It has now been over a decade since concussion issues forced 49er Legend Steve Young into retirement, effectively ending the most prolific dynasty in NFL History. From 1981-1997 the 49ers made the playoffs in 16 of the 18 seasons, the only exceptions were the strike shortened season of 1982, and the 1991 season in which the 49ers missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. During this time period the 49ers won 13 NFC-West Titles, went to 10 NFC Championship Games, and won five Super Bowls. It was dominance like the NFL had never seen before, and will probably never see again.
For a franchise that had back-to-back Hall of Fame Quarterbacks, the last decade has been excruciating to say the least. In fact, the 49ers were so sure Steve Young was the next elite quarterback, they all but sent Montana (who many consider the greatest of all time) packing in his later years. In a quarterback driven league, the 49ers had the best in the league for two decades. In fact, some have even made the case they had #1 and #2 All-Time consecutively.
So we need to be a little understanding of 49er fans when they are quick to crucify under-performing players (Alex Smith, Vernon Davis) and give coaches the hook, they have had six coaches (Marriucci, Erickson, Nolan, Sigletary, Tomsula, and Harbaugh) in 11 years.
So to throw a bone to those struggling out in Frisco, here is a list of the players they should take with their 10 draft picks that will return the 49ers to glory (or at least top of AWFUL NFC West).
Patrick Peterson - CB Louisiana State
Peterson has been slipping lately and is starting to become available as late as the seventh overall pick (see Todd McShay's most recent 1st round mock) which happens to be where the 49ers are slotted. Though Peterson has done nothing to cause this slip (see Joe Haden's 40-time from 2010) Peterson nonetheless is slipping a little. This is due to the big boost in Von Miller's stock after the Senior Bowl, as well as the meteoric rise of Cam Newton over the last four months. Let's just say, IF Peterson makes it to the 49ers at seven, he will not be making it to the eighth pick.
Peterson is the best of both worlds for the 49ers, he would be the best player available as well as fill a HUGE need for San Francisco. Peterson is an absolute freak on par with Calvin Johnson and Vernon Davis. Peterson stands 6'1" and weighs in at 222. At first glance these are safety, if not linebacker, stats. However, Peterson has been clocked at a 4.37 in the 40 and has a 39" vertical (think a more physical Antonio Cromartie with better coverage skills). Peterson would be an incredibly versatile addition to the 49ers secondary, as well as adding value in the return game. Peterson is a shut-down, bump-and-run, corner who would start right away. Even if the 49ers add to their corners via free agency with free agents such as Nnamdi Asomugha or Anonio Cromartie, Peterson should and would still be the pick if available as he could fill in at every position in the secondary.
Jake Locker - QB Washington
Every year we see Quarterbacks slip in the draft and unfortunately for Locker (but fortunately for San Francisco) I see Locker as this year's Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy. It should be noted that most draft experts do not see Locker making it this far, however I just don't see three QBs being taken in the first round and Locker's stock seems to be slipping on a daily basis. If Locker makes it into Round 2, the teams with the biggest QB need picking ahead of the 49ers will have probably picked up Gabbert and Newton, leaving the door open for a HUGE coup for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers. The 49ers would be better served to not risk it and would most likely trade up to sang Locker in the early 2nd round. If this happens Locker would be the 49ers QB for the future and heir to Steve Young.
When looking for a heir to Steve Young to lead the 49ers to a shift back to the West Coast Offense, why not turn to the prospect most similar to Steve Young. Locker may not have the prototypical QB height, but he is an extraordinary athlete, however like Young he is too tough and too much of a gamer for his own good. Locker's stock has been dropping, but I have not heard a legitimate reason as to why people are getting down on him. Sure Washington underperformed under Locker last year, but the Huskies were Locker and a whole lot of nothing this year and still went on to beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Locker was the consensus #1 overall and may have cost himself an insane amount of money with his slip and the new collective bargaining agreement. However his loss will be San Fransisco's gain and he if does become the next Steve Young, he will make plenty of money in his career.
Bruce Carter - OLB North Carolina
Before this season Carter was a surefire Top-15 pick, however a torn ACL will most likely linger into the off-season and make Carter unable to perform in draft workouts. Carter is now being projected as a third-round pick, many scouts are down on Carter given that so much of his game relies on his explosive athleticism, and until he proves he can get 100% of that athleticism back, he may not ever be the same player.
Carter is another player that the 49ers would scoop up without hesitation should he make it to them at 76th overall, he is third rounder with Top-10 upside (think Frank Gore). The 49ers are solid at LB so they have the luxury of letting Cater get 100% healthy before they feel pressured to insert him into the lineup. However, eventually the 49ers need to start preparing for the retirement of Takeo Spikes, and if Carter could regain his incredible athleticism, a 3-4 LB group with Willis, Lawson, Bowman, and Carter could be the NFL's best.
