NFL Draft 2011: San Francisco 49ers' Positional Needs

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NFL Draft 2011: San Francisco 49ers' Positional Needs
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The 49ers have 12 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft including the No. 7 pick overall.

The 2010 49ers were supposed to be a playoff team, the best of what many analysts considered to be a weak NFC West.

For the first time ever as a 49er, quarterback Alex Smith was going to enter his second season with the same offensive coordinator, in Jimmy Raye.

Michael Crabtree would be available for a full season, depth was added to the running back position when Brian Westbrook, the former Philadelphia Eagles great, was signed to backup Frank Gore and, to top things off, the 49ers were coming off a solid draft.

Two offensive lineman in the first round and a steal in hard-hitting safety Taylor Mays; San Francisco was set to run the table in the West.

Then the 2010 season officially began.

A complete meltdown and a blowout in Seattle in Week 1, followed by five consecutive loses. Jimmy Raye was out as offensive coordinator, Alex Smith went down with a separated shoulder and by season's end Mike Singletary became the second head coach to be fired in less than two years.

Despite the rough season, at 5-9 the 49ers still were alive to win the NFC West, only to fall apart and officially be eliminated in Week 16 against the Rams.

During the 2011 offseason, San Francisco landed the biggest coaching fish in the sea in Jim Harbaugh, lending hope that the 49ers, once again, are on the right track.

Which position should the 49ers address with the No. 7 pick?

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With 12 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, the 49ers would be wise to address the following unanswered needs.

 

Quarterback

The question of who will be under center for the 2011 49ers is a question that, unfortunately due to the lockout, may not be answered with the upcoming draft.

Just 27 years old, Alex Smith still has time to mature into a solid quarterback. He's shown flashes of greatness, but inconsistency, inaccuracy, lack of playmaking skills and, perhaps, lack of stability at offensive coordinator have greatly hampered Smith's run with the 49ers.

Draft-wise, the 49ers should not look at a QB with their first pick and instead could find great value in the later rounds. Florida State's Christian Ponder, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and TCU's Andy Dalton would be great value picks in the early second round at pick No. 13.

 

Running Back

This much is a guarantee: Frank Gore will miss some playing time during the season. Only once in his career has he played a full 16 games.

Assuming that Westbrook doesn't return, the 49ers are left with Anthony Dixon to backup Gore. Dixon is a solid option, but the 49ers need more of a dual threat, one in the same role Kevin Faulk played with the New England Patriots during their Super Bowl title runs.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The 49ers need to add a third wide reciever who can stretch the defense and get downfield.

The 49ers would be wise to look at Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and Nebraska's Roy Helu, two running backs who can make plays with their hands as well as their feet.

 

Wide Receiver

The 49ers' receiving core consists of Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr, none of them truly viable downfield threats. Crabtree is a possession receiver, Morgan is a solid No. 2.

Ginn is better at special teams, and when he does go in on offense defenses play the deep route on Ginn. Case in point: the longest catch of the 2010 season, a 66-yarder, was made by tight end Vernon Davis.

To further understand this point, think of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and their four-headed wide receiving monster of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson.

Jennings is the downfield threat, Driver is the possession receiver, Nelson is the playmaker and Jones is the wild card. Each and every one of them contributed in some way or another to the Packers' title run.

The 49ers need to follow the Packers' blueprint and find a go-to No. 1 wide receiver, somebody that can create a presence in the secondary. Receivers like Boise State's Titus Young, TCU's Jeremy Kerley and USC's Ronald Johnson could be solid second or third-round choices.

 

Defensive End

The last 49ers lineman to have a double-digit sack total was Andre Carter back in 2002 with 12.5 sacks. The last time the 49ers had a legit four-man pass rush on first and second down was back in 1998, when Chris Doleman and Roy Barker were playing the ends.

The 49ers' lack of a pass rush hampered their ability to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and as a result allowed their 23rd-ranked pass defense to get picked apart most of the season.

Bottom line is this: When you cannot create a four-man pass rush, you have to eventually put pressure on the quarterback, so you blitz with a fifth, sixth, or even seventh man; as the saying goes, "You live and die by the blitz."

Drafting a pass rusher like Wisconsin's JJ Watt or North Carolina's Robert Quinn at the No. 7 spot could help alleviate some pressure from the 49ers' secondary, much in the same fashion that Julius Peppers did for the Chicago Bears

Either way, the 49ers wouldn't be wrong to take Quinn or Watt.

 

Cornerback

The 49ers' secondary can cover big and not-so-fast receivers; they cannot, however, cover speedy receivers who can stretch the field and over the course of the season were burned by the likes of Panthers rookie receiver David Gettis (8 catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns), former 49er and current Denver Bronco Brandon Lloyd (7 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown) and Packers receiver Greg Jennings (6 catches for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns).

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
New head coach Jim Harbaugh will have 12 picks to make in his first NFL Draft.

Of the 15 total interceptions the 49ers had as a defense, six were from the two starting corners, Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer, with three apiece.

The 49ers need a speedy lockdown corner, and with the seventh overall pick many analysts believe the 49ers will take LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

However, Peterson's stock has been on the rise and he may not be available at No. 7. If that's the case, look for the 49ers to possibly take Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, who has the size (6'1") and speed to keep the 49ers on a level playing field against fast receivers.

 

Bottom Line

In the end, several issues are very clear for the 49ers.

One, they need to find a quarterback, once and for all. Two, they need a pass rusher. Three, they need to be able to stretch the ball downfield with their receivers, and four, they need a cornerback who can keep pace with other teams' speedy receivers.

With 12 picks, the 49ers could be players to move up or down in the draft, but they need to use their No. 7 pick on a defensive player.

The only question is, will they make their pick based on the player (Peterson) or the position (defensive end)?

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