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2007 NFL Draft - Day 1 Review

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And so, after 99 picks over the course of 11 hours and 15 minutes, the first three rounds are complete.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that unlike the Jets team criticized a few years back by Mel Kiper, the 49ers do in fact "understand the draft process."  While the team still has needs to fill, they did an excellent job in filling certain needs right off the bat.  Patrick Willis will compete for the starting weak side ILB position, Joe Staley will compete at right tackle with Snyder to replace Kwame, Jason Hill will be able to legitimately compete for a starting wide receiver job and Ray McDonald could be a key cog in rejuvenating our pass rush.  The Kool-Aid has been passes around so let's review the activity of the day.

Patrick Willis - Linebacker, University of Mississippi

Talk about getting your guy.  Willis was clearly the guy we wanted at 11.  There was some worry that Denver would trade with Houston so THEY could select Willis.  Thankfully the Texans elected to take Okoye, who slipped down to them.

Willis will compete and very possibly defeat Derek Smith for the starting inside linebacker position, alongside Brandon Moore.  A combination of Moore and Willis inside, with Lawson and Banta-Cain outside gives us an unbelievable linebacker corp to go with our now formidable secondary.  In discussing Willis, New Era Scouting said:

An extremely productive and talented SEC defender, Patrick Willis has the tools and mentality to be a dominant run defender in the NFL. It's unlikely he will make a lot of plays in coverage, but his combination of size, speed and strength make him a deadly tackler from sideline to sideline and in between the hashes. If he can be coached into better technique, he will definitely be an All-Pro performer at the next level.

I'd say having Mike Singletary (who compared him to Ray Lewis) coaching him will help him develop into that All-Pro performer.  

I could go on and on about the potential greatness of Willis, but there was more interesting discussion about the next two moves the 49ers made: Trading up with New England to draft tackle Joe Staley and then trading out of the 2nd round with Indianapolis.

Joe Staley - Offensive Tackle, Central Michigan University

When it was announced that the 49ers had traded up to New England's 28th position, many here expected Alan Branch to be the pick, as he had slid considerably.  When Joe Staley was announced, there weer many who liked the pick, and a few who were decidedly against the pick.  However, to consider this choice, we must also consider the trade out of the 2nd round.  In combining these two deals, as gatling did, we basically moved down 16 spots in the 4th round this year, and an unknown (but not expected to be too large) amount in the first round next year.  In doing so we acquired the pick that became Joe Staley.

Is Staley worth this work?  Obviously anybody can be a bust quickly.  However, Staley will have to be judged more on his performance over multiple years.  As New Era Scouting says,

Staley is an intriguing prospect that looks to have all of the physical tools to protect the blindside, but he probably is not going to be ready to play there just yet. While he has faced some solid competition, he has not faced guys like he will be facing on Sundays. He will need some time to adjust and add muscle. He might be fine in the right type of system early on, but look for him to pay larger dividends down the road when he gets the chance to develop properly.

If Staley can in fact turn into the tackle of the future for us, this works out quite nicely.  And if not, while we move down in each of the rounds, it would not be devastating as it would be had we not acquired Indy's 2008 1st rounder.

Jason Hill - Wide Receiver, Washington State University

There has been an obscene amount of information flying around about a potential Darrell Jackson trade.  Many thought we might go after Sidney Rice in the second round before these rumors began circulating.  Nolan has said the deal will not affect the draft, so maybe the team never planned on a guy like Rice.  Who knows though with all the smoke-screens, right?  So we'll consider Hill in light of no Darrell Jackson as that's the conservative approach.

If we get the 2004/2005 Hill, we've got a guy who could compete for the #1 or #1a wide receiver job.  If we get the 2006 Hill, he joins the long list of mid-round WR busts we've drafted lately.  With the family issues from last year, I really think he could work out as a playmaker for this team.  New Era Scouting says,

Hill, who ranks second on the Pac-10 touchdown reception list, has been one of the league's most prolific wide receivers.. He was a big play maven throughout his career, averaging 22.4 yards per reception as a sophomore and junior. However, nagging injuries and a weak offensive line prevented Hill from continuing to build up impressive totals in 2006. Judging from his performance in the Senior Bowl, it looks like Hill is fully healthy. A polished and intelligent football player, Hill projects to be a borderline No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

Receivers take time to develop so I'm definitely willing to give Hill time to assume a dominant role in our offense.  If he does pan out, our receivers could become a key area of depth on offense.

Ray McDonald - Defensive End, University of Florida

Ray McDonald could join Frank Gore as a 3rd round steal thanks to college ACL issues.  ESPN had the following to say:

Regardless, McDonald is a fringe first-round talent that will likely slip to the second round due to his history of knee injuries.

New Era Scouting about his injuries: "Has suffered two ACL tears and two surgeries to repair them. Is a medical concern. Also dislocated an elbow that caused him to miss time in '06."

About McDonald overall:

McDonald could be a steal for a team that will overlook his knee problems and see him for the player he is and can be. He has succeeded at an elite program for four seasons. He has shown he can play tackle or end, a very positive trait in the versatile NFL today. McDonald could easily play end in a 3-4 or under tackle in the 4-3.

So needless to say I'm really excited about McDonald.  Bryant Young is not gonna last forever and Marques Douglas is not a long term answer.  BY is a guy who could really mold McDonald into an All-Pro defensive end, assuming McDonald can stay healthy.  It's a calculated risk that could pay HUGE dividends.

Clearly I'm excited about our first round.  Yes we still have holes to fill, but we have more than enough fourth round picks to address these areas.  We have the 5th, 25th, 27th and 36th picks of the fourth round, followed by the 10th of the fifth round and 12th of the sixth round.

At the moment I'd say our biggest needs are additional depth along the defensive line (particularly defensive tackle) and for our linebacker corp.  Additionally, I think we could use another defensive back, a running back, a 3rd string/future backup QB and maybe one more offensive lineman.

Soliai and Bush are both options at the 5th pick of the 4th round and there are some intriguing, if slightly amusing quarterback options in the fifth or sixth round.  I'd love to see the team grab either Jared Zabransky, Troy Smith or Chris Leak.  Proven winners with some interesting talent.  At linebacker Deossie is still out there.  At DT, Soliai and McBean.  Josh Beekman is a guard we could potentially try and groom for the future, or at least provide a backup for now.  And of course my boy Jay Moore is still out there!

No matter what, we're in good shape going into Day 2 with plenty of options to consider.  In selecting a grade, I gave the team an A.  I think we had the perfect combination of proven talent and big upside guys.  We manipulated the system in trading picks to get four guys that graded out as potential first rounders at some point in the past year.  Maybe they don't all work, maybe they all do.  Either way, I'm extremely happy with where the team stands right now.