Because the NFL draft can't get here soon enough, many itchy fans are keeping tabs on the draft's latest risers and fallers.
The 49ers Faithful might be some of the most edgy fans this year however.
As their new general manager and head coach are putting a team overhaul into action, fans are biting their nails at the suspense of just who will be on the 49ers quarterback depth chart in 2011.
Harbaugh's version of the West Coast Offense (WCO) is coming to Candlestick Park next year, and the 49ers draft will give away several clues about which direction the franchise is being steered in now.
Of course we see best-case and worst-case scenarios popping up all the time; this little fantasy-reality hybrid can be meant for a base guide to 49ers April hopes, and contingencies.
Basically, here's another fix for SF's NFL junkies squirming in February football withdrawal. Someone take over at quarterback and pass me the methadone please!
If things go just right, then Patrick Peterson will be available.
The NFL tends to favor larger players, like offensive and defensive tackles, at the top of the draft. Quarterbacks, defensive ends and receivers also tend to dominate the top spots, so for the draft's best corner back to fall to the seventh spot is not unheard of. The Browns took Florida corner Joe Hayden with the seventh pick last year, although safety Eric Berry was taken at the five spot by the Chiefs.
Of course every dream needs a contingency plan, just in case you wake up.
The 49ers passing defense needs help beyond coverage, and the top of this year's draft contains several top-notch pass rushers: Von Miller, Da'Quan Bowers, Marcel Daruis, Nick Fairley, and Robert Quinn.
Not a bad contingency plan at all, really. Any one of these players has the potential to make San Francisco's pass rush a force to be feared when injected into their already stinging defense.
Additionally, if they are set on fortifying the secondary early in the draft, Nebraska's Prince Amukamara should be available, and he's looked pro-ready for a while.
A strong majority of 49ers fans are not looking for a quarterback in the first round as the effectiveness of a rookie passer in his first year (regardless of round selected) is typically next to nothing.
Akeem Ayers is very interesting if Peterson falls to the 49ers in the first.
Albeit, Ayers is also projected as a first-round pass rusher, but players stocks can fall abruptly as others rise. The 6'4, 255-pound outside linebacker from UCLA is projected as a first or second-round selection and just might be available when the 49ers pick with the 13th pick in the second round.
Ayers can rush the passer as well as cover the flats and play against the run; he's a pretty complete package.
The second round seems like a much more appropriate place for a team to take a rookie quarterback. So there are options here where the 49ers can select a passer and not need to worry so much about paying him first-round cash so they can train him. An employer that pays you while they train you is never happy until the training is over, and they'll typically pay you at entry-level salary through the training process.
In the first round of the NFL however, a quarterback is seen as an investment to pay a large up-front bonus too. A first-round investment under center is to be protected and seasoned until he is ready to go out and win games.
One of the Big Four quarterbacks may or may not fall to the 49ers in the second round, and if Harbaugh sees something he likes in one of them, the Faithful will probably jump on board.
A favored strategy, however, is selecting a pass rusher or corner here—whichever position was not taken in the first should be sought in the second.
Aaron Williams out of Texas is one heck of a talent who will likely be available. Jimmy Smith from Colorado, and Brendon Harris out of Miami, could also be options.
And it they take Peterson or Amukamara in the first, and Ayers is gone, then Justin Houston could and should also be strongly considered.
Recent prospect ranking from CBSSports.com have Ryan Mallett falling all the way to the third round! I'm gonna predict a further slide after a lackluster combine from the big man, followed by a renaissance from Mallett's pro-day.
Because Mallett is a quarterback, not a workout warrior. His big size and long limbs make him seem clumsy, his raw athleticism (or lack there of) won't show well at all under a microscope of 40-yard dashes, shuttle-cone drills, bench presses, and explosive jumps.
Mallett's arm, and accuracy will make some jaws drop at his pro day, however. If he can quicken his footwork and compress his throwing motion by Arkansas' pro day, he could even sneak back into the first round, assuming a decent Wonderlic score, and good interview sessions during that portion of the assessments. Mallett was arrested a couple years back for public intoxication, and he has never been a team captain at either of the colleges he attended.
