NFL Draft 2011: Cam Newton and 10 Draft-Day Trades for the San Francisco 49ers

Wiley BirkhoferContributor IFebruary 17, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Cam Newton and 10 Draft-Day Trades for the San Francisco 49ers

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jim Harbaugh speaks at a press conference where he was introduced as the new San Francisco 49ers head coach at the Palace Hotel on January 7, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    NFL Draft 2011: Cam Newton and 10 Draft Day Trades for the San Francisco 49ers

    With the seventh pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the 49ers select...

    Jim Harbaugh!

    Be honest. Would you be at all disappointed?  

    As far as I'm concerned, our offseason report card for 2011 already reads A+.  So will San Francisco sleep through the draft?  It's happened before.

    Harbaugh can make his first good impression by avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors.

    Since 2003, the only bust the Niners haven't sniffed out is Jamarcus Russell.

    2003—Kwame Harris

    2004—Rashaun Woods

    2005—Alex Smith

    2006-2007—(Uncharacteristically good stretch)

    2008—Kentwan Balmer

    2009—Michael Crabtree

    2010—Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati

    The jury is still out on Crab, Davis, and Iupati, but it's safe to say they haven't been home runs.

    This year, one lucky cornerback, quarterback or pass rusher will change the trajectory of the 49ers' draft history forever.

    But who?  And which position?  A quarterback?  The Niners may look elsewhere to solve that problem.

    Unfortunately, many of the 49ers' targets at these positions have attracted league-wide attention.  With the seventh pick, the 49ers cannot afford to wait and watch a franchise player fall to their competition.

    Here are the 10 players Harbaugh will have to go and get if his heart is set...

10. Cam Newton, Auburn

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers looks on during their game against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Don't worry.  This list goes in descending order.  Cam Newton is the least likely of the Niners' plausible trades.

    But he's still a possibility.  His stock has skyrocketed since a recent workout with former 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer.  Dilfer raved, "If scouts saw this, they'd have been slobbering."

    Newton isn't a perfect fit in Harbaugh's West Coast offense, but it's hard to deny his talent.  If Tim Tebow can usurp Kyle Orton, Newton can replace Alex Smith.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona 

    Upside: athleticism, success at Auburn

    Downside: accuracy, ethics, compatibility with West Coast

9. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

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    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Missouri Tigers throws a pass during the Insight Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24. (Photo by
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    When Andrew Luck dropped out of this year's draft, Blaine Gabbert seized the opportunity to become 2011's top quarterback prospect.

    I'm willing to call Gabbert opportunistic.  I'm not willing to call Gabbert the unanimous No. 1 choice at quarterback.  He was 400 yards and eight touchdowns less effective in 2010 than in 2009, and both years he spent in a shotgun offense.  Any team familiar with Alex Smith's transition from Utah to SF will consider this a red flag.  San Francisco will consider a red stick of dynamite.

    Still, there's too much hype for Gabbert to drop to pick seven with so many teams in need of a quarterback.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona

    Upside: size, arm strength

    Downside: product of system?, pocket presence

8. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks looks to pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Though considerably more raw than Gabbert and Newton, Ryan Mallett has the potential to leave both of them in his Razorback dust.

    At 6'6", Mallett is the prototypical pocket passer.  He has a cannon of an arm and toothpicks for legs.  He played under center at Arkansas, where he lost only two regular season games in his 2010 season.

    The knock on Mallett is his maturity and utter lack of mobility.  Teams who can afford to bench Mallett until he is ready will be desperately hoping he falls to them. desperate they might entertain a trade.  If the Niners are one of these suitors, they may have to pry Mallett from a competitor's grasp.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona

    Upside: arm strength, size, 10-2 his senior year

    Downside: maturity, lack of mobility, shortcomings in big games

7. Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 18:  Da'Quan Bowers #93 of the Clemson Tigers against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Think Julius Peppers.  Or for the Niners-oriented, Julian Peterson.  Da'Quan Bowers is a force on the outside.

    The Niners accumulated 36 sacks in 2010, down from 44 in 2009.  Even more impact came from their inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

    However effective Travis LaBoy and Manny Lawson have been, the Niners need a true pass rusher opposite Justin Smith.

    If Bowers can't become the bane of Sam Bradford and Matt Hasselbeck's existence, he'll at least free up Justin Smith.

    Think Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis with an NFC West twist.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Every team who picks before San Francisco!  Bowers is the No. 1 player on many draft boards.

    Upside: size (6'4", 280 lbs) and speed, 16 sacks in 2010

    Downside: recent surgery to repair partially torn miniscus

6. Nick Fairley, Auburn

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10: Nick Fairley #90 of the Auburn Tigers sacks Darron Thomas #1 of the Oregon Ducks in the fourth quarter of the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Ph
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Nick Fairley is technically a defensive tackle, but has all the tools to convert to an end in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme.  Fairley played basketball in high school and recorded 12 sacks in 2011.

    He is the closest thing to the consensus No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.

    His performance in the BCS National Championship game began scouts' obsession.  Though only posting one tackle and one sack, he was a constant nuisance to Darron Thomas and Oregon's touted offense.

