Assumptions With Respect to Free Agents
With respect to the forthcoming draft, is the first question what are draft priorities ought to be? Actually NO. Before we know what we should be looking for, we need to know what we've got ... that is, what assumptions do we make about our free agents. For purposes of this post I am assuming the following:
We will resign (to at least a one-year deal) -- David Baas, Tarell Brown, Demetric Evans, Manny Lawson, Travis LaBoy, Ray McDonald, Alex Smith, and Takeo Spikes. Also, I assume that Nate Clements knows that nobody else will sign him to a big-money contract, so he will agree to resign a reduced-price contract in lieu of being released. And, I assume that we will make Brian Westbrook an offer but that he will choose to sign elsewhere, where he will get more playing time.
Conversely, we will lose the following guys who will sign elsewhere -- Shane Andrus (unneeded), Aubrayo Franklin (the Niners won't franchise him again at a cost of $13 million per), Dashon Goldson (not worth what he will ask), Jeff Reed (less reliable than Nedney), and maybe Troy Smith (although it doesn't matter either way).
Finally, although I am in favor of making a run at him in free agency, I assume that we will not win the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes.
So, that's my pre-draft starting point.
Position Priorities for the Draft
I don't want to get into a "which is more important" discussion here. Let's just agree that we have some major needs and some minor needs (or like-to-haves) to be addressed in the draft. To some extent these priorities are dictated by the assumptions made above. For example, if Franklin is not resigned we will need to address the NT position in the draft.
Also, although a QBOTF is a major need, I think that most of us agree that the quality level of most of the QB prospects in this year's draft simply doesn't justify them for consideration as a first-round pick. (This explains why I have assumed that Alex Smith will return as our starting QB until a draftee is ready to play. Yes, we could make a trade but IMO the only candidates better than Alex will cost more than they are worth in a trade AND we won't know what kind of trade, if any, can be made until AFTER the draft.)
So, IMO major position priorities are -- quarterback, cornerback, pass-rusher (3/4 OLB in our case).
The lesser priority positions are -- nose tackle (to replace Franklin), fullback (Norris won't cut it in Harbaugh's offense), change-of-pace running back (to replace Westbrook), backup center/guard (to protect against the possibility that Heitman can't return), defensive end (an upgrade to Soap), and free safety (replacing Goldson's roster spot).
We have all been going back and forth as to which position need is more important (and therefore addressed with the 7th pick) -- cornerback or pass-rusher. I submit that our problem is that WE NEED BOTH and are first two choices in the draft are far apart -- 7 and 45. So, regardless of which position we pick first, we're going to get a Class-A player at 7 but a less-than-Class-A player at 45. I propose that we balance this out somewhat by getting at least two Class-A-minus picks at the two critical need positions via a trade-down strategy. I've looked at most of the possible trade-down opportunities and what could be gained. Here's the one I like best: New England has picks at 17, 28, 33 etc. They are looking to upgrade at DE, RB and OG among other needs. I propose that we trade our #7 pick (trade value 1500) to New England, giving them a shot at Cam Jordan, Robert Quinn, or whoever, in exchange for picks #17 (trade value 950) and #33 (trade value 580).
My Alternative Mock for the Niners
Since we don't know exactly who will be available at each pick, I have listed at least two prospects at each pick. My strategy is to pick the guy listed first, if he's available; if the guy listed first is gone, pick the second guy listed, etc.
Round 1 - Pick 17 (from New England): CB Brandon Harris (Miami) or CB Jimmy Smith (Colorado).
Round 2 - Pick 33 (from New England): OLB Justin Houston (Georgia) or OLB Akeem Ayers (UCLA).
Round 2 - Pick 45: CB Davon House (New Mexico State) or CB Brandon Burton (Utah). Note: If conderned that desired QB draftee will not last until Round 3, draft the QB here and then the best CB available in Round 3.
Round 3 - Pick 76: QB Colin Kaepernick (Nevada) or QB Christian Ponder (Florida State).
Round 4 - Pick 107: NT Kendrick Ellis (Hampton) or WR Austin Pettis (Boise State).
Round 4 - Pick 114 (from San Diego): FB Owen Marecic (Stanford) or C/OG John Moffitt (Wisconsin).
Round 5 - Pick 137: NT Sione Fua (Stanford) if Ellis not selected at Pick 107 or C/OG John Moffitt (Wisconsin) if not selected at Pick 114 or DE Greg Romeus (Pittsburgh) if Ellis selected at Pick 107 and Moffitt selected at Pick 114.
Round 6 - Pick 168: COPRB Derrick Locke (Kentucky) or K Alex Henery (Nebraska) or WR Cecil Shorts (Mount Union).
Round 6 - Pick 185: FB Charles Clay (Tulsa) if Marecic not selected at Pick 114 or any of the prospects listed at Pick 168 not selected at Pick 168.
Round 7 - Pick 199: FS Will Hill (Florida) or FS Chris Culliver (South Carolina).
Round 7 - Pick 200 (from Detroit): DE Lazarus Levingston (LSU) if Romeus not selected at Pick 137 or OLB/DE Ryan Winterswyk (Boise State).
In addition, sign as undrafted free agents: C Chase Beeler (Stanford), WR Armon Binns (Cincinnati), WR DeAndre Brown (Southern Mississippi), WR Jeff Maehl (Oregon) -- a little training camp competition.
There you have it. The more I think about this approach, the better I like it -- it gives us two quality CBs in the first two rounds, plus a quality pass-rusher, a good QBOTF prospect, and fills all of our other needs to some level. What do you think?