Orlando Franklin - OG Miami (Florida)
The 49ers are still looking for someone to take hold of the guard position opposite Mike Iupati. The combination of Chilo Rachal, Davis Baas, and Adam Snyder leave a lot to be desired, and one thing Orlando Franklin brings is A LOT! Franklin was the starting left tackle for the Hurricanes last season, and while he doesn't have the agility or feet to be a LT at the next level, he could develop into quite the mauler at guard.
Franklin is an absolute beast, at 6'6" and 320 pounds he would add a lot of meat to the interior of the 49er offensive line. There will no doubt be a learning curve with Franklin (which is why is is projected as a 4th rounder) however his upside is much greater than many lineman that will be taken before him. The 49ers should get Joe Staley back, getting back you star LT will allow them some flexibility on the line. Because of this they would have the luxury of waiting on Franklin while he learns the position, because as long as Staley can stay healthy, the 49ers offensive line will be much improved (Davis and Iupati made huge strides last year) even without any additions. Franklin could develop into a quality starter for years given his upside and huge frame.
Casey Matthews - ILB Oregon
Yes, he is part of THAT Matthews family. Casey was the defensive anchor for the National Runner-Up Oregon Ducks. While Casey does not have the athleticism of his brother Clay (Green Bay Packers) he is a solid all-around MLB and is much more fundamentally sound than Clay was coming out of USC.
Matthews led the Ducks with 73 tackles and also had 3 sacks and 3 int. His athleticism while a strength in the college ranks, may be a liability at the pro level. He will need to add some bulk to play MLB in the NFL. He is a smart, instinctual player who could be part of a LB rotation right away. A true ILB he can be effective with blitzes up the middle, but in not a dominant pass rusher by any stretch. Can penetrate and fight off-blocks as well as anyone in the country, and is a master at diagnosing plays. He is a completely different player than his brother, but a solid football player in his own right. Casey would give the 49er LBs depth as well as a high motor guy who could see significant snaps right away. Of all the players in this draft Casey could benefit the most from the combine. If he shows up at 245 pounds and can put up good measurables, he would become way too rich for this pick (could even become a 1st-2nd rounder).
Owen Marecic - FB Stanford
Moran Norris doesn't have much left in the tank, and it could be argued that even in his prime he doesn't fit well in the West Coast Offense that Jim Harbaugh is installing...enter Owen Marecic. This is one of the easiest picks for Baalke, Haubaugh, and the 49ers to make. The 49ers FB is old and becoming ineffective, the 49ers need a FB who can run, block, and most importantly catch the ball effectively in the West Coast Offense. New Head Coach Jim Harbaugh just happened to coach the best FB in college football in Owen Marecic and he wants the same type of FB at the next level. Who better than Marecic, to be Marecic for Harbaugh's 49ers. Only reason Owen doesn't go to the 49ers in the 5th round is if the 49ers feel they may not get him if they wait, and therefore take him earlier. This is a lock, Owen Marecic will be a San Francisco 49er.
Marecic is one of the few players in the history of College Football to play both ways. A true "old school" type player, Marecic started at FB and MLB for Coach Harbaugh and the Cardinal. He has been called the most versatile prospect in the 2011 Draft, and will be a HUGE addition to the 49ers. Marecic could start on day one for the 49ers at FB, but even if he takes longer adjusting than expected, he will be on the field a lot. He is a true FB prospect at 6'1" 245, however he will see a lot of duty in kick coverage where he can excel. He could also add some depth at MLB should the 49ers have more need in that department than at FB right away. Owen Marecic will be a 49er, and with his skill set will stick in the NFL for a LONG time. Tom Rathman will LOVE coaching this kid!
Curtis Marsh - CB Utah State
Utah State is not exactly the first school you think of when you think of NFL CB Prospects. However, we just saw a former Aggie CB (Jarrett Bush) in the Super Bowl intercept Ben Roethlisberger, so maybe Utah State is a hidden gem for corners. Marsh comes from NFL bloodlines, his father Curtis Marsh played for Jacksonville and Pittsburgh in the 1990's. The 49ers are in need of serious depth in the secondary, and even though they nabbed Peterson with their 1st pick, Marsh would be a welcome addition (and they would also be inclined to add another DB via free agency).
Marsh has all the skills you are looking for in a late round CB. At 6' and almost 200 pounds, he could even provide some depth at safety, and he has been clocked at a 4.37 in the 40. Marsh doesn't have much experience against NFL ready talent, but is a versatile, athletic play-maker that could see significant time on special teams, and add some much needed depth in the secondary. All the physical tools are there with this kid, just a matter of putting it all together. Has great ball skills, hands, and will hold his own in one-on-one jump ball situations. A willing and fundamentally sound tackler, however his coverage skills, especially in zone coverage leave something to be desired. Much more effective at on-man bump and run coverage.