If Mallett does fall to the third round, there's not really any way San Francisco can pass on him.
If the 49ers somehow land Peterson and Ayers (or if they take any other combination of non-quarterbacks) in the first two rounds, the third round is probably the right time to take a quarterback.
Christian Ponder is projected as a second-round quarterback, and has actually passed Mallett in the prospect rankings recently. Ponder could slip to the third, just as Mallett could. Although llacking in arm strength, Ponder can make crisp (and accurate )underneath throws in a pro-style system. He's also a bright young man with good mobility.
Colin Kaepernick is another riser. Kaepernick was initially projected as a likely seventh round pick or even undrafted free agent. What a difference a season makes though. Sure he played his college ball at Nevada in Chris Ault's unorthodox "pistol" offense, where he pretty much never took a snap from under center. Still, his athletacism, height, arm strength, accuracy and unquestionably high character deem that Kaepernick will be a tremendous value if he stays a third rounder.
DeMarco Murray is yet another interesting option likely to be available if SF decides to hold off on their quarterback pursuit. Frank Gore is getting older, and his season was lost to a hip injury late last year.
Terrence Toliver could give the 49ers a needed boost at receiver. With great height, hands, speed and overall skill, Toliver would be a welcome push to motivate former first-round receiver-turned-diva Michael Crabtree.
Niles Paul could be another option. Though not as rangy in stature, Paul has nice bulk for a low-to-the ground pass catcher, and could give SF the tough receiver over the middle they've been looking for.
Then again maybe Terrence Toliver falls to the fourth round. He does have an arrest for fighting on his record, and his statistics are inconsistent and not overly impressive when totaled, relatively speaking of course.
In an SEC division full of talented pass catchers, the smallest of knocks on a receiver can make him seem sub-par.
Wake up! We're losing track of the real-world need for contingency here!
If a quarterback is not procured by the fourth round, then that could be an opportune time to get one.
Ricky Stanzi has an impressive amount of positives working his way. He's got very decent mobility, a good arm, accurate throws, and a healthy dose of experience taking snaps from under center.
Pat Devlin from Delaware is another intriguing passer who should be available here. Devlin has a strong, and accurate arm with a silky-smooth delivery; but the down-level competition he faced in college, along with the fact that he played in a spread offense make his potential NFL transition hard to guage.
Sione Fua would be another great pick here that addresses a need: nose tackle with the very possible departure of Aubrayo Franklin. Fua played for Harbaugh at Stanford and is familiar with the schemes of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
And of course Stanford fullback Owen Marecic is another all around solid football player that should be looked at here.
Yeah, this Owen Marecic.
Moran Norris is getting older, and a newer model at fullback is in order. Norris has a couple more years left, but at what level?
When the 49ers dropped Brit Miller last season, it seemed like a reckless dismissal of a pretty important position.
Now they find themselves faced with an even better option to back up Norris in Stanford's 2010 showcasing of football's iron-man spirit.
Marecic played a fierce inside linebacker at Stanford in addition to his fullback duties, but the likely hood of him lining up next to Patrick Willis is minimal at the NFL level. The fact that Marecic pulled double shifts through college is a testament to his physicality, durability, endurance and heart. You know he'd be a more-than-willing participant on special teams, and his intelligence is unquestionable as well.
Marecic will be gone by then in all likelihood.
As the herd is thinned, personal preference for character and system fit will play a bigger role. Thomas Keiser, outside linebacker from Stanford, should be around.
Jeron Johnson, a tenacious strong safety from Boise State could also be on the radar.
But as most fans recognize, the offensive line still needs help. Although the 49ers took two offensive linemen in the first round last year, they could benefit from looking at linemen in the late rounds this year.
Left tackle Derek Hall from Stanford stands out for obvious reasons. Although he did make probably the dumbest play in this year's Orange Bowl (catching a batted incomplete pass behind the line in the end zone for a safety) Hall is a much smarter football player than that; he was trusted with protecting Andrew Luck's blindside afterall.
