All signs point to NFL fans being hungry for mock drafts. If that is what you are looking for, you will not find it here.
If you have followed my articles and comments to this point (and as always a big thank you to those who have), then you ought to have a pretty good idea about what I think of mock drafts in general.
In my way of thinking, they are silly, highly speculative, and do not add much value. They give us football fanatics something to do from February to April, but they hold little value beyond that.
With respect to projections on the San Francisco 49ers, I have seen a few mock drafts in recent weeks that I liked (or at least would be satisfied to see work themselves out), but most have bordered on the abhorrent.
The majority of mock drafts suggest the existence of some widespread myths and misconceptions about the 49ers needs and wants going into Radio City Music Hall on April 22.
As the 49ers approach one of the biggest drafts they have had in recent history (with no formal titled GM no less), I would like to take the opportunity to dispel some of these.
I will not be calling out specific players I think the 49ers ought to target. I will instead be addressing several mistakes they need to avoid in the first round. Some are likely to surprise you.
I am not implying that if the 49ers do end up going one of these routes that the draft is a complete failure. For every Pro Bowler taken in the first round, there are probably at least five contemporary players at the same position who do not pan out (even if they stop short of being complete busts).
Obviously, good drafts are made by solid talent evaluation in the later rounds. But the stakes are higher when first-round salaries are on the line. It is difficult to make your draft great in the first round, but you go a lot further toward ruining it.
With that, the Top Five Mistakes the 49ers could make in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft:
This really goes for the entire draft.
It is a low order of probability, but not impossible. Experts had the 49ers as a leading contender in the Donovan McNabb sweepstakes, which was ultimately won by the Washington Redskins last Sunday.
Now that McNabb has found a new home in the nation’s capital (or a few miles away in Maryland), experts as reputable as Todd McShay have hinted Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen could be a target for the 49ers at 13 or 17.
Even if Sam Bradford were to fall to the 49ers at 17, there is no way they should draft a QB. Drafting a QB would be even worse than bringing in McNabb, as it would add the much more substantial and real risk of the player not living up to his potential to what would be an already murky situation.
Going into camp with four QBs is a no-win situation for the 49ers. Drafting a QB in the first round would magnify that issue, as it would all but guarantee the departure of Alex Smith, David Carr, or Nate Davis. That would be, to my way of thinking, a huge mistake with the way the QB position seems to be progressing.
For more information on the complications of bringing in another QB, read my article entitled “Duality of Donovan McNabb to the 49ers: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t”.
I will immediately qualify this one.
I will admit there are scenarios where an offensive lineman would be the best possible pick for the 49ers at 13 OR 17 (but NOT BOTH as I have seen in some mocks).
However, most mock drafts I have seen reflect a severely skewed perspective regarding the team’s needs on the offensive line.
Offensive line help is certainly a need for the 49ers, and an argument could be made that it is their biggest need. Personally, I think at most it is even with defensive back help, but the argument for offensive line being the top priority is a sound one.
Even if offensive line was clearly the number one need for the team, that does not automatically mean the 49ers MUST draft an offensive lineman in round one.
You need to look at the demographics of the draft. There is substantial talent in this draft class projecting in the second round (and later) and there is no guarantee a first-round pick will be head and shoulders above a second-round pick, especially at a non-skill position.
The 49ers could draft a talented offensive lineman later and save money to sign more elite talent at skill positions. This would also free them up to pursue some of the elite defensive backs and pass rushers projecting in the middle-to-late first round.
With Barry Sims back in the fold and Joe Staley back healthy (and hopefully the addition of Chester Pitts soon), the 49ers do not need a player to step in from day one.
Mike Solari also takes over as offensive line coach. He is a former assistant of the legendary Bobb McKittrick, a master at crafting later-round picks into Pro Bowl players (for more on this see the very insightful piece by Joseph Burkey, “Remembering Bobb McKittrick: A 49ers Legend”).
Given all this, taking an offensive lineman makes little sense this early. Even so, if Williams, Bulaga, or Okung fall all the way to 17, the 49ers might not be able to afford passing them up.
Michael Crabtree fell to 49ers at 10 last year, leaving them virtually no choice but to draft him.
We as fans could all have lived without the soap opera that ensued, but I do not think anyone can credibly claim the pick was a bad decision.
