In the midst of a playoff season no one saw coming, the San Francisco 49ers have found themselves in position to fight for the number two seed in the NFC.
49ers fans have become accustomed to reading articles about next season's potential draft selections much earlier in past years, as the draft was often the most exciting thing to look forward to. However, a strong 2011 draft class and a cast of solid veteran free agents have filled most of the holes that had doomed the team into annual top 10 selections.
With only three losses, the Niners look like a strong team with one of the best defenses in the league. The most exciting part is that a lot of the personnel still have a lot of room to grow into better players.
One position that every team in the league has been adding depth to is the cornerback position.
Cornerback has long been one of the Niners biggest issues, but the emergence of Carlos Rogers, the improvement of Tarell Brown and signs of potential from Chris Culliver have improved the level of play at the position.
Chase Minnifield, Stephon Gilmore and Janoris Jenkins would likely be the best available at the position when the 49ers are on the clock.
Minnifield, from the University of Virginia, had a bad game against Virginia Tech, but otherwise has been one of the better cornerbacks in college football the last few seasons.
Gilmore, from South Carolina, has great ball skills and would increase the amount of turnovers forced on the defense from the time he steps on the field.
Then there is that Jenkins kid from North Alabama. Kicked off of the Florida Gators last year and moving to Division II, Jenkins played great in special teams but did not dominate as his skills would have allowed him to had he put in more effort.
A majority of teams will red-flag Jenkins because of these character concerns, and he does not seem like a fit for San Francisco's high-character defense.
On the other side of the ball, the offense has been one of the most, if not the most boring unit in the league. This is the result of a number of things.
The most obvious would be the conservative play-calling from offensive coordinator Greg Roman. While it is apparent the coaches want a run-heavy team, one week after Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams hauled in huge touchdowns against the Rams, the team took no shots against the Cardinals.
Another reason for the lack of excitement could result from the conservative play of quarterback Alex Smith.
Anyone who has seen Smith play at any point in his career can tell you that the man does not take shots. While the plus side to this is that San Francisco is leading the league in the plus/minus turnover ratio, the six-yard targets on 3rd and 12 are not going to help.
The final issue is that the offensive line is not giving Smith enough time to let plays develop and allow receivers to get downfield for big plays, and this is the reason he is checking down and dumping it off so quickly on third down.
While most fans having been pointing the finger at 2009 first-round pick Anthony Davis, it's not like anyone else on the line has been a stud in pass protection.
If the coaches decide to at the least bring in someone to compete with Davis for the position, Mike Adams from Ohio State would be the only player on the board worth a look in the late first round.
While trading up for Riley Reiff from Iowa or Jonathan Martin from Stanford is by no means out of the question, unless Trent Baalke is in love with either prospect, a trade up for an arguable top need does not appear to be in the future.
Next to Davis are guard Adam Snyder and center Jonathan Goodwin, and either could be upgraded.
Goodwin, 33, had a shaky start to the season but has since been pretty solid. However, he is not the future.
Pete Konz from Wisconsin could be a top target if he declares for 2012.
If he does not, both David DeCastro of Stanford and the versatile Cordy Glenn from Georgia are top options.
DeCastro's stock has been picking up steam, and if Jim Harbaugh likes the former Cardinal enough he may convince Baalke to move up on draft night.
Glenn is more likely to be available, and he is an appealing player because he has experience at both guard and tackle. While he has been shaky in his first year at tackle, there have been signs of potential.
Cornerback and really any spot on the offensive line are all potential needs to fill on draft night, and in the end Baalke and the front office may elect to take the top player available regardless of need.