For me, it's always been between a cornerback and a quarterback at pick number seven. I don't care if an insane wide receiver falls, and I've not even read most of the discussion among 49ers fans regarding any of the top defensive linemen falling to that spot. Sometimes it's a mix of best player available and need that is most appropriate, and the aforementioned two needs are much more important than strengthening something that is already a strength.
But a 3-4 outside linebacker is easily our number three need, and one of the most important positions on the defense, arguably just behind nose tackle, where Aubrayo Franklin will hopefully be re-signed or where Ricky Jean Francois can step up and put something together. The 49ers need a guy who can take away a team's best receiver, but even someone like Darrell Revis will give up receptions if his team around him is failing to get at the quarterback.
Greg Manusky is out as defensive coordinator, but the team will be sticking to a 3-4 alignment with Vic Fangio. The basic needs will be the same, and the scheme will work much the same as it did with Manusky, obviously with Fangio's personal touch. What is that touch, you say? Fangio loves movement, and he loves to bring the blitz, must like his oft-compared friend, Dom Capers in Green Bay. The outside linebacker and nose tackle are definite keys in his defense.
His schemes thrive on getting pressure on the quarterback from wherever they can get it, and I'd bet players like Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson and Ahmad Brooks can be utilized effectively in the scheme, but the 49ers are still lacking that top flight outside linebacker and have lacked him for, say, nine years. The last time a 49ers player had more than 8.5 sacks was 2002, when Andre Carter had 12.5. The aforementioned Haralson is the only one to come close to being recognized as a consistent pass rusher around the league, when he ranked 17th in the league with eight sacks in 2008.
Justin Smith is probably the best pass rusher on the team, and he's not even in a position that calls for him to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. He's a defensive end, and in the 3-4 that means making sure the outside linebackers can get to the quarterback, stopping the run, and occasionally breaking free and putting said signal caller on his butt.
Von Miller is rated as a top five pick by most outlets, but it's possible he falls. This has been one of the harder drafts to mock, and not just from a 49ers standpoint. There are top-flight corners, defensive linemen and wide receivers available in the top five and it's unclear which team will go with what. Fortunately for the 49ers, I do believe they are in a good position to come away with one of the best at one of their positions of need at the seventh pick.
Miller was absolutely the definition of "disruptive" in the Senior Bowl. He made the north team look like a bunch of children out there, grabbing a sack from the defensive end position. Most noted his impressive ability in making some open field tackles from his standing "Joker" position on the defensive line. Leading up to the game, he was hyped considerably and delivered unto it with flying colors.
He has had 27.5 sacks in his last two seasons, and would fit beautifully into the 49ers defense. There are always questions regarding coverage ability in these situations, but that's something we'll get a closer look at in the scouting combine, and something that is almost unanimous among scouts to not be a big issue in his case.
It's honestly hard to see him fall at this point, the Cardinals and Bills will give him a long look, but they are teams possessed by pressing needs elsewhere and it's also easy to see those teams pick someone else. There's so many scenarios to consider, with the 49ers needing a corner and a quarterback. Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Blaine Gabbert - they are all options, but what if Peterson is gone and Miller is available? Is it so cut and dry as to say "they need a corner," or is it better to say "these are the three most important positions, go with the best player available out of them"?
Decisions, decisions. Tomorrow, I'll have my Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward on outside linebackers and we'll take an in-depth look at many of the college 3-4 outside linebacker prospects.