Over the past few months, draft discussion has often centered on specific players. Someone has followed a certain player in college and thinks the 49ers should draft that player. Nothing wrong with that. When you then get into discussions of draft strategy, it often centers around taking the "best player available," regardless of position.
I wanted to focus the discussion entirely on positions in this post. There have certainly been position discussions, but a lot of times it ends up centering on specific players at that position. So, I thought I'd go through what positions the 49ers would likely address with their nine draft picks. Part of this will be more eliminating positions that won't be drafted as well. Also, we are not including undrafted free agents as filling the role.
No Pick (virtual lock)
K/P: These are easy ones, but they can still be removed. Joe Nedney has been extended through 2011 and Andy Lee is locked up through 2012. Thankfully, the 49ers are set for the near future at 2 simple, and yet key, positions.
Yep, that's it. Those are the only positions that I am willing to guarantee will not be selected this coming weekend. I've combined some of the positions into single units because some positions are either quite obvious or don't require much analysis.
Receivers: I think it's a lock that the 49ers draft a wide receiver at some point. The team has a lot of young depth at the position, but Isaac Bruce might have only one more year. Furthermore, while we'd like all these young receivers to hit, the more you have the more likely you are to have one of them hit.
I'm also including tight end here. The team probably needs a third tight end to fill the blocking role that Billy Bajema handled so ably. If the team decides to bring Sean Ryan back at training camp, then no real need. If not this is probably more of an undrafted free agent or veteran free agent signing.
Offensive Line: It's also a virtual lock that the 49ers draft one or more offensive linemen. Not a shocking pronouncement obviously. Center is set with and Eric Heitmann starting and Cody Wallace as a backup. However, right tackle remains uncertain and guard is no certainty with David Baas in the final year of his contract.
Quarterback: I think most folks agree that a QB needs to be taken at some point in this draft. Some folks want the glamor guy in the first round, while others are willing to wait a few rounds for a diamond in the rough. Either way, I don't think the 49ers are willing to go into next season with an undrafted free agent to develop.
Running Back: I'm including fullback in this group. I don't expect a fullback to be drafted, but some of these bigger running backs might end up doing more FB work than anything else. However, at the traditional running back position, I fully expect the 49ers to grab someone this weekend. There are a million different ways to go, but the powers that be have made it very well known that they want somebody to ease Frank Gore's workload.
After the jump we take a look at the defensive side of the ball and I throw out my predictions for the specific positions drafted this year (although not by round yet).
Defensive Line: Even with a rebound season from Aubrayo Franklin, most of us are in the camp of wanting a nose tackle by the end of the upcoming weekend. The more interesting discussion centers around defensive end. I noticed an interesting comments in that FanPost by rlott#42 about Balmer that has been echoed by others.
The team drafted Kentwan Balmer last year and signed Demetric Evans this year, to go along with Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald. With Justin Smith set as a rock on the other end position, that's a lot of bodies competing for playing time. Maybe you get someone late that you can afford to cut (say 6th or 7th round), but I don't see an even remotely high pick being invested in a 3-4 defensive end. Do you?
Outside Linebackers: We've had plenty of discussions about the pass rushers that could help the 49ers. However, as I mentioned at the end of my Brian Orakpo scouting report, where do you find the playing time? This is one reason I found the first round of the draft so maddening this year. I suppose of any position the 49ers could draft in the first round this year, an outside linebacker would be most likely to make some contribution in the form of a pass rush platoon.
Inside Linebacker: Although the 49ers are set at their starters, they could certainly use some depth. Takeo Spikes is not going to be playing forever, and it would be nice to have some other ILB options. At one point shortly after the college football season ended, Rey Maualuga was projected to the 49ers in some mock drafts. That's unlikely to happen now, but I could see an inside linebacker being picked up, if for nothing more than special teams purposes.
Safety: While Michael Lewis has the strong safety position locked up for now, the free safety position could be a wide open battle at training camp. Dashon Goldson is the front runner by appointment. However, it's no secret that he's had injury issues dating back to college. The team added Jimmy Williams to compete as a safety, but I'd imagine they want to grab one more to be safe. It's even possible they go with a college corner who could be converted to safety. Whatever it is, I'd expect one somewhere.
Cornerback: Continuing with the defensive back position, except for last season, the 49ers drafted at least two defensive backs in the McNolan draft era. Last year they lost a pick because of the Bears issue and had their fewest picks under Nolan. So, not exactly shocking that they didn't go for multiple players at any position. However, I do think they'll be looking at multiple defensive backs (whether it be a safety and a corner, or two corners). They've got some young talent in Reggie Smith and Tarell Brown, but with Walt Harris nearing the end and nobody really knowing what to expect from Shawntae Spencer health-wise, it could be time to reload.
So, what positions are we gonna grab?
Given all this, I'll throw out mildly educated predictions for what positions we'll grab this weekend. I do think there will be trades, but I'll just say they trade down once and trade up once, leaving us with 9 total picks either way (for simplicity's sake):
QB, WR, RB, OT, NT, OLB, CB, S, RB
Feel free to throw out your own predictions.