San Francisco 49ers 2010 record: 6-10, third place NFC West
2011 draft rundown 12 total picks (round): 7 (1); 45 (2); 76 (3); 108 (4); 115 (4); 141 (5); 174 (6); 190 (6); 211 (7) 231 (7); 239 (7); 250 (7)
Quarterback: David Carr is the only quarterback under contract and Jim Harbaugh wants to groom a youngster for the future. The 49ers have enough faith in Harbaugh as an evaluator and coach that they may not necessarily use their first-round pick on the position. Harbaugh could wait until the second round for someone like Nevada's Colin Kaepernick or even longer for a sleeper like Delaware's Pat Devlin. The team has offered Alex Smith a one-year contract to return in 2011. But even if that happens, Smith is not yet being viewed as anything but a placeholder quarterback who could start this season while a youngster watches from the sideline. Smith, a laid-back former No. 1 pick who has played an array of offenses, also could be an ideal mentor for a rookie quarterback.
Outside linebacker: The 49ers starters last year, Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, combined for 6.5 sacks and Lawson is an unrestricted free agent. Vic Fangio wants an aggressive, blitz-happy defense similar to the one that buddy Dom Capers runs in Green Bay. That will require edge rushers who can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks like Clay Matthews does for the Packers. The best option, Von Miller, likely will be off the board. Other possibilities include North Caroliona's Robert Quinn in the first round, North Carolina's Bruce Carter in the second and Fresno State's Chris Carter in the third.
Cornerback: The 49ers finished 24th against the pass last year, and their top cornerback, Nate Clements, might be released due to an unwieldy contract in 2011. Again, Fangio wants to run an aggressive defensive scheme and having cornerbacks who can cover receivers deep is essential. Louisiana State's Patrick Peterson would be a no-brainer selection at pick No. 7 and the team even could nab Nebraska's Prince Amukamara at that spot. Later in the draft, Texas' Aaron Williams or Virginia's Ras-I Dowling are possibilities.
Running back: The 49ers have taken long looks at running backs that will be available in the middle rounds. Their workhorse the last four seasons, Frank Gore, has been injured in each of those years. Furthermore, he is entering the final year of his contract. Backup Anthony Dixon is talented, but the 49ers aren't ready to turn the reins over to him yet. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas, Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, Eastern Washington's Taiwan Jones, Nebraska's Roy Helu and Cal's Shane Vereen have all gotten long looks from the 49ers in recent weeks. Any one of them could wind up a 49er.
First-round focus 7th overall -- Despite their 6-10 record, there is a fair amount of optimism that the 49ers are close to turning around the franchise. The club needs more consistency from the quarterback position, of course, but unless Missouri's Blaine Gabbert slips to them at No. 7, they are likely to wait until the second round (or later) rather than reach for a young passer for Jim Harbaugh to develop. The significantly more likely scenario has the 49ers choosing between a cornerback and a pass rusher in the first round. Both have been positions of need for awhile, as costly free agent Nate Clements has been a relative disappointment and the team has struggled to get any type of consistent outside pass rush despite investing a four top 100 picks in their front seven since 2006, including the No. 22 overall pick that year in former NC State standout Manny Lawson. Should North Carolina's Robert Quinn still be available, he makes a great deal of sense. While North Carolina head coach Butch Davis believes that Quinn is best suited to remain as a RDE in the 4-3 alignment, Quinn has demonstrated the agility to potentially be a star as a rush linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 defense. Others believe that Missouri pass rusher Aldon Smith has more upside due to his longer arms. There is also the possibility that LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson should fall into San Francisco's lap. While pass rusher is the bigger need and the depth at cornerback is greater this year than outside linebacker, the 49ers might struggle to allow the player many view as the best prospect in the 2011 draft to slip any further. There is some talk that the 49ers would select Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamura over Quinn, as they are believed to have the former Cornhusker rated very closely with Peterson.
Five names on 49ers' board:
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri