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.