Craig Marshall - DE South Florida
Marshall is a great sleeper pick for the 49ers at this spot. A terrific athlete with a high motor that can add bulk to play DE in a 3-4 or be a sleeper prospect as a pass rushing OLB. Marshall suffered a foot injury that kept him out much of last season, when healthy he is a physical specimen.
Marshall is versatile and is plenty athletic enough to be a pass rushing OLB in a 3-4. He has experience rushing from a two-point stance, and has decent coverage skills. More intriguing is the possibility of adding 20-30 pounds to his 6-4 frame, making him an ideal 3-4 DE. Marshall is a pass-rush specialist and is not as effective against the run. He is a high motor guy looking to get physical on every play. Great sleeper prospect for the 49ers, a guy who could add needed depth right away, yet has the upside to become a star.
Zane Taylor - C/OG Utah
Taylor is one of those guys you just want on your team. A team captain for Utah and a 3-year starter, Taylor is smart, experienced, and has a mean streak. Taylor was a regular on the Dean's List at the University of Utah, and is one of the smartest kids in the draft. While not the imposing specimen of other OL prospects, Taylor is a tough kid, who is smart enough to play, and play well as a rookie if needed due to injury.
Taylor would provide instant depth to a line that has been decimated by injuries the last two seasons, he is versatile and can play any position on the OL. No one will outwork Taylor, so it is very possible that Taylor develops into the 49ers Center of the future. Not bad upside for a 7th rounder.
Sione Fua - DT Stanford
Coach Harbaugh ends his first draft as an NFL head coach with a kid he is very familiar with from Stanford. One need area the 49ers haven't addressed in this draft is a big body to rotate on the front line of their 3-4 defense, well Fua does just that. Fua is a stout 6'1" 307 pound Polynesian disrupter with a low center of gravity. Fua is great at taking up space and occupying blockers.
If Fua could just feel the role vacated by former 1st round bust Kentwan Balmer, he will have done his job, and expect him to be able to do that and more. Fua can spell Abrayo Franklin at the nose, as well as adding depth to the DE position. Don't expect Fua to get after the QB, but the 49ers are looking for him to take up space, and occupy blockers to allow Patrick Willis to do his thing. This is where Fua excels and exactly what the 49ers need from this position, add the fact that Fua's college coach is now coaching San Francisco and this is a perfect match.
One position of need that was not addressed in this draft is that of wide receiver. With receiving options such as Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Josh Morgan, and Ted Ginn already in the fold, don't expect the 49ers to use a high pick on a WR. Mostly because this is a weak WR draft class and a very strong WR free agent market. Free agents include Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes shown above. More that likely the Jets will not be able to keep both of them, and may not retain either. Group also includes: Sidney Rice, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, Steve Smith (NYG), and James Jones. With these proven commodities available and a good young receiving corp, why use an early pick on a WR?
If the 49ers are lucky enough to nab Jake Locker in the 2nd round as this draft predicts, do not expect them to make a big splash in a trade or free agent QB. In fact, EXPECT Alex Smith to be back with San Francisco. I know many 49er fans hate this idea, but the bottom line is he is just as good as anyone else you could go get as far as skill set to run the West Coast Offense, and he will no doubt come at the cheapest cost. I hear 49er fans clamoring for Kevin Kolb, Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Matt Leinart, and others. Bottom line is ALL of those players, with the exception of Kolb come with their own Smith-like baggage, and would likely cost much more. In the case of Kolb, it would probably cost A LOT as the 49ers would have to trade to get him, and what exactly have we seen from him that would show beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a better option then Smith. Like it or not, Smith fits Coach Harbaugh's offense and could actually thrive. I know he has been given countless opportunities to FINALLY get it right, but you will not find a less expensive option and the more expensive options don't exactly guarantee an upgrade. If the 49ers land a QB like Locker, look for them to re-sign Smith, and trade for Josh Johnson who is familiar with Harbaugh from his days at the University of San Diego. The good thing about this scenario is that if a collective bargaining agreement gets done and includes a rookie wage scale as expected, Locker would come in with the rest of the QBs and they all could compete from day-one.
Other free-agents the 49ers have their eye on (in order of interest): Nnamdi Asomugha, Antonio Cromartie, Tamba Hali, Mathias Kiwanuka, Quintin Mikell, LaMarr Woodley, Ray Edwards, Leon Washington, and Darren Sproles.
With this draft, and some great free-agent options that fit their needs, expect the 49ers to win the NFC-West in 2011, and depending on QB play, have a legit shot at representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI.