We certainly have fun with our continuing draft debate ... which position is most important? QB? CB? OLB? Who should we draft first? Second? All lots of fun expressing our diverse opinions but not pertinent in the real world ... the fact of the matter is that WE NEED TO GET THE BEST PROSPECTS THAT WE CAN AT ALL THREE POSITIONS ... AND MORE. Perhaps the more relevant question then is ... how do we get the best prospects that we can at each position of need. How do we optimize the results of this draft?
It's a pretty straight forward process to evaluate prospects at each position of need, perhaps refining that evaluation by categorizing sub-groups of player types (e.g., feature WR, tall WR, slot WR), and then rank order them. Straight forward because you can control the process.
The tough part is figuring out how to get the best possible prospects at each position ... when you're competing with the needs of 31 other teams and their probably differing evaluations of the same prospects? How to scheme to optimize the outcome? What to do to get what you want? The easy and passive answer, and seemingly accepted by many teams, is to simply accept the picks that you have and grab the BPA at a need position when your turn comes. Is that the right thing to do? Maybe. But, probably not. It would seem that you need some kind of a guide ... a draft philosophy.
The following thoughts on the NFL draft are from a book written by Bill Walsh in 1990 entitled "Building A Champion". I will do some paraphrasing to keep the length of this diatribe shorter.
* The goal is always to improve the team, to get progressively better with each draft.
* When trying to improve the team across the board (i.e., not just at a few positions), trade down to get more and / or better picks.
Regarding the 1980 draft: "... I had to weigh getting an 'impact' player with our top pick or trading it for two other picks. ... This was our first experience in trading draft choices (downward). It provided a procedure for later years, when it (trading down) became a regular part of our draft philosophy."
Regarding the two picks acquired in the first trade down: "Neither was to become a Hall of Fame candidate, but they immediately strengthened our squad and were starters on our 1981 World Championship team. ... Without either one of them, we could not have made such strides, and I doubt we would have become world champions."
* When the state of the team is "solid and strong" at every position, trade up to get one impact player -- that's the only way to get better.
Regarding the 1985 draft: "We were drafting last in 1985 because we'd just won the Super Bowl. We were solid and strong at virtually every position. When you reach that point, your only chance for measurable improvement is to acquire a true impart player." The Niners traded up to draft Jerry Rice.
One other point about Bill's draft philosophy that I found interesting: "We always drafted a speed receiver, if for no other reason than to give our defensive backs somebody to work against in training camp. If the receiver made the team, fine, but even if he didn't, he helped prepare our defensive backs for someone with sprinter speed."
So, where are we in 2011? Uh, definitely NOT "solid and strong" at every position. That would suggest that we consider a trade-down strategy this year ... to get more and / or better picks ... to improve the team at several or more positions.
Our three most important needs this year, regardless of priority, are QB, CB and OLB (the primary pass-rushing position in a 3/4 defense). WE NEED THEM ALL. Beyond that, we need additional improvements:
1. A NT -- AF won't return; if you believe that RJF is NFL-starter-quality, maybe we get him some help at NT in a lower round; if, like me, you believe that RJF is an adequate backup but not a quality starter at this point, we should draft a NT prospect who can start soon if not immediately. (Side note: IMO you can't trade for a quality NT without paying a rediculously high price, even if you can find a team even willing to trade a good NT)
2. A change-of-pace RB -- Westbrook won't return; we need to get Gore and Dixon some help.
3. A better FB -- Harbaugh's system calls for an effective FB; Norris is well beyond his productive years.
4. A left DE -- somebody to give Soap some competition and, hopefully, improve the productivity of the position.
5. A taller WR with some athleticism and speed -- except for Ziegler at 6' 3" (and whose health after last year's injury may be in question), the tallest of our six other wideouts is Crabtree at 6' 1". Morgan and Jurovich are 6' 0". Ginn, Williams and Long are 5' 11".
6. Additional depth at C/OG.
7. A new kicker -- Nedney is 37 years old and experiencing increasing leg problems; Reed isn't the long term answer; Scaccia may be the answer, but we don't know for sure.
Damn! That's askinng for a lot! Can we get there ... in one draft? Probably not all the way, but close I think. THAT is my goal in writing this post. Find a way!
So, using Walsh's philosophy, here goes --
Getting the Picks
Trade #1: Many mockers have Detroit picking CB Jimmy Smith at pick #13. Would they rather have Prince Amukamara? Before Dallas picks him at #9? Trade #7 in Round 1, #107 in Round 4 and #168 in Round 6 to Detroit in exchange for #13 in Round 1 and #44 in Round 2.
Trade #2: Many mockers have Kansas City looking for a #1 WR with there pick #21, even though not Green or Jones. But what if they could get Julio Jones before the Rams have a chance to draft him at #14? Trade #13 in Round 1(acquired from Detroit in Trade #1) to Kansas City in exchange for #21 in Round 1 and #55 in Round 2.
Trade #3: Everyone (except their GM Buddy NIx) knows that Buffalo needs at least one, maybe two, starting OTs, but they will probably draft a QB, DT or DE at #3. What if, in addition to that #3 pick, we gave them an opportunity to draft Solder, Castonzo or Carimi? Trade #21 in Round 1 (acquired from Kansas City in Trade #2) and #204 in Round 7 to Buffalo in exchange for #34 in Round 2 and #68 in Round 3.
