What Should the San Francisco 49ers Do with Their Two First Round Picks?
Those exact positions are subject to change, but you can be guaranteed that both selections will fall between No. 10 and No. 20 overall.
By virtue of having these two middle tier selections, the 49ers can significantly upgrade their talent level in this draft, but only if they do so wisely. By wisely, I mean not passing up on an explosive talent like they did two years ago when they passed on DeSean Jackson twice in the 2008 draft.
Assuming (although it is never good to assume with the 49ers) that San Francisco finishes the season with a win over the Rams, the 49ers will finish at .500 with a record of 8-8.
Now while posters here on B/R may be fed up with my negative opinion of quarterback Alex Smith, it needs to be reiterated that Smith is and should be the starter for 2010. Never have I said he shouldn't be; I have simply stated that he doesn't show that "it" factor that makes you think, "Wow, I could really see this guy leading the 49ers to playoff success."
He has the ability to get the 49ers to the playoffs and maybe win a game or maybe even two, but when it comes to sustained playoff success year after year, Smith doesn't project to have the necessary skills to be that type of quarterback.
But that is an argument I have beaten to death over the course of the season, and with the year coming to a close, it is time to analyze how this team can improve upon what is probably going to be an 8-8 finish, their first non-losing season since 2002.
The first and foremost need for the 49ers is to bolster their offensive line, but using both their first round selections on offensive linemen would be a major, major mistake.
Did the offensive line of Joe Staley, David Baas, Eric Heitmann, Chilo Rachal, and Adam Snyder live up to the expectations coming into this season? No, of course not—they performed at an unacceptable level.
However, wasn't this the same offensive line that fans were excited to see play for a full season coming out of last year's 5-2 finish? Staley, Baas, Heitmann, and Snyder played quite well down the stretch, and as a rookie, Rachal got in there late and had some memorable blocks in front of Frank Gore.
One inconsistent season and the entire offensive line not named Joe Staley needs to be replaced? If Staley wasn't a first round pick, would his job be as safe as it is? His 2009 campaign was solid, and he is, by far, the best offensive lineman the 49ers have, but he isn't as dominant as fans like to claim.
That said, Staley is almost certain to improve next season, just as both Baas and Rachal are likely to improve. Remember, this was just Baas' second full season as a starter and Rachal's first. The core four of Staley-Baas-Heitmann-Rachal has the talent to have a bounce-back year in 2010, and making any changes amongst those four is not a vital need.
But what is a vital need is a right tackle. Just like last offseason, the 49ers need a big, strong, and quick tackle to play opposite of Staley. If there is a right tackle that fits the bill in the draft, then the 49ers should use one of their first round choices and take that player.
If there isn't that dominating tackle available, the 49ers' next best options are to use the first of their two first round picks to pick up either a shutdown corner to complement Nate Clements or a pass-rushing defensive end to play opposite Justin Smith.
While Shawntae Spencer, Dre' Bly, and Walt Harris are all quality corners that would help out tremendously next season if they all return, none of them is a pure difference maker. Considering that Clements doesn't have that top-end speed, drafting a tall and speedy corner to play that No. 2 corner spot would solidify a secondary that struggled at times this season.
If that type of corner isn't available, then San Francisco should go after a defensive end who can rush the quarterback. The trio of pass rushing outside linebackers in Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, and Ahmad Brooks is a solid core, but when it comes to rushing the passer, the only defensive lineman on the roster who generates any consistent pressure is Smith.
Aubrayo Franklin, Ray McDonald, and Isaac Sopoaga are all good against the run, but the 49ers need more than just one-dimensional defensive linemen. They need someone who can help generate a pass rush. If only they could clone Justin Smith. But someone at least close to that caliber or even more talented than Smith is a necessary pickup in either the draft or free agency.
Right tackle, corner, and defensive end are the three big needs. Darn, weren't those the same three needs last year? Looking back on it, those were (more or less) the same big needs.
Well, this offseason they are still holes needing to be filled, and while the 49ers have two first round picks, at least one of those holes should be filled in the first round.
However, for as many needs as the 49ers have, there is always the argument of grabbing the best player available regardless of other needs. Case in point was the drafting of Michael Crabtree last year and what should have been the drafting of DeSean Jackson two years ago.
While wide receiver was in fact a need in both the '08 and '09 drafts (more so in the '08 draft), there were bigger needs in other areas.
In 2008, the 49ers felt that drafting a player at a position of the biggest need was the way to go. Last year, they felt that drafting the best talent available regardless of need was the best route.
Clearly, drafting Crabtree (despite his holdout) was the better choice than drafting Kentwan Balmer over DeSean Jackson.
The 49ers need to use more of this thought process when using their two first round selections. If a player with the talents of a Jahvid Best falls in their laps in the middle of the first round, they need to jump on that scenario.
Let's face it, you can never have enough running backs, and right now the 49ers have Frank Gore and nobody else. Could Glen Coffee develop and get better? Sure he can; 2009 was his rookie year, and he deserves time to get better. But Coffee is no Jahvid Best, not by a long shot.
Ignoring any of the negatives that may come with Best (there were negatives with Jackson as well), his potential upside is so high that it is worth taking a shot on because he can fill the void of a speed back to complement Gore as well as the void at punt/kick returner.
Look at the best teams in the league and their offenses—almost all of them have a couple of guys who can run the ball. Philadelphia has always had a solid backup to Brian Westbrook, the New Orleans Saints have Reggie Bush, Mike Bell, and Pierre Thomas, the New England Patriots have Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Fred Taylor, and lastly, the New York Giants have Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Best and Gore in the backfield? Crabtree and Davis in the passing game? Talk about weapons that Alex Smith can benefit from.
Drafting the top talent available with one of their first round picks just might be the way to go depending who is available when the 49ers are on the clock.
While one of the first round picks the 49ers have should go to a right tackle (if the right one is available) and the rest of the 49ers' draft should be offensive line-heavy, one of the two picks should be used elsewhere.
For every Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, and Walter Jones offensive lineman who was drafted in the first round, there is a Jeff Saturday, Eugene Amano, and Jason Peters who is either drafted in the late rounds or not even drafted at all.
Offensive linemen can be found more frequently in later rounds of the draft, but playmakers like Jahvid Best rarely fall past the first round.
Either way, let's hope the 49ers use their first round picks wisely and fill two different holes with their selections.
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