2013 NFL Draft: San Francisco 49ers spotlight
With plenty to spend, the San Francisco 49ers have the means to stock what many consider the NFL's best roster with top-shelf talent. Where will Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke find NFL-ready talent for a two-deep depth chart with few posted vacancies?
By Frank Cooney
What do you get for the guy who has everything? Upon closer inspection, you will probably find that regardless of how well things appear, there are needs. That is the situation with the San Francisco 49ers, the team with probably the best top-to-bottom roster in the league, as they calculate what do to with an overabundance of negotiable currency in an NFL draft with little top-shelf talent.
However, while watching the talent-rich 49ers spend 13 draft picks into a rather starless 2013 NFL Draft seems akin to Bill Gates being turned loose in a cut-rate software store, there are deals to be made. While Gates might solve his challenge by simply buying the store, then sorting the assets, the 49ers will need to be more judicious. But they will indeed be wheeling and dealing.
And in a trade-down year -- one in which there is little perceived value difference among most of the top 20 or 30 or more players -- the 49ers have choices, including protecting what appears to be a healthy future by dealing part of this year's bounty for picks in the 2014 draft.
The unlikely choice: Stay put with those 13 picks, bulk up the roster by taking the "best available" player with each pick. That is not only boring, but would result in too many rookies on the roster. They could bundle some of their picks -- especially those seven picks between rounds two and five -- and move up to target specific players of interest at positions of need. Or they could combine the two approaches, which seems most logical.
Their needs include at least one defensive lineman, defensive back and tight end. Given injuries to Mario Manningham and backup running back Kendall Hunter, the 49ers could also snag another wide receiver and a tailback.
Winning the NFC West is no longer a gimme, and depth is a prerequisite.
The SF-Seattle battles should be among the best in the league this year and perhaps for many seasons. Jeff Fisher also served notice to the 49ers that his St. Louis Rams are tough to beat. The 49ers must gear up to battle those division rivals as the key step to get back to a Super Bowl.
Seattle's offense demands defensive attention against a powerful running game, a receiving crew that now includes Percy Harvins and a quarterback who knows how to make it all work.
The need for a defensive lineman was obviated when 11th-year veteran Justin Smith was injured late last season. It worsened with the losses of Ricky Jean-Francois and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga in free agency.
The acquisition of free agent Glenn Dorsey (Kansas City) will only work if he finds a position that suits his talent, stays healthy and plays up to potential. Maintaining a strong defensive line will allow the best linebacking crew in football to be even more devastating, inside (Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman) and out (pass rusher Aldon Smith). Most important, it will take pressure off the defensive backs.
In the secondary, the 49ers lost safety Dashon Goldston to Tampa Bay ($41.25 million to play alongside Darrelle Revis). Free agent Craig Dahl (Rams) is not a sure thing. Aging free agent Charles Woodson (Raiders, Packers) is oft-discussed, but no deal yet. Free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (Eagles) was signed, but hasn't played up to expectations for a couple of seasons.
Although the 49ers give lip service to needing a tight end to replace the free agent departee Delanie Walker (Titans), it might be more efficient if quarterback Colin Kaepernick and extraordinary starting tight end Vernon Davis just get on the same page rather than use a valuable pick to replace a backup tight end.
If the 49ers are looking for backups, a good offensive lineman would be smart insurance. Last year the 49ers were fortunate that their fantastic front five starters did not miss a game. The downside is the 49ers have only seven O-Lineman on their roster and no backups with any game experience last year or at all.
Keeping that front line solid will be critical to showcase an impressive array of so-called skilled players -- Kaepernick, Davis, running back Frank Gore, wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin (trade, Ravens).
So in a draft low on big names at the glory positions and deep with offensive and defensive linemen, the 49ers should be able to find a way to spend their oversized budget on things they really need.
Primary Needs: S, DL, OL, TE
General Manager: Trent Baalke, third year
Five recent draft picks that clicked:
-- OLB Aldon Smith, 7th overall, 2011
-- QB Colin Kaepernick, 36th overall, 2011
-- OT Anthony Davis, 11th overall, 2011
-- G Mike Iupati, 17th overall, 2010
-- LB NaVorro Bowman, 91st overall, 2010
Five players who should be on the San Francisco 49ers' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
CB Desmond Trufant, Washington (23, 3) : Texas safety Kenny Vaccarro was popular pick here. Get a safety later. Trufant is a solid pick at crucial position who already has an appreciation for the heated rivalry against Seattle, both as a Washington grad and as the brother of Marcus, a Seahawks corner. He is a four-year starter, very athletic with speed (4.38 seconds in 40 yards). At worst he immediately adds depth, nickel/slot coverage. At best he presses Nnamdi Asomugha to show if he still has it, then becomes his replacement, sooner or later. Opinions on Trufant vary enough to make him a tricky guy to pin down if you are trading up to pick him.
DT John Jenkins, Georgia (74, 8) : Jenkins is built like a refrigerator with a head and NFL teams were concerned that he kept restocking the fridge too often as he ballooned up to 370 pounds after weighing 346 at Indianapolis combine. But he put himself on a diet and exercise program and reports indicate he is doing well. Technically listed as a nose tackle by pro scouts, he was versatile enough to player all along like in college. He is surprisingly athletic for his size -- 6-feet, 3 5/8ths inches and, well mid 350-poounds -- and brings his brute strength to blockers in a sudden, shocking manner. Could be what Dorsey was advertised to be back in the day.
OT Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech (126, 12): For a team loaded with talent and draft picks, here is a great athlete with loads of upside. Many scouts originally rated him as a sixth-round prospect, but the more they saw his natural strength and athleticism the more he moved up charts. If 49ers can figure where he is in his ascent, they should be able to steal a potential future star. Willing learner and worker could use a little more weight (6-4 1/4, 306 now) and can learn technique from those great starters, if they dare team him.
WR Aaron, Mellette, Elon (178, 22): With Randy Moss gone and Manningham hurt, the 49ers aren't empty at the position, but depth behind Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin is lacking. After Mellette caught 113 passes for 1,639 yards in 2011 and 97 for 1,398 yards last season, NFL scouts were curious despite all this happening in small school, FCS competition. They now know he is 6-3, 217 pounds and can run 40 yards in 4.45 seconds, which might measure up at any level. Top speed more impressive than quickness. He was primarily a basketball player growing up, so catches well with his hands.
DT Lawrence Okoye, No College (185, 17): Somebody is going to roll the dice on this unique human being who has NEVER played football. Okoye, from the borough of Croydon in London, is the UK discus record holder and a finalist in last year's Olympics. He watched U. S. football since childhood and while working out in Georgia this winter seized the opportunity to enter an NFL regional combine. The 6-5 1/4, 304 pounder, ran 40 yards in 4.84 seconds, soared 36 inches in the vertical jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times. Next he was visiting five NFL teams, including the 49ers. So he is putting aside his discus, and deferring a scholarship to Oxford.
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