Projecting the Niners' Draft Selections

Since the conslusion of the Combine there has been a plethora of mock drafts ... both here on Niners Nation and across the Internet. Fooch has posted the annual 49ers Mock Draft Data Base, which basically summarizes what other people think about our draft picks. To be honest, I pay a lot more attention to our group's draft thoughts than any of the other guys out there, pros or amateurs. Why? Simply because most the those guys have no real understanding of the Niners needs in any depth. And why should they? In many cases they're trying to cover the needs of all 32 teams ... tough to know any one in depth. Our group does a better job because we're more knowledgeable about the particulars and care more about this team.

What I'd like to do with this piece, rather than assembling a list of my own like-to-haves, is try to project what I think the Niners' FO will actually do in April's draft. It isn't about what I'd like them to do, but rather what I think that they will do. I'll simply try to emulate what Baalke and Company will do during the draft ... select the best remaining prospect, within the general limitations of need, at each pick. Meaning? I think that they'll select the best available prospect but not if he plays a position where we have NO need. Along the way I'll try to explain why I think that they'l do what I project.

Wait a minute ... I already see a problem! How are we supposed to know in advance who will be available at each pick and who won't be? Obviously we can't ... and that is precisely why most mock drafts don't make any sense. All of you are aware of the wide range of evaluations by the different drafting services offering their views of a prospect's worth and where he is most likely to be selected. The one thing that we can be sure of is that no two groups will have the same opinion. Thus, who to trust as being the "most reliable"? While I track the rankings of six different services in my draftee data base, I won't bore you with the pros and cons of each. For this exercise, let's just agree to use NFLDraftScout's opinion as to prospect rankings. Why them? Because, in most cases they tend to be the most conservative of the services that I track ... that is, they usually expect any given prospect to be selected sooner (earlier) than most others; thus, if they think that the guy will be available at a given pick, there is a very good chance that he will be. They're certainly not always right, but far more often than most.

Some of the variables have been resolved ... we know, for example, that Ahmad Brooks, CJ Spillman and Dashon Goldson will be back for the 2012 season. However, there are still a lot of unknowns, so we're going to have to make some assumptions. Here are mine:

Our own free agents:

1. First, I assume that Blake Costanzo and Alex Smith will re-sign with the Niners by Monday and thus never really see free agency.

2. Next, I assume that Ted Ginn, Larry Grant, Joshua Morgan, Carlos Rogers and Adam Snyder will "test the waters" in an attempt to get more than they believe the Niners will/have offer(ed); I hate to say it, but I don't think that we can assume that any of these guys is a slam-dunk to return; all have value in the open market and may sign elsewhere for more (or longer in Rogers' case) than the Niners will offer. I hope that I am absolutely wrong here ... I'd like to see all of these guys return, but the fact is that it is a business, not a game. If we lose any of these players I believe that Baalke will replace them with other mid-tier free agents but not the big-dollar guys (for example, maybe a CB CHRIS Carr, but not a CB BRANDON Carr).

3. Finally, I assume that the Niners will let the following free agents walk: Tavares Gooden, Moran Norris, Justin Peelle, Chilo Rachal, Reggie Smith, Bret Swain and Madieu Williams.

Other-team free agents:

1. As for the big-money free agents like WR Vince Jackson (San Diego), WR Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) and OG Carl Nicks (New Orleans) ... sorry guys, I just don't see it happening! Why not? "Cap hell" in the last generation killed the Niners for years; consequently, I think that the FO has learned, with Paraag driving that bus, that the big-FA strategy may sell some tickets in the short term but ultimately kills the team ... the goal is to continue to get better, but not just for the short term.

2. Second-tier free-agent players of interest could include WR Marques Colston (New Orleans), WR Robert Meachem (New Orleans), WR Pierre Garcon (Indy) or OG Jeremy Zuttah (Tampa Bay). (Update: Damn it ... the Bucs just signed Zuttah to a four-year extension.)