    The only trepidation will be cost.  Carolina will be hesitant to give up their replacement for Julius Peppers without a fight.  The Panthers accumulated only 31 sacks this past season.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Carolina

    Upside: incredible skill and speed for an inside lineman, versatility

    Downside: cost

5. Von Miller, Texas A&M

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    What can go wrong with a guy named Von Miller?  I've pre-ordered my custom made Bristol Von Miller-Stein jersey.  Take that Houshmandzadeh!

    Many mocks have Von landing in San Francisco.  The Niners can't be too careful, though, considering enthusiasm over the Miller and the need for pass rushers across the board.

    Six out of six teams with picks ahead of the 49ers ranked in the bottom half of the league in sacks.

    Arizona (33), Carolina (31), Cleveland (29), Buffalo (27) and Cincinnati (27).

    The grand prize winner for fewest sacks in 2010?...Your Denver Broncos with 23.  They pick second and will likely consider any and every DE and OLB on the board.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Denver

    Upside: 17 sacks in 2009, Butkus Linebacker award in 2010

    Downside: Lack of size, one-trick pony

4. Robert Quinn, UNC

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    My custom Quinn jersey will read "C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-S-I-A-L."  Coming off a sophomore season with 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, Quinn was projected as a top five pick.

    He was consequently suspended for the entire 2010 season after accepting $6,000 dollars in agent benefits and travel accommodation.

    Ignore these off-the-field issues, and you have yourself a premier talent at rushing the quarterback.  Quinn is explosive off the ball, especially for a man of his 270 lb. stature.  Depending on how teams assess his involvement in the agent scandal, Quinn won't last until pick seven.

    Harbaugh...whip this boy into shape!

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Carolina, Denver, Cincinnati

    Upside: speed and size

    Downside: off-the-field issues, easy ACC competition

3. Jimmy Smith/Brandon Harris/Aaron Williams/Ras-I Dowling

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    Though his name is much less interesting than Prince Amukamara's, Colorado's Jimmy Smith is a legit NFL prospect at CB.

    So are Miami's Brandon Harris, Texas' Aaron Williams and Virginia's Ras-I Dowling.

    Unfortunately, none of them come even close to Amukamara or Patrick Peterson.

    This cliff-drop in talent brings up an interesting scenario for the 49ers.  Though CB is probably the Niners' greatest need for 2011, QB and DE are nearly as urgent.  Let's face it, the Niners have holes.

    If Harbaugh feels good about any of these four first- to second-round prospects, he could trade down and satisfy a number of needs.

    A risky strategy to be certain, but the abundance of late first-round CB talent could be something for the Niners to exploit.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: any team with a late first-round pick and a willingness to trade

    Upside: fill a plethora of holes instead of just one

    Downside: give up a top 10 talent

2. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

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    LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 04:  Prince Amukamara #21 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers knocks down a pass intended for Tristan Jones #33 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during second half action of their game against at Memorial Stadium on September 4, 2010 in
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Oh Prince A, we are not worthy.  Please rescue our forlorn secondary and teach us your regal way.

    If begging doesn't get the job done, a trade will.  Of the top six picks, four teams need help at CB. Yet Amukamara and Patrick Peterson are the only real top 10 talents.  Though my math is little shaky, I can tell you that the supply of cornerbacks will run out before the Niners take their turn drafting.

    Denver is the most desperate and will be hard to persuade not to choose Peterson with the second overall pick.

    This leaves the Niners, Cardinals and Bills in a melee for Amukamara. If the Niners want Amukamara, playing hard to get won't do the trick.

    Teams SF should get on the phone: Denver, Arizona, Buffalo

    Upside: size (6'1", 205 lbs), lockdown ability, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

    Downside: no interceptions in 2010

1. Patrick Peterson, LSU

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 16:  Patrick Peterson #7 of the Louisiana State University Tigers smiles as he walks off the field during the game against the McNeese State Cowboys at Tiger Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The golden egg.  Purple and yellow just like every golden egg should be.

    Peterson is nearly perfect.  In 2010, he won the Thorpe DB of the Year Award and the SEC's Most Valuable Defensive Player.

    He also won the SEC's Special Teams MVP as he averaged the fourth most all-purpose yards (116.9/game) despite never having played an offensive down.

    If Peterson is drafted higher than third, he will be the highest drafted CB of all time.  No hard feelings, Shawn Springs.

    So how does Peterson plan to be the first or second overall pick?

    Easy: "Run fast, that's it. I want to run a 4.2."

    Even if he doesn't, Denver won't hesitate to snatch Peterson with the second overall pick.  Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman are on their last legs.  If the Niners believe the Peterson hype, they may want to arrange a swap.  Josh McDaniels is silly enough, right?

    The question, as with all these potential trades, is price.  Why trade at all when at least four of the Niners' 10 targets will last 'til pick seven?  Well, if Harbaugh disapproves of a handful and doesn't intend to draft a quarterback, for example, the Niners could miss out on their 4-5 remaining targets.

    Harbaugh doesn't strike me as the kind of coach to let that happen...

    Teams SF should get on the phone: EVERYBODY

    Upside: four-year starter at LSU, lockdown ability, size, speed, you name it!

    Downside: price