The NFL draft doesn't exactly sneak up on insatiable football fans. It is, however, inching closer and closer this month.
San Francisco owns the seventh overall pick in the first round, and there is no shortage of directions they might go with the pick.
First round picks tip the hands of poker-faced franchises, although the needs of top-10 picks are often crystal clear.
Pass-rusher, quarterback and cornerback are all top needs for the 49ers, and (at least) one of these needs is likely to be addressed on Day One of the draft.
If there's one player blatantly out of the 49ers' reach, it's Texas A&M OLB Von Miller, a favorite target of many 49ers fans before his stock rose and he became a certain top-five pick.
The seventh pick is considered a 1,500-point pick by the Jimmy Johnson pick/value rubric. The top five selections are ranked as follows:
Fifth pick: 1,700
Fourth Pick: 1,800
Third Pick: 2,200
Second Pick: 2,600
First Pick: 3,000
It's not impossible that Carolina, who will set the 2011 draft table with the first overall pick, will take Miller. But if Miller drops to the fourth pick, SF might want to consider jumping the Arizona Cardinals—who have the fifth pick—in order to land him.
This would take a deal with Cincinnati, and it would sacrifice roughly a third and a fourth pick.
It's a little far-fetched, but not impossible that Patrick Peterson could fall to the 49ers at the seventh pick.
Many mock drafts have Peterson falling to San Francisco, but to call this "likely" is simply wrong.
Hands down, Peterson is the best corner in the draft. Although corners seldom get picked in the top five, this guy is the exception.
A.J. Green may be the top-ranked receiver in the draft, but a receiver may not be the highest priority for a team since they selected Michael Crabtree two years ago.
Julio Jones is a specimen worth considering, nevertheless.
Jones showed ruthless explosiveness at the NFL Combine and made big plays against brutally tough SEC competition at Alabama. He did this with one of the less-regarded passers, and he did this very well.
Marcell Dareus is the best big lineman in the draft. He's also the biggest of the best linemen.
It's questionable as to whether he will be available at the seventh pick, but his size, athleticism, motor and a track record of solid (and often clutch) performances make him pretty much a sure thing in the NFL.
It's not so likely that Dareus will be available at the seventh pick, as big men like this are highly desired by franchises looking to rebuild from the inside out.
Darius has the ability to play just about anywhere on the 49ers defensive line, from NT to DE. A player of his magnitude should be an instant help against the run and the pass.
Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are the top-rated quarterbacks this year, and one of the two (or both) could be available at the seventh pick.
Quarterback is the 49er's position of need. The position is probably their biggest need considering the state of the passer position over the last decade.
Both have good upside and are considered top-10 picks, but neither player has taken a lot of snaps from under center at the college level.
If Harbaugh decides one of these arms is worthy of an early selection, then Trent Baalke will do what it takes to get Jim his man.
Prince Amukamara is one of several players who are considered a reach at the seventh pick, but the same guys are also not necessarily expected to be around in the mid-to-late first round either.
Backing off to as low as the 15th pick could earn the 49ers around (up to) 500 draft points (again, by the Jimmy Johnson value chart) which would roughly equate to another second-round pick, or maybe an extra third and fourth-rounder.
If they can get a solid pass-rusher or corner in the middle first and position themselves for potential mass success in the middle rounds, they can probably have a very successful 2011 draft.
Negotiating early rounds is like sailing through rough waters with unpredictable trade winds. Balancing risk and potential reward is a fine tightrope.
The 1,500-point value of the seventh pick is great enough that moving far back in the first could net an exceptional number of mid-round picks. If they moved as far down as to the 28th overall selection (New England currently holds this pick), that would land them roughly an extra 840 points!
And 840 points might as well be interpreted (more or less) as an early second and third-rounder, or a combination of similar value.
Christian Ponder should still be around in the late first, as should Ryan Mallett. One (or both) of these two fellows should also be available in the early second round.
Many quarterback snobs are solidly against Ryan Mallett being drafted in any round because of his lanky gait, nonexplosive foot speed and unapologetic attitude. When Mallett takes the field, however, his love of the game takes over.
Mallett has an incredible arm: He's accurate and the ball comes out like a cruise missile. He's taken his share of snaps from the gun as well as under center. His big hands make his play action very believable and his height allows him to see the whole field from many useful angles.
Michael Vick, he is not, but Ryan Mallett, he is.
Ponder has fewer question marks around him: He has shown very nice foot speed, a quick release, good accuracy (and zip) on short and medium routes and he posted a very acceptable Wonderlic score. One could also add that the pro-style offense he ran at Florida State has well prepared him for rapid advancement at the next level.
The big concern about Ponder, however, has been his slight propensity toward injury.
And if neither quarterback is seen by Jim Harbaugh as a horse worth putting money on, trading further down like this can still yield a greater number of very solid players.
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what draft day will yield. And no guess can be based on much more than speculation and personal opinion.
The amateur (and professional) hypothesis raise more questions than they answer right now.
One of my favorite firecrackers recently is, "Could SF go after a left tackle like Nate Solder considering Joe Staley's tendency toward injury?"
Less incendiary and less specific questions are:
Who will move up?
Who will move down?
Who will reach on a need?
Who will receive a gift in the form of a sleeper?
How will Carolina set the table on draft day?
And, of course, will there even be a 2011 NFL season?