Casual observers might argue that the 49ers have greater needs at WR this season than last (they may be right about that), and therefore SHOULD look to draft a Dez Bryant or Golden Tate in the first round.
After all, Arnaz Battle is gone to Pittsburgh and the status of Isaac Bruce is unknown. Crabtree is an emerging star, but the 49ers have little backup beyond him. They would be foolish not to look at a WR in round one, right?
The 49ers do have some back-up for Crabtree, with Josh Morgan, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones, and Dominique Zeigler, all vying for increased playing time. They also have a guy named Vernon Davis who can haul in the long ball every once in a while.
Most of their receivers are unproven, so depth is an issue. But this is definitely a need better addressed in later rounds. The demographics of the draft show a lean class in terms of WR talent early, with much better selectivity in the middle rounds, furthering the argument to wait.
The 49ers cannot afford a repeat of the bad publicity brought about by the saga of "As the Crabtree Turns" last summer and fall.
This is not a knock to Michael Crabtree directly (nor the decision to draft him), because ever since he actually did sign his contract and show up to the team, I have been pretty pleased with his attitude.
Still, a little extra homework could help the 49ers avoid going through this situation (with all its speculation and rumors) again.
The team needs to be sure they know everything about whomever they draft, especially in the first round.
Combine stats and knowledge of X's and O's are important of course, but other aspects can be just as critical. Attitude and work ethic are serious concerns, along with the ability to be a team player—particularly on a Mike Singletary-led squad.
Even beyond these intangibles, there is more research to be done.
Who is this player’s agent? Are they likely to hold out if their draft position slips? What is their financial situation? How likely are they to agree to reasonable, fair-market terms?
These are the questions the 49ers must ask themselves to ensure they avoid déjà-Crabtree.
Obviously, the most popular choices are C.J. Spiller and Javid Best.
The arguments to draft one of these two (particularly Spiller) are not completely ill-founded. Nonetheless, this would be a big mistake.
Make no mistake: the 49ers have need at RB. However, this need exists only on a “depth” level. Frank Gore has several more productive years as a top NFL back, and Glen Coffee looks to be well on his way to developing into a capable heir apparent.
They have both battled injury, but both stand to serve substantial roles in the backfield this season. Bringing in a premiere RB, who expects to play right away, would lead to a complicated situation, with one or more backs inevitably being unhappy with the outcome.
The argument that Spiller in particular could help the return game is certainly true. But he is far from the best option. Battle and Rossum are gone, but Josh Morgan could play a much larger role, in tandem with Delanie Walker.
Bringing in a Jordan Shipley could boost this area for the 49ers, as Shipley could contribute in the return game while learning the offense.
This is a role limitation Spiller would be unlikely to accept, and Shipley’s college accolades suggest he could become a Steve Tasker-type performer on special teams.
Best’s injury last year makes him a clear reach at 17, reason enough not to take him in the first round. Spiller is in the opposite situation as he would need to fall to the 49ers at 13. Luckily, this is a scenario the 49ers are not likely to face.
Seven teams with earlier picks than the 49ers’ at 13 ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing last year. Spiller is a unique talent, consistently ranked as the best back in the draft (I have seen a few people argue him as the best player). I find it EXTREMELY unlikely that he will be available at pick 13.
Even if he is, the 49ers should pass.
Part of the problem with mock drafts is the unpredictable nature of what might happen on draft day.
Not everyone is as flighty and impulsive as Al Davis, but even so, you never know when a team might decide to reach, pass on a seeming slam dunk, or trade picks.
Still, careful examination of the draft demographics and team needs can give some enlightenment toward what posture the 49ers should take into the 2010 draft.
If I were in Trent Baalke’s wing tips, I would expect to be able to grab some elite defensive talent in round one.
My top targets would be a DB and a pass rusher, as there are many good options at both positions who would be able to contribute early for the 49ers and are worthy of the substantial first-round investment.
Joe Haden or Taylor Mays would be fine choices at 13, perhaps to be followed by Jason Pierre-Paul or Everson Griffen at 17. I feel confident in saying that Ndamukong Suh will be off the board, but top-line pass rush help could still be added in the first round.
Offensive line, running back, and wide receiver should be deferred to later rounds. I hope Trent feels the same way.
Keep the faith!