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Pre-Draft Positional Battles

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Things have hit a bit of a lull as we are still a month away from the NFL Draft.  The 49ers made their biggest moves in free agency and seem to be in full-on get ready for the draft mode.  So I thought I'd follow Matt Barrows' lead and look at the various positional battles shaping up for training camp.  Since the draft will obviously affect this, I'll throw in some thoughts on where that will come into play.

Quarterback
Barrows made a good point when discussing the QB situation:

The truth is that Shaun Hill or J.T. O'Sullivan will have to be dramatically better than Alex Smith to become the opening-day starter. (Tie goes to the franchise quarterback). The 49ers simply have too much invested in Smith, including their reputations, not to give him at least a slight edge.

The addition of J.T. O'Sullivan made this situation just a little bit crazy.  O'Sullivan has a year under the Martz offense, which has to give him a little bump up in the competition in that regard.  However, Barrows is right.  Smith is getting the serious coin and McNolan's reputation is riding on Smith.  If Hill or O'Sullivan is clearly better I believe they'd go with that person, but tie certainly does go to the "franchise QB."  I'd say it goes: 1. Smith, 2a. Hill, 2b. O'Sullivan.

Wide Receiver
So excluding any drafted WR, it makes sense to think Isaac Bruce is the #1 for now.  After rolling craps on Darrell Jackson, Bruce seems to be the guy management thinks will fill that role in terms of production and veteran leadership.  At the same time, I'll stick to my guns that Vernon Davis is the real #1 receiver, but we'll keep him out for now.  After Bruce, Arnaz Battle and Bryant Johnson will battle it out for that #2 spot.  Johnson oozes talent, but Battle has done nothing but produce up to this point.  I give the edge to Battle because he is the incumbent, but I'm really excited to see what Bryant Johnson brings to the table.

Beyond the top three receivers, Ashley Lelie and Jason Hill will be duking it out for playing time as the 4th receiver.  While I'm sure we'll see some 5-receiver sets, they won't be frequent enough to merit consideration at that spot.  If Hill can stay healthy, maybe we'll finally get a chance to see what he brings to the table and if he can beat out Lelie for the 4th spot.

TED Linebacker
Now that Derek Smith is down in San Diego, this position has become a bit tumultuous.  First there's everyone's favorite underperforming 49er, Brandon Moore.  Throw in free agent signee Dontarrious Thomas.  Maybe Takeo Spikes will pass his physical and want to be a 49er.  I think many of us hope Brandon Moore steps up to take a starting role.  However, assuming everyone stays healthy, splitting time with Dontarrious Thomas could be what helps Brandon Moore reach some sort of potential.  I'm really not sure what to expect at the TED position.  Does it become a platoon?

3rd CB
Barrows discussed the 3rd CB position, but I think it's more a combination of cornerbacks 2-5.  Walt Harris is settled in at the #2 spot, but clearly he's not get any younger.  As MB said, Shawntae Spencer has the most experience, but also a horrible injury track record.  I think he'll stick around enough to make an impact, but I really want to see Tarell Brown step up this offseason and early in the regular season.  He dropped in the draft because of character issues, and I think he could turn into one heck of a steal.  If Spencer stays healthy he'll hold onto that #3 spot, but if he gets hurt I think Brown will pounce.  Beyond those two, Donald Strickland is back.  Strickland won't shock anybody and take a starting job, but he'll continue to provide solid depth.

Defensive Line
I was checking out the 49ers depth chart at espn.com and the defensive line raised my eyebrows.  They currently have the starting three as Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin and Ray McDonald, with Isaac Sopoaga and Ronald Fields as the primary backups.  I really liked what I saw from McDonald towards the end of last season, but I wonder if it was enough to merit a starting spot?  Or maybe we'll see a platoon of Sopoaga and Franklin at nose tackle and McDonald, Sopoaga and Fields at that defensive end position.  I really like the idea of being able to rotate bodies in and out.  While we may not have the most talented pass rushers on our defensive line, being able to rotate fresh bodies could help when we're facing a worn down offensive line in the second half.