Clint Boling, a guard from Georgia, could also be available here, as might Lee Zeimba, who's been blowing open holes on the Auburn line for a couple years now.
Kelvin Sheppard isn't the pass-rush monster teams are seeking these days, but he is a heck of a ball player.
Sheppard was at the heart of an LSU defense that stood tall against the powerful SEC over the last couple seasons. He's a tackling machine more than a quarterback assassin, but with a little work and some good scheming, he could be another disruptive force at linebacker for San Francisco's defense if they can grab him in the fifth.
Sheppard isn't likely to be an option in the fifth round, but current projections are offering another interesting choice in Casey Mathews.
And if Mathews is gone and the 49ers fail to obtain Marecic, Henry Hynoski, another beast of a fullback should be around, and worth every nickel from day one.
Sione Fua is practically a must-have in this draft if you're San Francisco. He's inteligent and big, yet not so much that he'll cost a high-round pick.
No one wants to jump the gun on a player that weekend, so if Baalke and Harbaugh can hold their horses, and Fua falls to the sixth, then they're getting a steal.
Kirkpatrick could provide a toughness up front that the 49ers have been in hot pursuit of since Bobb McKittrick passed.
Although Andy Dalton has gotten much attention due to the dire quarterback conundrum in San Francisco, when I watched TCU nip Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl I saw Dalton (and his offense) thriving primarily on account of his offensive line.
Sure their defense had more than a little to do with keeping the Badgers in check that day, but the interior big guys seemed (to me anyways) to be blowing their opponents off the line. The 49ers need to strengthen their right guard spot, and it seems like it could be an ideal place to groom Kirkpatrick as a future center for the red and gold.
Roy Helu Jr is a local boy from Danville, CA. His running style is a tougher than a lot of the juke-and-cut backs we see these days, but it has surely been effective at times.
How effective? How about 300-yards-against-Missouri effective on October 30th last year.
Perhaps many will say the 49ers aren't in tremendous need of another tough running back currently, but Dixon remains unproven, while Frank Gore is slowly closing in on 30.
Roy Helu Jr will be available! He is actually projected as a seventh-round pick, and that's IF he gets picked.
Now if the 49ers have already drafted a quarterback at this point, don't necessarily expect another passer. The same goes for Mallett, Ponder, and Stanzi. If they haven't, however, keep in mind the potential Harbaugh may (or may not) have seen from Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the Orange Bowl. And if Taylor is still around at this pick, he'd be more than worth risking a seventh round pick on.
Alex Henery is a young riser; Joe Nedney is nearing the end of his career. A small overlap, and a little time on the practice squad could smooth the transition with an early seventh-round pick.
It's very debatable weather the 49ers will still have their final pick by the time it rolls around; they'll likely have packaged the position in some trade to jockey for a specific player they've had their sights on. In this fantasy, however, no trades were ever necessary. It's a fantasy for cry'n out loud.
And in my fantasy, the 49ers take DeJon Gomes, Nebraska's "turnover machine" over the last couple of years.
Gomes is the player you may or may not have heard of, although his counter parts Ndamukong Suh, and Prince Amukamara have been getting (have got in Suh's case) a lot of attention.
But there's more than one player on any defense, and Gomes is a ball-hawk and a hitter. He makes up for mediocre physical attributes with good football smarts and constant and solid efforts.
Gomes has been one of the Blackshirts' most under-the-radar contributers.
The 49ers new head coach is not Bo Pelini (thank God) but rather Jim Harbaugh. Thusly, many fans are (within reason) expecting a few Stanford players to show up in Santa Clara next summer.
Andrew Phillips, Derek Hall, or Chase Beeler could find their ways to Candlestick on Sundays eventually.
When the dust has settled at the combine, and the concrete the numbers are etched in is dry, the landscape will have changed. But the needs and desires of every head coach, general manager, and team, will remain (more-or-less) the same.