Projecting the draft: San Francisco 49ers

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
Taking advantage of a talented roster and providing extraordinary teaching at each position group, the San Francisco 49ers emerged from a supposedly weak NFC West division to come within a few plays of beating the New York Giants for the right to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh and his staff did a spectacular job in their first season in San Francisco. They resurrected the career of quarterback Alex Smith and by incorporating first round pick Aldon Smith into the rotation at defensive line, rather than using him as a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker, the team was able to take advantage of the strength and tenacity of the league's most underrated defensive lineman, Justin Smith. San Francisco's powerful front helped make lives easier on their terrific inside linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, making a solid if not spectacular secondary.

The 49ers know they won't sneak up on anyone in 2012 and thus improvements to the roster must be made. General manager Trent Baalke did a great job in his first full year as the talent evaluator and boasts a roster with few obvious holes.

Five picks general manager Trent Baalke should contemplate:

OG Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 44)
The loss of versatile free agent Adam Snyder should be a concern in San Francisco, especially considering the power running attack Harbaugh likes to employ. Silatolu is undeniably a project considering the jump from Midwestern State to the NFL but he showed good feet and balance at left tackle and plays with the toughness and tenacity to fit into the 49ers' scheme. Silatolu would be a slight reach at his point in the draft, in my opinion, but he fits in very well with what San Francisco likes to do and undeniably has more upside than Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler.

WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 30)
The addition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham as unrestricted free agents, as well as the re-signing of their own Ted Ginn, Jr. makes wide receiver less of a need than it might appear. The 49ers, however, are thought to be very high on Hill's upside. Considering the success they had a year ago as teachers, they might be more willing than most to gamble. Should he still be on the board with the 30th overall pick of the first round, the 49ers could bite.

OG Brandon Brooks, Miami (of Ohio) (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 67)
Should the 49ers look to their receiving corps or another position in the first round, the depth at guard is limited enough that the team might have to reach a bit in the second to address their hole up front. Despite being a standout performer wherever Miami lined him up over his career, Brooks wasn't invited to the Combine in February. That fact hasn't stopped the several clubs from grading the big man as a potential top 75 prospect. Powerful and nasty, Brooks has the physical attributes the 49ers look for in guards and he'd be a solid value selection with the 49ers' second round pick, No. 61 overall.

CB Brandon Boykin, Georgia (NFLDraftScout.com ranking 52)
The 49ers received surprisingly effective play at cornerback from veteran Carlos Rodgers, signed free agent Perrish Cox and like the upside of Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver. Still, a quality nickel cornerback with return skills like Boykin would make an awful lot of sense if still on the board in the second round. The 49ers top two areas of concern seem to clearly be along the offensive line and receiver but Baalke is a strong believer in drafting the best available player and with a strong cornerback class likely to push some talented players further down the board than they should, his team could be in good position to catch a falling star like Boykin at No. 61.

WR Rishard Matthews, Nevada (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 92)
With Michael Crabtree, Manningham, Moss and/or Ginn, Jr. likely to see the most snaps at receiver for the 49ers this season, the club may elect to wait until the middle rounds to address this position. Teams can do this because wide receiver is the deepest position in this year's draft. The playmaking Matthews is a perfect example of this. He hasn't received nearly as much national attention as his play warrants and has the size and body control teams look for in West Coast Offense receivers. Also, like Boykin, Matthews presents punt return potential. His familiarity with the 49ers' second round pick a year ago, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, also would appear likely to work in his favor should the 49ers still need to find a receiver when up with the No. 92 overall pick.

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