I started having a twitter conversation with GrantMP1 late last week after he asked me this question: If the draft were today and the 49ers had re-signed Braylon Edwards, Dashon Goldson, Ahmad Brooks and Carlos Rogers...which positions would you target?
I began sending tweet after tweet with some logic as to why I felt a position group either needed attention or not, and how early I thought we'd have to address each group. Then I realized that sending 35 consecutive tweets of just 140 characters each probably wasn't the most effective way to express my thoughts on the matter.
So instead I thought I'd abuse my position as a glorious (read: unpaid) front-page writer on NN, and mind-dump some draft thoughts here, instead.
The premise is simple: The draft is TODAY, and we've re-signed the above players (and I add Joshua Morgan to those, as well). Based on what we know right now, what positions would we target and in which rounds? After the jump, my thoughts.
The first position that came to mind was defensive back (DB). Lord knows that Rogers has been great, and we'd be bringing him back in this scenario, but what about the rest of the guys? Chris Culliver has shown some flashes and I'm going forward with the thought that he starts next year opposite Rogers. Tarell Brown has been well-utilized by Vic Fangio, but I'm not sure I put the future of CB in Brown's hands should there be an early-season injury to one of the starters.
Still, there are two-to-three guys in place at CB, so I don't think I'd draft one in the first round. Probably another third-rounder type like Culliver who can develop into a great Nickel back and potential fill-in starter.
At Safety I like what Goldson and Whitner have brought to the table, and Reggie Smith has played well in spot-duty this year, too. Again, there is a drop-off after that, though. I think I'd start thinking about a Safety in the fourth round, maybe fifth.
Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith look like a good pas-rush tandem right now, but you can never have too many pass-rushers...especially in a pressure 3-4 defense that sends the OLB/DE often. I think I'd keep pass-rusher near the top of my list. We hope to be picking later in the first round, so either there or the second or third round.
The other spot that I have long-term concerns about is 5-tech (3-4 DE). Justin Smith is still playing lights-out, but he's also in his mid 30's and I'd like to have a few years to develop someone to take his place when the time comes. I like what I've seen from Demarcus Dobbs thus-far, but let's be honest...it's FAR too early to place all of our eggs in the basket of an undersized UDFA. I'd keep 5T near the top of my list as well, but probably second thru fourth rounds.
I see Ricky Jean-Francois as a backup NT and depth at 5T, not the long-term answer at either. Isaac Sopoaga has played at a high level this season, but is also nearing his mid 30's. Perhaps Ian Williams can develop into the NT of the future, but competition is good. I'd target a true Fangio NT in the fourth thru sixth rounds.
Running back is another position that's interesting. I think Kendall Hunter has shown the ability to be a big-time contributor, but I'm not sure I want him getting 20+ carries every game. Frank Gore likely has about 2 seasons (including this one) left in the tank before he starts to rapidly decline. Anthony Dixon doesn't seem to have much confidence from the coaching staff and plays mostly special teams and/or late in games that are in-hand.
I think it would be a good idea to start thinking about grooming Frank Gore's replacement - an in-between-the-tackles, hard-nosed runner who compliments what Hunter does on the edges. I'd start looking for this guy in the second round, possibly the first if I was OK with letting Dixon go AND having a three-back rotation (Frank still needs to be on the field).
Wide receiver seems to be a good group, to me, right now. Braylon coming back, Joshua Morgan, Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn, Jr. make a good diverse corps. I could see taking a flyer on a guy who could contribute similarly to how Ginn does, but with more upside on offense than Teddy. He's a great return-man, but let's face it...he's not fit for a lot of snaps on offense. Maybe a later-round guy to compete with the group...maybe none at all.
The offensive line seems to be coming together well and I like the depth we have. I think our backups could start and the group wouldn't miss much of a beat save for the usual "time to jell" period. Plus, we have a few good young players in Daniel Kilgore, Chase Beeler, etc. I wouldn't spend a draft pick on this position.
Inside linebacker is another position group that needs no attention right now. I could possibly see grabbing a mid-to-late-round guy who could be a solid backup to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, since it seems Larry Grant and Blake Costanzo would represent a drop-off at the position...but I like the mix of the group right now.
You know what position that leaves...Quarterback. Right now I don't know enough about where Colin Kaepernick is in his development to decide if he's the future or not. Nobody knows that about a second-round QB until he's been in the system for a year (unless you're the coach). I like Scott Tolzien as a third-QB and potential backup. Many saw him as a guy who could eventually develop into a starter way down the road. The biggest question is Alex Smith.
If Alex continues to play the way he is right now, and hopefully slightly better (he'll need to when the playoffs come...again, cart...horse) then I'd expect Harbaugh to want him back - at the very least to compete with Kaepernick/whomever next off-season. I think Harbaugh knows that Alex isn't the long-term world-beater who will lead the team to multiple Super Bowls. I can't think of a team who won multiple SB's with the same mediocre QB. The dynasties had really, really good QB's. Tom Brady, Steve Young, Joe Montana.
I know Harbaugh is a good coach, and he schemes very well...but this is also year one. Teams don't have a bead on him or the offense yet. It gets harder from here on out. I think you have to either know that Kaepernick is about ready to lead the team, or you do something serious to address the position.
The Philadelphia's and New England's of the world keep drafting QB's and immersing them in the system, working with them to make them a good QB...whether they end up needing the guy to play or not. You're investing in something that can gain equity and be a valuable asset either on your team or as a means to trade for draft picks or players who can help your team.
If Kaepernick isn't ready, based on our projected draft position of the bottom half of the first round...I would take the right guy, Harbaugh's type of guy, if he fell to me.
So there you have it. The cart is flying down the hill out of control and the horse is doing everything it can to catch up with it. It's fun, admit it...now comment!