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Mel Kiper Returns!

After the NFL Draft concludes each year, Mel Kiper writes up his grades and recaps, and then tends to disappear for a while. Some might think he takes a vacation and recharges the batteries. I'd argue ESPN really just plugs him into a socket and gets him back and running.

As we continue through the early part of the summer, Mel is back to provide a bit of an audit of each team's offseason thus far and where it leaves them in terms of future draft needs. I'm certainly not all that excited to start talking about the 2011 NFL Draft at this point, but I can live with this level of discussion. We get a rundown of each position from Drew to get us ready for the 2010 college football season (another edition coming this afternoon!). Mel is just providing one more angle for that. And lucky us (or at least some of us), it's the always popular Insider-protected column.

Kiper took a quick look at a few different areas of the offseason for each team:

1. A crucial influx, such as an impact player or position group.
2. A question mark that still lingers.
3. If the team had a chance to draft anyone from the upcoming draft class right now to address a hole, who it would be.

Really it's a chance for a quasi-mock draft of sorts, but I'll give the coiffed one credit for at least a somewhat original look. So, follow me after the jump as we look at Kiper's comments about the 49ers.

Crucial influx: ... In drafting Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, whatever questions will remain about protecting the passer won't be there in regards to physical play. Iupati is a mauler with surprising athleticism -- this is a prototype guard to pull -- and Davis has tremendous upside. Even with a number of big runs by Frank Gore, this team was just 25th in the league in rushing, and by drafting those two, as well as Anthony Dixon, they've added a physical dimension.

Nothing really shocking there. When the 49ers made their picks, some people were a bit surprised they went with a pair of offensive linemen in the first round, but at the end of the day, I don't think many people were really all that shocked by the decision. I know plenty of folks have their disagreements on the guys chosen, but the positions selected were definite areas of need.

The question mark: I know they have Patrick Willis, a star player, and have added Takeo Spikes, but in this system, the former needs help, and the latter is on his last legs. Similar to how a team like Baltimore has operated with Ray Lewis, I think San Francisco should take advantage of the presence of Willis by adding young talent at linebacker. Navorro Bowman may have been a steal at No. 91 overall in the draft, but he's not an inside guy. That could be a target for next year.

Kiper sees Bowman as an outside linebacker, but as of the 49ers' OTAs, Bowman has been working exclusively in a backup role to Takeo Spikes in the Ted role. It will be interesting to see how he takes to the position. He spent much of his college career as an OLB in the 4-3, and apparently moved inside in the nickel defense. He's a very athletic player so that will certainly help him out. Veteran Matt Wilhelm and second year LB Scott McKillop have some experience on Bowman, but it doesn't sound like either matches Bowman's athleticism. It should make for a great training camp battle.

Next April's pick, now: Kelvin Sheppard, ILB, LSU
I have Sheppard right there with Quan Sturdivant and Greg Jones among draft-eligible linebackers, and he could be a great understudy for Willis.

Much of this might depend on what kind of role Bowman develops into. If he can step into the Ted role as a backup in 2010 and a potential replacement for Spikes beyond that, would the 49ers really roll a first round pick in 2011 on an inside linebacker? Obviously it's waaaaaay too early to project out since we don't have the slightest clue where the 49ers will be picking and what will happen between now and next April in terms of player rankings. Ok, well, strike the first part. We're expecting a late first round pick!

Whatever the case, while it's too early to project specific players to the 49ers, it is still an interesting discussion to consider. After all, we're looking at current holes the team has and while they won't really be adding anybody for now, it allows us to project forward.