The 49ers were already a difficult team to predict in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft. Good teams usually are, especially when they are relatively young and have a lot of guys signed through the upcoming season as well. But every team has needs come draft-time and it's our jobs as fans and football nerds to figure them out, right?
I wouldn't have imagined thinking that the 49ers should/could draft a wide receiver in the draft, especially not on day one...but I'm coming around on that notion. Will Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams either/both return to their former selves after serious knee injuries? Will Randy Moss return for another season, and even if so, will he be used much? Can A.J. Jenkins contribute in 2013 or is he a real long-term project?
The fact that we can't really answer these questions means that we shouldn't be totally shocked if the 49ers go back to the well and draft another receiver, at least at some point. I could see a third/fourth round guy who has tons of ability but is raw as a prospect. If Moss does indeed return, he could help tremendously in this area.
After looking at the salary cap post by our very own Jason Hurley, you start to realize that some guys could become cap-casualties in order to sign rookies and pursue free agents while staying under the cap. One such instance is Jonathan Goodwin, who has been solid but not great during his two seasons in San Francisco. Goodwin's cap savings if released would be over $4 million dollars for 2013. You can sign a few newcomers for that price considering their year one salary will likely be minimal and a signing bonus is spread out over the life of the contract.
Is Daniel Kilgore ready to take over as the 49ers starting center? As an extra blocker he's been iffy in 2012, leading me to believe he might not be ready for the prime-time. I don't see another center on the roster if that's the case. We could see the 49ers draft a guy in the top few rounds, someone who can step-in and be trusted from day one, or at the very least could be ready to back-up Kilgore if he IS ready to make Goodwin unnecessary.
Some would say that the 49ers corner backs are solid and only some depth is needed there. Carlos Rogers has certainly come back to Earth this year, though, and it seems likely that Chris Culliver will be starting on the outside with Rogers playing solely in the slot in 2013. Beyond the top three CBs though, the depth isn't very inspiring.
All it takes is just one injury against a spread-em-out type team and you'll have Perrish Cox potentially covering an elite NFL receiver for the rest of the game. Are you ready for that? Wouldn't it be nice to have a rookie to groom, who could take over for Rogers as he ages and his contract does, too? Or to step-in if there is an injury (those things can happen as early as OTA's, you know). They always say you can never have enough corners or pass-rushers in this league nowadays.
Is tight end really a top need, even with Delanie Walker possibly departing in free agency? The 49ers seem to be moving more and more towards a spread offense with smaller, quicker players on the field. Perhaps the two-TE formations will diminish and the team will go with a bargain-basement option at TE or a late-round developmental guy. Or maybe they'll bring Walker back at a nice price (his tape in the passing game isn't exactly great this year) and not spend a draft pick on a TE at all?
The only need I can say has been constantly near the top of the list is safety. Whether the team is able to bring Dashon Goldson back or not, there is really nobody behind he and Donte Whitner who I feel comfortable pitting against Aaron Rodgers or even, *gulp*, Russell Wilson. CJ Spillman hasn't seen his snaps in base defense increase at all. In fact, Whitner and Goldson are routinely the guys who play 100% of snaps in games.
And speaking of Goldson, he's a pro-bowler, finally, and he's also a free agent. You don't think some rebuilding team will want to bring in a young safety at the top of his game and pay through the nose to get him? We know the 49ers aren't likely to pay top dollar for Goldson. They've had two chances to do so and haven't pulled the trigger yet. At the very least they've got to do some serious scouting of safeties as a backup plan if Goldson bolts for dollars. They'd need someone who can step-in immediately, unless they're fortunate enough to find a gem in free agency.
Bottom line is that the 49ers draft needs are as fluid as ever and I don't think we'll know for sure what they'll do when their number is called in April. They've shocked us almost every year since Trent Baalke was heavily involved in the process, despite us thinking we have them figured out.