If you follow the draft process at all, chances are you've seen this acronym before: BPA
It stands for "Best Player Available" and generally refers to drafting whomever is the best player on your board when your pick comes up. Granted, there are some exceptions. If each pick arrives and the best player on the board is a CB, but you've already drafted two and have two more Pro Bowlers on the roster...that's not a great move.
But many will argue that you should shy away from BPA even if you don't have the above scenario, if you have, say, some promising young depth on the squad. Take the 49ers offensive and defensive lines, respectively, for instance.
On the OL you've got quality starters, dare I say top-tier talent at LT, LG, RG, and RT. Center is the only real gaping hole at the moment. Daniel Kilgore recently signed a modest contract extension which would pretty much guarantee he has a roster spot, but doesn't pay him like a starter per se.
Mike Iupati is in the final year of his contract and the 49ers have not seemed incredibly intent on extending him. It's not an immediate need to replace him, but it's a concern for the future.
The depth on the OL includes the aforementioned Kilgore, Joe Looney (C/G, we think?), Carter Bykowski (T), Luke Marquardt (T), and some other practice squad types. Looney was chosen in the 4th round of the 2012 Draft by the 49ers, so there's some investment there. Bykowski and Marquardt are promising young guys who are athletic but as of yet untested at the NFL level.
The key here is we really don't know much about any of the depth beyond the four returning starters. We have hopes, contracts, draft pick investment, etc. but none of that means a guy is actually good.
It would stand to reason then that the 49ers shouldn't consider OL as "off-limits" in the draft, right? Yet many fans look at scenarios like the OL and act as though it is a waste to draft players here.
What if there are two injuries on the OL? Still feel good about that "Quest for Six" with the above mentioned depth filling-in? If you're the GM of the team, you want to look back and support your decision to pass on, say, a first-round talent at OG who fell to the second round because "we already had some, uh...guys"?
The same could be said about the defensive line. Starters Glenn Dorsey, Justin Smith, and Ray McDonald are pretty darn good players, but two of them will be North of 30 when the 2014 season kicks off, with Smith turning 35 on September 30th.
What do we know about the guys beyond Williams, who was the starter at NT prior to breaking his ankle early int he season? TJE and Dobbs played well when called upon. But are they guys you'd write in the concrete are definite future starters? Would you stake your job as GM, your reputation, by passing on top talent in the Draft?
Add to the above that TJE, Dobbs, and Dorsey are all set to be some form of free agent in 2015. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald also experience their biggest cap hits and subsequently, biggest potential cap savings in 2015. In other words, 2014 could be the last year for several of the 49ers' defensive linemen.
Carradine has loads of promise, but hasn't played a single down in the NFL, not even a preseason game. What if his knee never get's back to where it was? Has a player never publicly said they were 100% back to form, only to show on the field that they weren't the same player? Again, you want to bank on what you haven't seen?
No GM is going to do that. Unless the coaching staff is telling him unequivocally that these backups are all capable of being Pro Bowl caliber starters, thus putting their names on the line, too, the GM is going to get the best guys he can get.
And here's the thing: Worst case scenario is you draft a top-level prospect and oh, darn, the depth you already had comes into training camp and just blows it up. Darn, now you have too much talent at the position...what a waste, right?!? Uh, please.
Why do you think guys like Cam Johnson and Parys Haralson were traded? There was an overflow of talent and the 49ers got compensated for it. What do you think would happen if the team suddenly found themselves with a plethora of studs along the DL, much of which was young, cheap talent? Can you say "cap casualty"?
It's the reality. Guys like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Mike Iupati, etc. all could be replaced, and I wouldn't rule it out as early as 2014. This is a business, you can't build a team overnight, and you certainly don't wait until the last minute to plug holes.
If the 49ers see elite prospects in front of them in the draft, rest-assured Trent Baalke isn't going to be like, "Yeah, but we have Demarcus Dobbs and I just KNOW he's gonna be great...one day..."
The other possibility is that the team avoids these conundrums by simply moving around in order to get the guys they really want and need, rather than staying put and taking guys they might not need, when they could have moved up and gotten a stud AT a position of need. That's a lot of use for the word "need", which I think we've proven is kind of a grey area, anyway.
At any rate, don't be shocked by just about anything.