3. Depending upon whether Carlos Rogers returns or not, I could see the Niners possibly signing CB Tracy Porter (New Orleans) or a similar free agent cornerback.


We could make all kinds of assumptions concerning potential trades -- both down and up -- but that simply gets too complicated, especially if you include future-year picks. So, for simplicity, I will just assume that Baalke takes a plain vanilla approach and goes with the picks that he has.

Team Needs:

On offense -- WR OG RB

On defense -- CB S DE OLB NT

An Evaluation of Need-Position Prospect Availability: Boy, that's a mouth full. What does it mean? Glad you asked ... let me try to explain. When you look at the rankings of prospects at our positions of need and our drafting position in each round, some interesting things come to light:

1. Wide Receivers -- The only first-round-rated wide receiver likely to still be available at Pick #30 is Stephen Hill (Ranked 31). The next guys down are Alshon Jeffrey (47), Muhammad Sanu (69) and Nick Toon (72) ... way too much of a reach for round one and surely gone by round three. However, the WRs likely to be available at our third-round pick will be nearly as good, maybe better. Conclusion: get a WR in the first or third round, but probably not the second.

2. Offensive Guards -- Obviously DeCastro and Glenn will be gone before Pick #30. The next tier down of OGs, with immediate-starter capabilities, won't go until the mid- to late-second round ... we may or may not get a shot at one. But that is further complicated by the fact that the next OG further down probably has a bright future but he is another developmental project and nowhere near being ready to be a starter. Conclusion: hope to get an OG in the second round or we'll have to settle for a developmental project in the third or fourth round. (That is why I was hoping that we would get a shot at signing FA Jeramy Zuttah from Tampa Bay, but he'll not be available.)

3. Running Backs -- Not really a lot of possibilities here ... we most certainly will not select a RB before the third round at the earliest and there really isn't a better than crap-shoot prospect after that. Conclusion: if we want to get a viable RB it's got to be in the third round; anybody later is a wing and a prayer. This circumstance isn't really all bad though because the 2013 RB draft class will be much stronger than this year's -- if we don't get Frank's ultimate replacement this year, we can next year in a higher round.

Finally ... the Projected Draft:

Our three most significant needs in this draft are WR, OG and CB, so I think that it is reasonable to assume that the Niners will focus on those three positions early in the draft (the first three rounds) unless some other-position stud should surprisingly fall to them at a given pick. Therefore, at each pick I will list each of the prospects (and their current ranking by NFLDraftScout) that I think that the Niners will consider at that pick, then highlight the one that I think that they will actually select. With that, let's give it a go:

ROUND 1 / PICK #30:

WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech) 6'4" 215 4.36 -- Ranked 31

TE Coby Fleener (Stanford) 6'6" 247 4.77e -- Ranked 46

OG Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) 6'4" 314 5.39 -- Ranked 36

CB Stephen Gilmore (South Carolina) 6'0" 190 4.40 -- Ranked 38

Obviously there is a reasonable chance that Hill may go before #30 ... particularly given his Combine performance, the subsequent hype and, lastest, his Pro Day. However, if he is there, I believe that the Niners will select him because he is simply too good a prospect to pass up at their biggest position of need. So why is Fleener (a TE) on the list? Because, if Hill is gone, I think that they have to at least consider the potential benefits that Fleener offers ... he's as much a WR as TE, he's a huge target, he has great hands, he can create big matchup problems, he can block decently, he knows the offense, and he fits perfectly into Harbaugh's tight-end-featured system. At decision time I think that they pass on Fleener at #30, but I could be wrong. So what do they do instead if Hill is already gone? Select Kevin Zeitler as a plug-and-play starting RG on maybe day five of training camp and leave him there for the next ten years. Dan Kilgore becomes the immediate backup OG and we wave goodbye to Snyder and Rachal. In the possible event that both Hill and Zeitler are gone, we select Stephen Gilmore, the best remaining CB on the board.

