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49ers Sleeper Pick: Joe Looney Could Be Starting For 49ers Sooner Rather Than Later

The 49ers 2012 NFL Draft class features several interesting picks. As has been the case in both free agency and the draft, 49ers GM Trent Baalke had his board of players and appears to have stuck to his value chart in making picks. The 49ers mantra in personnel acquisition has been to generally avoid overpaying for players in free agency and not worry about conventional wisdom when it comes to drafting players.

One of the 49ers more interesting picks in the draft was offensive guard Joe Looney. The former Wake Forest offensive lineman was considered by some to be a day two draft prospect, but he slipped to day three because of a Lisfranc injury suffered at the Senior Bowl. This foot injury is what cost Darren McFadden much of the 2011 season. It is a brutal injury in most sports given the fact that players spend so much time on their feet.

Looney is reportedly set to be cleared in June for football activities, which would get him back on track in time for training camp. I spoke briefly with ESPN's Stephania Bell on Twitter and she indicated that the team won't know for certain where he stands until he starts to apply more pressure to the foot. She thinks they must be confident to a certain extent, but more will be known as we get closer to training camp.

If he is in fact able to get back to 100%, he is expected to contend for the starting guard position. Coach Harbaugh said as much in his post-draft press conference ("We believe he'll be a starter in this league for us"). His primary competition is Daniel Kilgore, who entered the draft as the number one right guard. Alex Boone has been mentioned as a candidate at right guard as well, but I'm curious how that plays out now that the team has added Looney. Mike Person will also join in the fight for right guard time, but one has to imagine Kilgore and Looney (and I suppose potentially Boone to some extent) will be getting the most snaps at one and two in training camp.

When Kilgore was drafted, there was some discussion about moving him to either guard or center, so he might have a bit more versatility than Looney. If that is the case, he could eventually find himself as the interior swing-man, battling Jason Slowey for the long-term center role. For now though he would appear set to do battle.

Here are a few more comments by Coach Harbaugh about Joe Looney:

What made Looney’s interview at the Combine so impressive? Why did he jump out to you?

"Oomph, pizzazz. Really bright guy. Really smart, smart person. Not only book smart, but street smart, football smart. Everything matched up. Everything that you’d heard about Joe and all of our research that we did on Joe at the school. You cannot find a person on that campus who has anything less than glowing things to say about him. Professors, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, from faculty to football to everybody that comes in contact with him there literally not a negative word. And you see what he’s done, the pattern of success that he’s had in the classroom, on the field. And then to meet him and to see and know that it all matches up, that was glaring to me. That’s what made that interview stand out."