Accordingly, after all of that, we end up with the following picks:
Round 1 -- None
Round 2 -- 34, 44, 45, 55
Round 3 -- 68, 76
Round 4 -- 114; Round 5 -- 137; Round 6 -- 185; Round 7 -- 199.
Where to Start
We have to start with the QB position. Why? Basically because of the supply vs. demand issue but I'll avoid the details for now. There is little question, if any, that Blaine Gabbert is the QB prospect with the least-risk-with-most-upside-potential in this draft; but since he has to transition from a spread system it will take him a while, even with good coaching, to be ready to start. I believe that the prospect that Jim Harbaugh will want to draft is Christian Ponder. I'm going to let Rob Rang (from NFLDraftScout), who I believe is the best of the analysts at evaluating QBs, to make the case. Says Rang: Ponder is clearly the top WCO QB prospect in this draft. He has the intelligence, accuracy, experience, mobility, and leadership qualities to be a success at that position. He was a 3-year-starter with QB ratings of 115.0, 147.7, and 135.7 (even though injured for much of the season). For his career he had a 61.8% completion rate with 49 TDs and 28 INTs. Unlike Gabbert and Newton he operated in a pro system in college, he is more consistent and accurate than Locker, more mobile than Mallett, has shown strong leadership skills, and has no character issues. My aside: We know that Harbaugh likes intelligent guys; Ponder had a 3.89 GPA while majoring in Real Estate and Finance. My conclusion: Ponder is Harbaugh's guy.
OK, great, so we want to get Ponder as our QBOTF. Which pick should we use to try to get him? Ah, there's the question! We know that at least two (Gabbert and Newton), maybe three, QB prospects will go in the first round ... doesn't matter much to who. That would leave two to three of the top QB prospects (including Ponder, probably) available for selection in the second round. So, what does the demand look like? THAT'S THE PROBLEM! Our first pick in the second round is #44. Here are the teams wanting to draft a QB, some of whom (but not all) may have picked theirs in the first round, that will be drafting ahead of us at #44 in the second round: Cincinnati at #35, Arizona at #38, Tennessee at #39, Washington at #41, and Minnesota at #43. So what are the chances that Ponder makes it to #44? Slim and none, and slim just left town! That makes the decision easy -- if you want Ponder you have to take him at #34! I know, I know! He's not worth picking that high! But that's not the issue ... the issue is, do you want Ponder (as I believe that Harbaugh does)? If so, you MUST take him before the second round run of QB prospects by other teams.
Making the Selections
I know, that was a hell of a long preamble, but I thought that you should at least understand my underlying logic in this whole optimization exercise. Now the picks:
Pick 34: Christian Ponder QB (Florida State) -- Ranked 36th overall by NFLDraftScout
Pick 44: Brooks Reed OLB (Arizona) -- Ranked 48th overall by NFLDraftScout
Picks 45 and 55: Select two from: Devon House CB (New Mexico State) -- Ranked 56th overall by NFLDS; Brandon Burton CB (Utah) -- Ranked 60th overall by NFLDS; Ras-I Dowling CB (Virginia) -- Ranked 70th overall by NFLDS
Pick 68: Kendrick Ellis NT (Hampton) -- Ranked 68th overall by NFLDS
Pick 76: Alternative A -- Select between: Greg Little WR (North Carolina) -- Ranked 80th overall by NFLDS; Tandon Doss WR (Indiana) -- Ranked 108th overall by NFLDS
Alternative B (for those of you who want QBOTF insurance) -- Select between: Colin Kaepernick QB (Nevada) -- Ranked 77th by NFLDS; Andy Dalton QB (TCU) -- Ranked 82nd by NFLDS
Pick 114: Select one: Owen Marecic FB (Stanford) -- Ranked 122nd overall by NFLDS; John Moffitt C/OG (Wisconsin) -- Ranked 139th overall by NFLDS (Note: Harbaugh would probably prefer Marecic)
Pick 137: Derrick Locke RB (Kentucky) -- Ranked 153rd overall by NFLDS
Picks 185 and 199 plus any compensatory picks that we receive: Select as many as picks available from --
Defensive Ends: Cliff Mathews (South Carolina) -- Ranked 193rd overall, Brandon Bair (Oregon) -- Ranked 203rd overall, Ryan Winterswyk (Boise State) -- Ranked 243rd overall, Lazerius Levingston (LSU) -- Ranked 250th overall
Free Safeties: Chris Culliver (South Carolina) -- was ranked at 213th but has now jumped to 125th, Eric Hagg (Nebraska) -- Ranked at 213th overall
Defensive Tackle: David Carter (UCLA) -- Ranked 202nd overall
Kicker: Alex Henery (Nebraska) -- Ranked 172nd overall
Cornerback: Richard Sherman (Stanford) -- Ranked 219th overall
So, there's my draft based on prospect rankings as of today ... obviously they may change as we get closer to the draft.
In free agency, given the savings from having no first round draft pick, go get Jon Joseph CB (Bengals)