I might be in the minority here but I believe the 49er's defense was better than their offense last year. The defense actually ranked lower (23rd to 22nd for the offense) but they were much higher in terms of yards (13th to 23rd). Most of the points scored against them came when J.T. O'Sullivan gave the opponent the ball in 49er territory, which happened a lot. I remember reading that something like 1/5 of the points scored against the 49ers came as a result of O'Sullivan turnovers in 49er territory or O'Sullivan turnovers brought back for touchdowns. So to summarize, J.T. O'Sullivan is so bad he caused some of the defenses problems. Now that is not to say that the defense was perfect. There were huge problems with getting to the quarterback and safety play especially. Those two together made the pass defense really bad. The run defense was good mostly because Takeo Spikes, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Manny Lawson (when Nolan was smart enough to play him).
Defensive Line - The signing of Justin Smith last year turned out great. Smith was easily our best defensive lineman and arguably our best defensive player in 2008. That defensive end spot is set for a few years. At the other defensive end position the plan is to groom Kentwan Balmer behind Demetric Evans for a few years so I can pretty much guarantee the 49ers don't draft a defensive end at all. Nose tackle I am not so sure about. Last season Isaac Sopoaga started at defensive end across from Justin Smith and Aubrayo Franklin started at nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment. Both of them had solid seasons but before the season Sopoaga signed a new, relatively large, contract. Know there is talk of him switching to nose tackle and Franklin becoming the back-up. In summary, the 49ers have a great starter at 1 DE position, solid starters at the other DE and NT, and good depth behind them. It's hard to see the 49ers drafting a defensive lineman early.
1. B.J. Raji, Defensive Tackle, Boston College, 1st round - A better prospect than Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis, in my opinion, there is pretty much no way Raji falls past Green Bay after his senior year and combine workout. If he and Oher are both available at 10 I don't know who I want the 49ers to draft.
2. Ron Brace, Defensive Tackle, Boston College, 2nd round - Brace certainly isn't the absolute monster that Raji is because he doesn't have Raji's speed but Brace is stronger and better against the run than his former BC teammate. My latest 49er mock actually has us taking him in the 2nd round.
3. Chris Baker, Defensive Tackle, Hampton, 3rd round - A 330 pounder that runs a 5.00 forty and has a 36 inch vertical doesn't come along very often. Baker absolutely dominanted at Hampton with 16.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks last year.
4. Terrance Taylor, Defensive Tackle, Michigan, 4th round - Not exactly the massive body one wants at the nose tackle position but plays with great leverage and is extremely strong.
5. Jarron Gilbert, Defensive End, San Jose State, 2nd round - I don't really want the 49ers tro draft Gilbert I just put him here because there aren't any 3-4 DEs I like and he has freakish athleticism. I mean a 4.87 40 for a 290 pound man! He also dominated in his 4 years collecting 42 TFL and 21.5 sacks.
Linebacker - One inside linebacker position is set for the next 10 years or more with Patrick Willis and while Takeo Spikes played well last year he isn't the long term answer. Right now the 49ers have no one on their roster who is the long term answer next to Willis. At one outside linebacker position we are set with Manny Lawson but at the other one we don't even have someone who will be good enough this year unless Parys Haralson gets a lot better. I implore you not to let Haralson's 7 sacks fool you because he is not a great pass rusher, most of them were coverage sacks. We need someone that can consistently get to the QB quickly.
1. Brian Orakpo, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Texas, 1st round - Orakpo is just a flat out monster physically. He isn't Mario Williams but he is pretty close. Runs a 4.6 40, benches 500 pounds, 40+ inch vertical, excellent size, etc. A lot of people like Everette Brown more but I see Manny Lawson in Brown, and we already have Manny Lawson, while I see DeMarcus Ware in Orakpo.
2. Michael Johnson, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Georgia Tech, 1st round - Well, my dreams of Johnson falling to the 2nd round are all but shattered after his 4.59 40 at his Pro Day. Al Davis will probably trade the Raiders entire draft to move up to #1 overall and grab him. But seriously, draft Oher in the 1st and trade back into it to get Johnson like we did with Willis/Staley. Please 49ers
3. Phillip Hunt, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Houston, 4th round - Right now I feel Hunt is getting underrated because of his height (6'1''). He is extremely fast (4.6 40) and ridiculously built and strong. Ran straight through 300 pound tackles while terrorizing C-USA for the past three years (48.5 TFL, 32.5 sacks in that span).
4. Lawrence Sidbury, Jr., Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Richmond, 3rd round - Some people have fallen all over Sidbury after his combine but I still think he is just okay with a lot of potential. If he is available at our 3rd round pick and we haven't addressed pass rusher yet I wouldn't mind him but no way do I want the 49ers taking him in the 2nd
5. Daniel Holtzclaw, Inside Linebacker, Eastern Michigan, 5th round - I am obligated to put an inside linebacker on this list but there are really none that I like as much as any I liked last year. Holtzclaw could be an eventual replacement to Spikes and he will be available later so he gets the spot.
Defensive Back - Finally, the last section. All of this typing is seriously starting to hurt my fingers. In retrospect that sentence actually caused more pain. As did that one. And that one. And that one. Alright, I'll stop now :). The 49ers need a huge upgrade at free safety, unless Dashon Goldson or Reggie Smith turn out to be the answer but I won't get my hopes up. They also need a new corner across from Nate Clements as Walt Harris will probably die of old age soon. Tarell Brown could take his spot but I'm not sure. My gut tells me that the 49ers will try these young guys out this year and not go after any defensive backs early but my brain isn't so sure. You should never leave your future in the hands of 4th round picks that haven't done anything yet.
1. Joe Burnett, CB, Central Florida, 5th round - This has nothing (not much) to do with me repping UCF. Burnett doesn't have great measureables; a little undersized, below average timed speed, etc; but he just knows how to play the cornerback position and make plays. He is also a great return man and could replace Rossum when he retires
2. Troy Nolan, Safety, Arizona State, 5th round - Nolan can play either safety position and play both of them well enough to be a good back-up and nickelback for a long time in the NFL. Probably will never be a starter but who knows?
3. Rashad Johnson, Free Safety, Alabama, 2nd round - Easily the best ball-hawking safety in this class and is also solid in every other facet of the game. I don't think he will ever be Brian Dawkins but he will be an above-average starter if he stays healthy.
4. Louis Delmas, Free Safety, Western Michigan, 2nd round - Now here is a guy that has the ability to be Brian Dawkins-esque. Delmas has all the physical tools you could ask for and if he receives proper coaching he will turn out to be the best safety from this class by a longshot.
5. Brandon Underwood, Free Safety, Cincinnati, 6th round - So I have basically all free safeties on this list? What does that tell you about the position in the secondary we need help at? I should probably put someone like William Moore in this spot because he would be an upgrade over Michael Lewis but I don't feel like it.