Head coach Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers on the right track
The San Francisco 49ers emerge from their bye week with a 5-1 record and a commanding three-game lead in the NFC West. Their success means that the 49ers will likely have a first-round draft pick somewhere in the mid 20s.
Although it's premature to take a hard look at the 2012 NFL draft, the bye week gives us cause to do that. In addition, without knowing which underclassmen have declared for the draft, I acknowledge that this is just a first look at some of the players who may be available when the 49ers make their pick.
The primary positions of need for the 49ers to focus on for their first-round pick in 2012 appear to be wide receiver, defensive line and defensive back. These are also areas where the 49ers do not have a lot of top quality depth. With this in mind, I will concentrate on seniors in these three areas for our draft preview.
Jared Crick carries on the tradition of Nebraska defensive linemen
Jared Crick was on target to be a first-round pick in the top half of the 2012 NFL draft. Unfortunately, Crick tore a pectoral muscle and is out for the season.
The injury will undoubtedly cause his draft stock to slip. Crick could easily be available when the 49ers make their draft selection.
At 6'4" and 285 pounds, Crick has the size and strength to be a force along the defensive line for the 49ers.
Markelle Martin is fast and a good tackler
At 6'1" and 198 pounds, Markelle Martin has the size and speed to be an outstanding safety in the NFL. Martin is an excellent athlete and a sure tackler.
Martin has shown steady improvement over his college career and can also help the 49ers on special teams.
Michael Floyd has excellent size for a wide receiver
The San Francisco 49ers have some major question marks at the wide receiver position. The 49ers signed free agent Braylon Edwards in the offseason, but he has missed more games than he's played, due to injury. In addition, Edwards is on a one-year contract, so he may not be back.
Michael Crabtree's contract was heavily front loaded with a $17 million guarantee. With Crabtree's chronic foot problems, it remains to be seen whether the 49ers commit more money to him, after 2011. The third wide receiver, Josh Morgan, is out for the year with a broken leg and we'll see if he can return at full strength in 2012.
For these reasons, the 49ers will be looking for a top wide receiver and Michael Floyd could be their man. Floyd is a big target at 6'3" and 224 pounds. He utilizes his size quite well, as he positions his body against smaller defensive backs.
Floyd is not particularly fast, as his 40-yard dash time is rather pedestrian, in the 4.5 range. Nevertheless, he's very good after the catch because he's strong and tough to bring down.
Melvin Ingram is an excellent pass rusher
Melvin Ingram would give the 49ers a solid young player at the defensive end position. The 49ers are extremely thin at this spot, after starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Ingram would provide the 49ers with depth and is also a very effective pass-rusher. At 6'2" and 276 pounds, Ingram has the size and speed to create havoc in opposing backfields.
Janoris Jenkins was dismissed from Florida in April 2011
Janoris Jenkins was booted off the Florida Gators team in April of 2011, after he was busted with marijuana in his possession. Jenkins also was arrested on a similar charge in January and his second offense in April was the last straw for the Gators.
Jenkins' off-field problems have caused his draft stock to fall, perhaps making him available for the 49ers. After his departure from Florida, Jenkins transferred to North Alabama, a Division II school and is currently playing there.
Jenkins is 5'10" and 182 pounds. He does not possess blazing speed, but he is quick and has good instincts for the ball. Jenkins is a risk because of his personal issues, although he definitely has the talent to be a starting cornerback in the NFL.
Billy Winn celebrates Boise State's 2010 Maaco Bowl win
At 6'3" and 300 pounds, Billy Winn is a force along the defensive front. His natural position is defensive end and he is a very solid run defender.
Winn needs to improve his pass-rushing techniques, but he definitely has the size and athleticism to do so. Winn would provide depth and insurance at the defensive end position, in the event that Justin Smith or Ray McDonald were injured.
Chase Minnifield can also help in the return game
The San Francisco 49ers have one very strong cornerback in Carlos Rogers. On the other side, however, the Niners have had question marks. Last year's starter Shawntae Spencer has been hobbled by a myriad of injuries and current starter Tarell Brown has been inconsistent.
The 2012 NFL draft is deep in the defensive backfield and a player like Minnifield should be available when the 49ers make their selection in the mid-20 range.
Minnifield is 6'0" and 185 pounds. He has average speed for a defensive back, but has good instincts and plays the ball well. Minnifield can also be valuable as a kick return man.
His father, Frank Minnifield, played cornerback with the Cleveland Browns for nine seasons.
Courtney Upshaw is an outstanding pass rusher
Courtney Upshaw is one of the main cogs of the Alabama defense. He can play the defensive end or outside linebacker position.
Upshaw is 6'2" and 265 pounds. He may be too light to consistently play at the defensive end position, but he can also play the outside linebacker spot, opposite 2010 round-one draft pick, Aldon Smith.
Upshaw is a devastating pass-rusher and would be a force along the 49ers' front seven.
Ryan Broyles is having a prolific collegiate career
Ryan Broyles is 5'10" and 188 pounds. In 2010, Broyles caught 131 passes. Thus far in seven games of the 2011 season, Broyles has 67 catches for 899 yards.
Broyles has been one of the most prolific receivers in college football. His presence on the 49ers would add stability to a shaky wide receiving corps.
Broyles also has experience returning punts. If Ted Ginn is not on the 2012 roster, Broyles could help in the return game.
Alfonzo Dennard has good coverage skills
Alfonzo Dennard is very strong in coverage and he also plays the ball well, when it's thrown in his direction. In 2010, Dennard teamed with Prince Amukamara to give Nebraska the best tandem of corners in college football.
Dennard is very athletic and has the potential to be a lock-down corner. At 5'10" and 205 pounds, he is also a solid tackler and has all the makings of a starting NFL cornerback.
49er GM Trent Baalke
Over the past two years, 49ers GM Trent Baalke has made some excellent draft selections. In 2010, he brought in starters Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis and Navorro Bowman.
He followed that up with a promising 2011 draft, when he chose Aldon Smith in the first round. Although Smith is not yet starting, he leads the 49ers in sacks, with 5.5. Smith is pressing starter Parys Haralson for more playing time.
The 49ers also selected cornerback Chris Culliver in the third round. He has played well in nickel-and-dime situations. Culliver is also a good special teams player.
Rookie running back Kendall Hunter looks like a steal as a fourth-round selection. He is an explosive back and is a threat to score any time he touches the football. Hunter has teamed with Frank Gore to give the 49ers a good 1-2 punch in the backfield.
I'm sure many of these names will change as we get closer to the 2012 NFL draft. Players will move up and down the ladder. We will also see which underclassmen enter the draft and that will have a big impact on who the 49ers select.
In any case, keep an eye on these 10 players, as they could be available around pick No. 20-30. I'm sure they will be on the 49ers' draft board.