The outside linebacker position is hardly mentioned by members of the Niners Nation community as a potential need in the upcoming draft. Not only is the position shrugged off as being an early need, it is not considered by many a position to even address in May.
OLB came up with the second-fewest amount of votes for the NN big board as being a team need. It came in with fewer votes than every position except that of kicker, including even tight end and offensive tackle.
I feel that OLB is a more pressing need than people realize, and that it could be a good early option for a team with few glaring holes.
The large perceived difference in need between WR and OLB is hugely overblown, in my view. To me, it breaks down like this: Both positions have two very good starters. One of the two starters is an older, but very valuable and effective player (Boldin, Brooks). The other is a stud young player in his prime, a player who also has a looming contract extension and will be in the last year of his current deal (Crabtree, Aldon Smith). The third on the depth chart at both positions is a second-year mid-round pick who has shown promise, but has not emerged as a bona-fide future starter or as a highly-productive player (Patton, Lemonier). After the first three players on the depth chart at each position, question marks ensue.
Now why is it that WR is deemed the second-highest need for the team by fans, while OLB is the second fewest? Fans are entitled to their opinions regarding the likelihood of future contracts for Crabtree and Aldon, but in reality, we as fans are largely uninformed as to the teams plans. As to Brooks, his contract will continue to escalate for the next two years, and a replacement will be needed, similar to Boldin and the WR position.
My second reason for possibly drafting an OLB early is that for a team with few real needs, having more outside rushers who can disrupt the quarterback would be a wise investment. The 49ers really are two deep as far as real pass-rushing threats on the outside. I recognize that Lemonier has potential and that Skuta is a capable player who can hold his own, but inserting a fresh pass-rushing talent with high-volume sack potential into the outside rotation could be a logical option.
To conclude, I feel that outside linebacker has the same depth issues and poses similar long-term questions as wide receiver, and is thus a much more pressing need than many recognize. Additionally, for a team with few glaring needs, inserting a promising talent as an outside rusher could be a luxury the 49ers can afford to capitalize on with an early pick in this year's draft.