After an eventful week in which Niners traded for a back-up QB (McCoy) and signed a big-bodied CB (Asomugha), it seems appropriate to update our list of needs going into the draft. Earlier in Free Agency, Niners had already added a WR (Boldin), a Kicker (Dawson) and two ST coverage players (Skuta and Dahl). Now, three weeks before Draft Weekend, we have a much better idea of remaining positional needs.
Must-haves in rounds 1 through 4
1. DE -- A current back-up and eventual replacement for Justin Smith in 1-2 years. Should be able to rush the passer in 5-gap technique. Ideally someone who has speed and agility to pursue, and has the strength to seal the edge against mobile QBs like Russell Wilson, RGIII, Newton, Rodgers, Luck, etc. We have at least 6 games against those QBs on our 2013 schedule. Plus, if we can't figure out a way to slow down Russell Wilson and Seattle's offense, it will be a long yearly grind against our primary division opponent.
In addition to Justin Smith, it would be a good idea to reduce the snap counts of Ray McDonald, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Therefore, I would seriously entertain the notion of overloading on this position by grabbing two of the following players with the 31st and 34th picks: Tank Carradine, Datone Jones, Margus Hunt, Jesse Williams, Damontre Moore & Bjoern Werner. Per Mel Kiper's latest mock draft, they are likely to be available between late-first to mid-second round. Adding two of these guys could allow us to line-up 4 DEs in obvious passing situations (similar to NY Giants during their Super Bowl runs).
2. FS - A starting-caliber Free Safety who can win the job over Dahl, Robinson et al. Must be able to play coverage in deep middle of the field. Must be able to fight for the ball and break-up passes. If Niners end up signing Charles Woodson to play FS, then this player would be expected to learn, provide depth and play ST in year 1. Must be ready to start in Year 2.
3. TE - Has to compete and out-play Celek to earn a role in two-TE formations along with Vernon Davis. In due time, he must be able to fill some of Walker's roles as both a blocker & a middle of the field receiver. Ideally someone who can mesh with Kaepernick's style now and has adaptability to fit in our evolving offense.
4. OT - As a back-up swing tackle, he has to compete with current Practice Squad OT Kenny Wiggins. Should have significant starting experience in college thus providing ability to play in case of an injury to Staley or Davis. Per recent Niners draft history, Baalke likely has a "gold star player" in mind who can fill this role for several years.
Depth-Competition Picks in rounds 3 through 6
5. DT/NT - Should provide real competition & depth for Ian Williams & Glenn Dorsey. Ideally someone who can play some NT, thus allowing Dorsey to play more at DE in relief of Smith/McDonald. As the 6th DL, this player will fight with Tukuafu, Dobbs or Tony Jerod-Eddie for a spot on both 53-man & game-day active rosters.
6. Slot CB - A player with vast college experience who can play slot corner & ST. He will likely compete with Cox and Brock for a roster spot. Could replace Carlos Rogers in specific situations which would allow Tarell Brown to remain at RCB. Must have ability to line-up against top slot receivers like Victor Cruz, Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, Harry Douglas, etc. Must be able to play well in space. Ideally, he would be a natural edge blitzer. We actually don't have a good blitzer in our secondary; the type of player who has a knack for creating drive-ending big plays against good offenses.
7. WR/KR - Tall, speedy WR who has experience as a kick-returner. Should be able to win jump balls and be a good red zone target. Enough speed and skills to win the competition against the likes of Lockette, Marlon Moore, etc for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Nice-to-haves on Day 3 and College UFA
1. Developmental 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE - someone to push Dobbs, Cam Johnson, and Darius Fleming during Training Camp. I would prefer a player who is extremely talented but drops due to whatever reason (medical concern, return from injury, small school, lack of ideal size/position, inexperience, etc). Dobbs, Johnson & Fleming are replaceable players, and we need a player who can turn into a legitimate 3rd pass rusher after Haralson's contract expires next year. Aldon & Brooks shouldn't have to play more than 90% of the snaps year after year and then be expected to remain healthy in January. On the pass-rush front, we need to plan NOW in order to reap benefits LATER.
2. Over-sized RB/FB - Someone to compete with Anthony Dixon and Jewel Hampton in Training Camp and Preseason. In addition to being the short yardage back, he should have enough college experience to develop as an above average blocker in our myriad run formations and become a core ST player.
3. 4th TE - A big-bodied, blocking TE who can push Celek. Should be good enough to join 53-man roster in case of an injury to a top 3 TE.
4. A 4th QB - After adding McCoy, we need to find one more QB who is similar in style to CK. There is very little chance that we will carry 4 QBs on the 53-man roster. Therefore, if he can't compete with Tolzien and McCoy for a roster spot, he has to be a developmental player who can be placed on Practice Squad for a year.
5. Fast, shifty ILB - with 52 and 53 in the middle, we just need to add back-up players who can play special teams and have potential to develop as true back-ups to our All-Pro duo. We need an ILB who can provide competition for Skuta and Wilhoite in Training Camp and be an upgrade on ST coverage teams.
6. SS - None of our current safeties project as true back-up to Donte Whitner. To me, Spillman, McBath, Robinson all seem more FS than SS. Given his starting experience with the Rams, Dahl may be able to step up for a game or two in case of an injury to Whitner. It would be a good idea to find a diamond-in-the-rough SS who can be patiently developed while being kept on the PS for a year or two.
7. OC/OG - We already have very good depth with Kilgore, Looney and Al Netter, but it is important to add a low-cost player who can take a spot next year when everyone moves up by one spot on the depth chart (due to Goodwin's departure).
Due to recent additions at QB and CB, Niners might draft just 8-10 players (7 players to fill clear needs + 2-3 with three late 7th round picks, two of which can not be traded). Remaining players would come from College UFA. This projection would leave Baalke with 3-4 picks to trade up or down in 2013, or out into 2014.
Can't wait for Draft Weekend!