49ers Team Needs and Wants: Draft vs F.A.

I should take some time to introduce myself first. My name is Brian and I'll be doing weekly draft related articles here at Niners Nation, focusing mostly on how things look from a 49ers perspective. I currently work in sports radio. Hopefully I can use those connections to get some interviews or Q and A's with people a lot smarter than me. In addition to blogging about the 49ers and the draft, I have worked as a freelance writer for KFFL.com,  who you know for their "hotwire" content if you play Yahoo! fantasy sports. Enough about me, lets get to the nitty gritty.

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The draft board is shaping up in favor of the 49ers in 2009. The draft may not be top heavy with elite big-name players to excite the casual fan. However, there is a very good group of about a dozen or so prospects that  will be valuable and at least one or two of these guys will be available when the 49ers are on the clock at #10. Let's take a look at the 49ers team needs, how they stack up against the draft board or if that position should instead be addressed via free agency.

OLB- One word...Passrush! Lawson is fine on the strong side, but he's not an elite rusher. Haralson is a solid rotational guy, but he doesn't have the ability to take over a game. The lack of passrush is really the only thing holding this 49ers defense back from being one of the better units in the league. Look, I don't even care if the 49ers run ten players out there on 1st and 2nd downs. The run defense has been strong, but the defense must get off the field after 3rd downs. What bothers me is not only have opposing QB's had all day to throw, but McCloughan and Co. haven't identified this need as a priority in the past and added talent accordingly. That has to end now. Another roster spot is now open with the release of Tully Banta-Cain.

Luckily there are some pretty good options in 2009. I love that Singletary has stated the 49ers will be running a true 3-4 defense and not this wishy-washy, back and forth, 3-4/4-3 BS. Now they can focus on the 3-4, get the best personnel and run the best scheme with those players who fit. Everyone knows the primetime free agents like Suggs and Peppers, who are about to make serious coin. The draft is stocked with 3-4 OLB's as well. Fooch wrote a great scouting report on my favorite prospect Everette Brown. And if Brown is this year's DeMarcus Ware, then Brian Orapko is the Shawne Merriman. Both would be fine choices in the first round, but there is depth at the position too. Aaron Maybin, Larry English and Clint Sintim could all be factors from the middle of the 1st to mid 2nd rounds.

Verdict: 1st round. If the 49ers don't add one of the names above, the offseason will have been a failure. I have my doubts whether McCloughan wants to add a third premier contract on that side of the ball, so this looks like a need that will be addressed on draft day. It might not be worth the gamble to hope the right guy falls to round two.

OT- The need to add an offensive tackle might be a little overrated. You can't discount the 49ers league leading 55 sacks allowed, but you do have to weigh the Martz factor. His offenses have been among the worst in sacks allowed for years, so how much of that was personnel and how much was scheme?    The thing that bothers me is there have been a great amount of recources put towards building both O and D lines. Yet we still need to spend a top ten pick? I do believe there should be some competition for Snyder at RT. On the other hand, if Snyder is the starter to begin the season in '09, I won't be dissapointed. Don't forget, in the scouting world, the term right-tackle is a dirty word. It means you can't stack up athletically with NFL rushers. So, when you read scouting reports this spring about a guy who might not be able to handle LT...be wary. And the leftovers at OT over the years is a who's-who of draft busts. Beware of the big men up front. Often times it's a position of smarts, toughness and technique moreso than pure athletic ability. Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith, Andre Smith and Michael Oher are good prospects and I wouldn't be dissapointed to have any them on my squad. I'm just not sold on the cost.

Verdict: Free Agency. There are a couple guys who could come in and upgrade at RT right away in Jordan Gross (CAR) and Ray Willis (SEA), although Vernon Carey isn't going anywhere. If you were wondering, Carey is a Miami native who attended High School, College and now plays pro ball there. The O-line is a position that needs development, so anybody drafted would need a season to acclimate and then you still don't know what you have in a lot of cases. I worry that if a 1st rounder (Staley), two 2nd rounders (Rachal, Baas) and a third round draft pick (Snyder) are not good enough to form a  rock solid line, then maybe the talent evaluators are the problem...lets snatch up a guy who is money in the bank.

WR-  A True #1. As 49ers fans we were so spoiled for so long with the likes of Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Terrell Owens. Ah, the glory days. If you ask Mike Singletary, this would probably go in the "wants" category rather than the "needs". If not a true #1, then at least a dynamic playmaker is needed. As witnessed by the fact that DeSean Jackson wasn't even on the team's radar in '08, it's clear this regime doesn't covet a little quick guy. The 49ers war room was talking about drafting a WR in the 2nd round last year, but it was the 6'4" Limas Sweed from Texas.The 49ers are all about "football players". Big strong, physical and most of all tough. Scot McCloughan put best himself, "It's a big man's game."

