NFL Draft 2011: 10 Possible Targets for the San Francisco 49ers
Niners fans had high hopes for their team entering the 2010 NFL season, but at year's end, the result was the same—the Niners once again failed to make the postseason.
Jim Harbaugh was brought in as the new head coach, and with him comes a new regime in the bay area.
Many questions now await the Niners: Is Alex Smith the future at QB? Do the Niners have enough talent to contend right away? And perhaps most importantly...
What are the Niners going to do in the draft?
Whether it be players that fit an area of need, players that fit in with Harbaugh's system, or players with Stanford connections, here are 10 possible fits for the Niners in the 2011 NFL Draft.
1. UNC DE Robert Quinn
Quinn was suspended all of last season for a violation of NCAA rules, so there are concerns about his commitment to the game and whether he is still in football shape.
But he is one of the best pass rushers in this draft, and the Niners need a player who can generate pressure on the QB.
Their defense is talented and physical, but their corners often get beat in man coverage. They need a player who can beat blockers one-on-one and pressure the QB to help out their secondary.
Adding Quinn would give the Niners a talented DE who will beat single blockers, command double teams, and allow the Niners secondary to play up on opposing receivers.
2. Alabama DT Marcell Dareus
Dareus is also an option if the Niners are looking to draft a defensive lineman with the seventh overall pick.
Dareus is a more versatile player than Quinn, able to line up at either the DE or nose tackle position. He is also better against the run than Quinn, with an extra 30 lbs. of muscle to his frame.
But it's Quinn who is the better sack artist. He is the riskier pick, but fits in better with the Niners defensive scheme.
Still, some scouts have Dareus as a top three pick, so the Niners would be happy to have him at seven.
3. Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert
Alex Smith has been given plenty of chances to live up to his reputation as the former No. 1 pick, but has so far failed to do so.
Now he is a free agent, and it's unsure whether he still fits into the Niners long-term plans at QB.
If the Niners do decide to go QB with their top pick, Gabbert would be the likely fit. He is very similar to Stanford QB Andrew Luck in that he is a pocket passer who is still able to take off and run when necessary.
He is still a work in progress, but if the Niner's want to take the next step as a franchise, they will need an upgrade at QB.
The only question is whether Jim Harbaugh thinks Gabbert can be that guy.
4. FSU QB Christian Ponder
Ponder could also be an option at QB for the Niners in the second or third round.
He has the accuracy and intelligence you look for in an NFL QB, but his arm strength is limited.
He might not develop into an All-Pro, but he fits in very nicely in a Niners offense that utilizes checkdowns and screen passes.
5. Stanford DT Sione Fua
Fua played for Harbaugh at Stanford, so no team knows his abilities as a player better than the Niners.
He is big, strong, and has excellent lateral quickness, and was the linchpin of Stanford's 20th ranked defense against the run.
He is a better player against the run than at rushing the passer, but it's unsure how he will fit into a Niners defense that already has a dominant run-stopping NT in Aubrayo Franklin.
Fua is expected to be a middle-round selection.
6. Utah CB Brandon Burton
No. 1 corner Nate Clements is entering his 11th NFL season, so the Niners might want to consider getting younger.
The Niners secondary could also use some new blood after totaling only 15 interceptions this past season.
Burton is an instinctive corner who is excellent at locating the ball and making plays in space. He could instantly step in and contribute in nickel situations.
He could be the Niners second or third round selection.
7. Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling
Dowling is another option at corner for the Niners, and perhaps the player with the most upside in the entire draft.
He fits in perfectly with the Niners physical, aggressive defense.
His big body (6'2, 200 lbs.) and jumping ability make him the perfect corner to defend against the deep ball.
While not exceptionally fast, he has the speed to run with receivers downfield, and plays great bump and run coverage.
He missed most of last season with a knee injury, but is so talented he is still expected to be a second-round pick.
8. UCLA S Rahim Moore
The Niners also really need help at the safety position.
Starting safeties Reggie Smith and Dashon Goldson only had one pick each. The Niners need a ball-hawking safety who can play "centerfield" for them.
Moore can be that guy. In a weak safety draft, Moore is at the top of the class.
He had his coming out party two seasons ago, picking off 10 passes, the most in college football since 2003.
He plays the run equally as well as the pass, and Harbaugh saw first hand what Moore can do playing in the Pac-10.
If the Niners decide to go safety with their second round selection, Moore should be the pick.
9. Florida S Ahmad Black
Moore will likely be gone after the early second round, so the Niners might have to wait till later in the draft to add safety help.
Black would be a great mid-round selection for them. He was Mr. Everything for the Gators last season, leading the team in interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries.
He is a fast player (4.4 speed), but scouts are worried about his small frame (5'9, 190 lbs.).
He is an expected third or fourth round selection.
10. Stanford FB Owen Marecic
Marecic was Stanford football last season, starting at both FB and middle linebacker.
In a game against Notre Dame in September, Marecic had two touchdowns (one rushing, one pick six) in a 13-second span.
He projects as a blocker at the next level, and is the top rated FB prospect. He is excellent in pass blocking, a rarity for a fullback. However, he will not add much in the receiver or rushing game.
FB is an area of need for the Niners as well—RB Frank Gore is racking up mileage and has not played a full season since 2006.
Marecic could help protect Gore and help open holes for the gifted RB.
It would be a shock if Marecic went anywhere else other than San Fransisco to play for his old coach.