Over past few days, Modesto Matt & I have posted thoughts about how we need to draft a few more players than the conventional wisdom suggests we do. In response, a number of people have posted comments about how Niners are unlikely to draft too many players due to limited roster spots. Some have asked questions like "where are we going to stash the extra players we pick that don't make the roster" or commented that "other teams will raid our practice squad" or that "we should trade lower round picks for a higher round 2014 pick". To paraphrase, the concern is that if we draft too many players, they are unlikely to make the 53-man roster and hence Niners will be "wasting" those picks.
I want to offer a response to this issue: There isn't a 1-1 correlation between players we draft and players that make the roster. i.e. All of our draft picks in 2013 are unlikely to make the final 53. Based on self-evident draft history of NFL teams, some draft picks make the roster, but some don't. Some might make the practice squad, some don't. Some get injured prior to the season. Some may wash out completely between late April & early September.
There is almost always draft attrition in year 1 for almost all teams. Niners are no exception. We are just going to have to live with the fact that whatever number of players we choose -- 7, 9, 10, 12 or 14 -- we are likely to cut one or more of them. That's the cold reality of the NFL draft: We fall in love with our picks in April, and then watch some let go during the Fall.
The hope is that the drafted players serve some useful purpose: May be some of the Day 3 picks (rounds 4-7) will push the veterans and other young players to step up their game. Perhaps a young player or two will show so much future potential that Niners will want to keep that potential vs. a sure thing from a veteran who is almost always more expensive than that newly drafted player.
For example, consider this scenario: Niners might draft a WR with similar skill-set to A.J. Jenkins. They'll want to create competition and push Jenkins to show up in year 2. If Jenkins reaches new heights, then he stays on. If he doesn't, then Niners have a difficult choice to make. If he completely falters, they might cut ties with him and go with a younger, cheaper, hungrier player. In this case, we would either lose former draft pick Jenkins, or lose the newly drafted WR, or keep both and let someone else go.
This is the ultra-competitive, iron-sharpens-iron world Harbaugh is creating. Like it or not, that dynamic leads to some draft picks being unable to make the team. But if they serve a purpose, then they are not "wasted picks". For this draft, the safe assumption is to expect a couple of our draft picks to be gone before the season opens. So, if Niners have X number of open roster spots, they better bring in X + MORE players through draft and College UFA to make the numbers work. Simply trading lower round picks for 2014 picks can have a detrimental effect on the eventual 53-man roster. Because if they don't draft more players, then they are sacrificing the competitive environment which may not fully tap the potential of existing players. Also, they might be sacrificing advanced roster & salary cap planning and hoping that injuries and non-performances don't occur at a high rate.
In the end, it's best to think of draft attrition as simply the cost of doing business in the NFL.