Verdict: Draft, rounds 2-4. I could really see a guy like Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt in the 2nd round if they are available. Maybe Ramses Barden or Pat White in the 3rd-4th range. These are all tough guys. If either Bryant Johnson or Isaac Bruce are not retained, a free agent addition becomes more likely.

DB- The 49ers have a very good defensive backfield. With the hard nosed brand of football we are seeing these days, it's hard to say Mark Roman hasn't been a good fit. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with wanting more..and I know we all do. If one of the current CB's gets the job, then CB jumps way up on the list of needs.

Verdict: In-house. There's probably a sign up in Santa Clara somewhere that reads; "Open Tryouts...free safety wanted who can stuff the run AND  not get beat deep...and it wouldn't hurt if you could pick a ball off every now and again". I think there are a couple guys already on the roster who can fill this role. Dashon Goldson is first in line, but I think Reggie Smith the the true heir. Don't forget, having range isn't enough. If you're not a tough guy, you need not apply. So that one little guy from Upper Eastern State University who runs a 4.3 40 and returns kicks and sometimes plays QB...yeah, you can cross him off the list.

RB- This has been a problem for a little while.  Foster did a good job backing up Gore in '08, but he can be improved upon and also doesn't have a lot left in the tank. Robinson is not instictive at all as a runner (I still wish they would have tried him at safety instead of running back out of college). Short yardage is one aspect, but this player needs to be able to spell Gore in all situations.

Verdict: Draft. This answer is always draft. The shelf life for NFL running backs is so short, I can't believe anyone ever spends money on a free agent. There are always a number of guys who can carry the rock. Remember when your teacher would give you a test but give one of the answers at the beginning? Well, in 2009 the answer at RB is Tyrell Sutton. He's my guy and a perfect fit as #2 to Frank-enstein. But I'd be surprised if the 49ers draft a guy who weighs less than 220 lbs.

FB- The draft is pretty weak at fullback. The 5th or 6th round is probably the earliest one could be selected. Maybe McCloughan loves one of the college guys, but to me it looks like there are enough proven options in free agency with guys like Tony Richardson and Leonard Weaver. Nothing against Zach Keasey, but you can bet a smashmouth fullback is added in the offseason.

Verdict: Free Agent. My money is on Richardson who has played on two different teams for Jimmy Raye and worry about 2010 in 2010.

NT- Florida Danny is in the process of writing some great articles using sabermetric style football statistics. I'm glad these are making their way into the football conversation. I'd like to use another stat that hardcore baseball fans are probably familiar with...VORP. VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player. It basically says how valuable a guy is versus a "free" player who could be called up from AAA at his position. This is how I think about our defensive line. It's similar to my thoughts on the O-line. But instead of comparing with AAA players, Its guys already on our roster. How many resources do we have to put towards this position to get the performance that is neccesary? Raji, is a great prospect, but his VORP isn't high enough to warrant a top 10 pick.  Maybe his teammate Ron Brace would be a nice long term prospect at NT in the 3rd round.

Verdict: Draft, mid rounds. Look, Not even the best nose tackles were drafted top 10. Not Casey Hampton, not Vince Wilfork. Repeat after me...wait on big fatty...wait on big fatty.

QB- You'd be crazy not to be angst ridden over who could be the longterm starter at quarterback. I'm pretty sure The Cure even wrote a song about it. Just like teenagers in love, there's no reason to rush into marriage. And that's what you do with a 1st round draft pick at QB. McCloughan has this to say on the issue:

Every year we’re trying to improve the quarterback position as we do with every position. You always want to have some youth in place, knowing that they might not be the starter that year, but in the future they have upside and they can possibly be a starting quarterback in the NFL. It’s also very important nowadays to have two quarterbacks who have some experience, because you’re going to need a second quarterback in a 16-game season. It’s definitely a priority, not just this year, but in every year.

It just so happens that I have a degree in GM-Speak. Let me translate that paragraph for you; "We are NOT drafting Mark Sanchez with the #10 pick, but I don't mind if you keep putting him there in your stupid little mock drafts. Thanks for the smokescreen, bitches! I wonder if Bruce Gradkowski will be available..."

Verdict: Who the hell knows. A lot can change...Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn were top 5 locks at this point in their respective draft years. QB is the toughest position to scout, so you  have to be careful. They take time to develop. A lot depends on the talent around them. Looking back, mistakes are always made based on tangible ability, arm strength running speed etc. Personally I'd never, ever take a QB in the first round. It's time to see what Hill can do with his first full offseason of starters reps. Oh, and Matt Cassel is the next Elvis Grbac.

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