ROUND 2 / PICK $62:

WR Brian Quick (Appalachian State) 6'4" 220 4.55 -- Ranked 71

OG Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State) 6'4" 311 5.43 -- Ranked 65 (assumes WR Hill seleected at #30)

CB Trumaine Johnson (Montana) 6'2" 204 4.61 -- Ranked 53

CB Dwight Bentley (Louisiana Lafayette) 5'11" 179 4.43 -- Ranked 63

FS George Iloka (Boise State) 6'4" 220 4.66 -- Ranked 68

SS Harrison Smith (Notre Dame) 6'2" 213 4.57 -- Ranked 51

DE Cam Johnson (Virginia) 6'4" 268 4.81 -- Ranked 75

OLB Shea McClellin (Boise State) 6'4" 260 4.63 -- Ranked 55

It's doubtful that CB Trumaine Johnson, SS Harrison Smith or OLB Shea McClellin will be available at Pick #62, but if any of them are, I think that the Niners have to consider them here. However, if they didn't select Zeitler at #30, Silatolu is the last OG prospect that would have a shot at challenging Kilgore for the starting RG position; later OG prospects are all developmental types. Having gotten a WR at #30, I think that the Niners get the OG here.

But, whoa, what if they didn't get Hill (or Fleener) at #30? What then? If they took OG Kevin Zeitler at #30, then I think that they select a CB here ... hopefully Johnson if he's still there, otherwise Bentley. On the other hand, if they took CB Stephen Gilmore at #30, then they still take OG Silatolu here and wait to get a WR at Pick #93.

ROUND 3 / PICK #93:

WR Marvin Jones (California) 6'2" 199 4.46 -- Ranked 95

WR Juron Criner (Arizona) 6'3" 224 4.68 -- Ranked 93

TE Ladarius Green (Louisiana Lafayette) 6'6" 238 4.53 -- Ranked 98

OG Brand on Brooks (Miami OH) 6'5" 353 5.32 -- Ranked 113

RB Chris Polk (Washington) 5'11" 215 4.48 -- Ranked 87

RB Robert Turbin (Utah State) 5'10" 222 4.50 -- Ranked 99

CB Chase Minnifield (Virginia) 5'10" 183 4.49e -- Ranked 90

CB Josh Robinson (Central Florida) 5'10" 195 4.33 -- Ranked 94 (but likely to drop to round 2 very soon)

CB Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma) 5'11" 206 4.53 -- Ranked 92

FS Markelle Martin (Olkahoma State) 6'1" 207 4.47 -- Ranked 88

DE Tyrone Crawford (Boise State) 6'4" 275 4.89 -- Ranked 102

Once again, it's doubtful that either RB Chris Polk or FS Markelle Martin will be available here, but if they are, the Niners have to consider them. However, if they've selected WR Hill at #30 and OG Silatolu at #62, the CB position is the next biggest need; therefore, I think that the Niners go for the best CB still on the board, likely to be one of the three guys that I have highlighted. Unfortunately, Polk and Turbin are really the last two viable running back prospects on the board ... everybody after them is just a shot in the dark.

I hope that this will be the last of the possible confusions. What happens if the Niners took OG Zeitler at #30 and a CB (Johnson or Bentley) at #62? Or, what happens if they took CB Gilmore at #30 and OG Silatolu at #62? Oh ... you mean that in those cases we don't have a WR yet? We select either Marvin Jones (California) or Juron Criner (Arizona), whichever is preferred. Or, there is the possibility of taking another 6'6" tight end (Ladarius Green) who has 4.53 speed! If I'm making the pick, it's Marvin Jones.

