yet to present itself as a long term fixture.
Once Raji went off the board the pick prior to the 49ers, the possibility of a franchise nose tackle disappeared with him. Although the rotation in place should serve the 2009 49ers well, San Francisco will certainly look to upgrade the position in any event come 2010.
Fortunately for the 49ers, the 2010 draft has the best nose tackle prospect since Vince Wilfork. His name is Terrence “Mount” Cody. The fact that Cody played in the highly competitive SEC gets McCloughan’s blood pumping.
1- Terrence Cody: Alabama