You all know that I like to participate in mock drafts. I try to do several each year in the run up to the real NFL draft. I recently completed one known as MockOne; you can see the 49ers results here.
The thing I took away from this draft was that it was not as accurate from a position standpoint due to the effects of free-agency. For instance, I drafted a WR with my first pick (which was actually in the second round due to a trade back). Now we have signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, giving us four WR's with legitimate NFL experience and a few promising young players.
You can see where this is going. It's part of the reason that while incredibly fun, mock drafts done earlier in the year just aren't very indicative of what will really happen. Take Philadelphia, for instance: They just traded for DeMeco Ryans, who will play MLB, despite the entire mock-draft world picking Luke Kuechly (the top MLB prospect) to land there in April.
After the jump we get down to some roster-predicting nuts and bolts
In terms of positions of need, I'd say that WR doesn't seem to be a huge need any more. Now, are the guys we've signed proven to be studs? No, but you've got to think of it in terms of investment. Kyle Williams might be a name that conjures up some vitriol due to his turnovers in the NFC Championship Game...but he saw significant playing time in 2011; a sign the coaches believe he can produce in this offense. I don't see him being cut.
Manningham signed a two-year deal and believes he can be a #1 WR. He'll get his chance to prove that and likely to take Josh Morgan's place. I tend to think he'll make the team as well.
Crabtree is surely still the starter on the strong-side of the formation (the Z position). Who knows, maybe he'll even be able to participate in the preseason this year.
Moss is the only question mark, but of the guys above, I think we have an upgraded WR corps compared to last year. Ted Ginn doesn't look to be back and didn't produce much on offense anyway. I see a pretty darn good four-man rotation if Moss doesn't flake-out.
I can't see the team spending a first-round draft choice on a WR unless they're really planning ahead for when Moss leaves, AND they don't think the other guys can be threats at the position.
So let's move-on to the CB position. Carlos Rogers being back pencils him in as the starter. Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver will battle for the second spot and should be at least solid at the position. Whichever of the two is the odd-man-out will play the Nickel role, leaving Dime CB and a ST's position "up in the air".
Tramaine Brock was tendered as an ERFA, not offered a lucrative contract as some believe. This doesn't guarantee his spot whatsoever. Youngsters Curtis Holcomb and Cory Nelms will look to challenge for one of two or three remaining roster spots at the position, mostly as bit players and special teams guys as mentioned.
I can't see the team spending a high choice on the CB position unless it doesn't have faith in one of the top three guys at the spot. I suppose you could argue that Brown wasn't spectacular last season and could be pushed down to the Dime role by a stud CB; a guy who could be groomed to take over for Carlos. It could happen, I guess.
Another position I considered a high-ish need was RB. Frank Gore slowed last season as games wore-on and I don't see Kendall Hunter as a 20+ carry back, more of a compliment. I can only guess the 49ers don't agree that it's a top need though with the Rock Cartwright signing.
Cartwright has value on offense as a short yardage back and even in some blocking situations. This may mean he doesn't earn the special-teams roster spot (for guys who are ST's aces but usually don't play much at all elsewhere) held last year by Blake Costanzo. Cartwright might end up pushing Anthony Dixon off the roster as the third RB, which is all we carried on the roster in 2011.
If Cartwright IS being looked at mostly as a ST's guy with no expectations on offense, this could change things; opening up a potential spot for Gore's eventual replacement. The reason I don't mention Dixon as "that guy" is that I think we would have seen him get more touches on offense if he were being even considered as a possible bell-cow type RB of the future. His days may be numbered.
I think the two biggest positions of need after considering all of this are: Guard and Safety. The team just had a visit from free-agent guard Geoff Schwartz on Tuesday. Schwartz grew up in Southern California and was a 49ers fan. He's visited with Minnesota and Detroit as well and has returned home to make his decision. If he signs in San Francisco I feel that the G position won't be considered a top need any more, especially with Daniel Kilgore waiting for his shot as well.
As I posted yesterday, the depth at safety is concerning to me and barring the signing of a solid backup or potential starter at the position in free-agency, I think the team will look to bolster the depth in the draft's first four rounds...likely starting in the second due to a somewhat weak class at the position.
One sleeper position that could be addressed in the draft is 3-4 defensive end, also known as "5-technique". Justin Smith, while amazing, has to slow down at some point and the depth behind him is just too big of an unknown. Even if you plug in a guy like Ricky Jean-Francois, who's not a liability per se, the production drop-off would be huge. The defense has benefitted greatly from the havoc Smith causes and I see it as a necessity to find a guy with the potential to replicate that.
At any rate it seems that Trent Baalke is putting the team in a position to draft the best player available, always a solid way to build talent. This eliminates the temptation to reach on a prospect due to a need at the position.