ROUND 4 / PICK #127:

OG Jeff Allen (Illinois) 6'4" 307 5.28 -- Ranked 120

FS Trent Robinson (Michigan State) 5'10" 195 4.52 -- Ranked 128

DT/DE Brett Roy (Nevada) 6'3" 275 5.07 -- Ranked 136

DE Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati) 6'5" 295 5.01 -- Ranked 144

Most of you will probably say that the choice here is obvious ... FS Trent Robinson. But I don't think so for two reasons. First, there is a small-school safety who will be available in the 6th round who is much bigger than Robinson, and as fast if not faster; many scouts seem to think that he has great upside potential ... certainly worth a flier in the 6th round. Second, I really like Wolfe and I think the Niners do too ... he's got a mean streak, has a non-stop motor, and is very fast for his size; I would love to see Jusstin Smith have an opportunity to school this guy.

ROUND 5 / PICK #165:

WR Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M) 6'4" 223 4.53 -- Ranked 181

DE Malik Jackson (Tennessee) 6'5" 284 4.91 -- Ranked 161

NT Akiem Hicks (Regina)6'5" 318 5.23 -- Ranked 200

Given our needs, there are not a lot of good prospects that fit with our 5th round pick ... we've already selected a WR and a DE. I'm well aware of the fact that Baalke just doesn't reach, but in this case, I really think that it makes sense because there are two 6th-round picks that make sense ... Hicks and SS Kelcie McCray. So, I hope that the Niners will bite the bullet and reach a full round to pick Hicks here before some other team grabs him. Hicks is raw, but he has a lot of upside potential ... after watching some tape (tough to find on this guy) I have little doubt that he has much more upside than RJF or Ian Williams when Soap is ready to pack it in.

ROUND 6 / PICK #199:

QB Kellen Moore (Boise State)6'0" 197 4.94 -- Ranked 223

NT Akiem Hicks (Regina) 6'5" 318 5.23 -- Ranked 200 (Expected selection in Round 5 -- see above)

OLB Jacquies Smith (Missouri)6'3" 253 4.81 -- Ranked 198

SS Kelcie McCray (Arkansas State) 6'2" 202 4.54 -- Ranked 218

Kelcie McCray? Yeah, interesting kid. As captain of his high school team he played quarterback, running back and safety. In four years at Arkansas State he played in every game and started at safety in every game of his final three years. In a class of strong safeties that includes Mark Barron, Harrison Smith and Antonio Allen, McCray is rated the #7 SS in the country and also the fastest. Although largely unknown, some scouts are on him and I think that he would be a hell of a pick. I do think that the Niners will look at Aldon Smith's buddy Jacquies Smith as a possible selection here, but he is a bit undersized, slow, and has a reputation of being an under-performer. Pass.

ROUND 7 / PICK #238:

OG Antoine McClain (Clemson) 6'5" 329 5.57 -- Ranked 263

RB Lennon Creer (Tennessee/Louisiana Tech) 6'0" 222 4.70 -- Ranked 228

FS Christian Thompson (South Carolina State) 6'0" 211 4.50 -- Ranked 237

SS Sean Richardson (Vanderbilt) 6'2" 216 4.52 -- Ranked 297

The most noted guy here is probably Christian Thompson; a number of scouts seemed to have jumped on his bandwagon. I like him, but even with losing Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams, we already have a stable of safeties ... Goldson, Whitner, Spillman, Colin Jones, Mark LeGree, and Kelcie McCray (if we draft him). Instead, I think that the Niners take a shot at replacing Anthony Dixon at the #3 running back position. Even though he has fought through a lot of injuries, Lennon Creer is a good all-around RB ... good bulk, football fast (faster on tape than timed 40), tough downhill runner, good pass receiver, seperates well, and does a pretty good job in pass protection. Played two years at Tennessee but transferred to Louisiana Tech when Lane Kiffen replaced Fullmer as HC. Even though hobbled some by a foot injury, played well in the Senior Bowl and was named offensive MVP of the East West Shrine Game. Worth a seventh round pick.

Well, there you have it ... what I think the Niners will do in April. So ... how'd they do? WR -- check; OG -- check; RB -- check; CB -- check; S -- check; DE -- check; NT -- check; OLB -- oops!! Well ... maybe free agency or next year's draft. Actually, next year's OLB class is a really good one!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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