Different teams have different draft philosophies. For sure, each team would love to have a mix of immediate contributors and those who can produce down the line. The reality, though, is that some franchises may only have six selections to work with, and a huge talent gap relative to their divisional foes.
For the San Francisco 49ers, they have truly been able to get a nice mix. Having 11 picks -- which became 12 by the end of the process -- and an already stable, contending roster, gives you a whole lot of flexibility. What might be seen as a reach for one team could be a final piece for another.
No one knows the roster better than GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh. With all the information available to us these days, we can take more than just an educated guess at stuff, but these guys know the intricacies. Who is a little nicked up, who has a short memory, who is mentally tougher. So, often times, we should just defer to their decision making.
But that won't stop us from ranking these here picks anyway!
Of the 2014 draft class, which players can provide the biggest impact for this coming season?
1. DB Jimmie Ward
The Niners went into the draft thin in the secondary -- specifically at corner. Most were surprised when the first player selected was a safety, but that surprised turned into one of those oh-you-little-rascal looks aimed toward Baalke when details emerged about Ward's versatility. Specifically, his superb skills as a nickle back could be key in stabilizing this secondary.
While seeing him blanket some of the game's best slot receivers would be dandy, the thing that really has me geeked is Ward's potential in run support. He shows tremendous ability to recognize what's going on and be a force on every single play.
Putting Ward first on this list is easy seeing as how he was the team's first round pick, but I also think there are a lot of questions about the guys down the list. Not that those players won't someday be starters and big contributors, but that this year, they might be more of rotational guys. Ward, meanwhile, should be on the field a lot.
2. RB Carlos Hyde
Picking between Hyde, Martin and Borland for the second spot is tough. Any of these three could end up with significant playing time this season, depending on how they look and camp and how other things shake out. This could very well be something that we'll look at with the benefit of hindsight later.
I'm going with Hyde, though, because I think he provides something that isn't already on the roster. A true bruising, downhill back that could make an immediate impact in the redzone and on third down. While we still have the potentially exciting upside of Marcus Lattimore to dream about, Hyde might be more of the safe bet right now to do big things for the team in high-leverage situations.
3. ILB Chris Borland
Borland is going to have a shot to fill in until all-universe linebacker NaVorro Bowman comes back from his knee injury. But, seeing as how that would be a half-season role at best, coupled with a guy like Michael Wilhoite already around to take some of those plays, his total impact could be limited.
Make no mistake about it, though. This was a big time selection that gives the team solid depth in a major area of concern heading into the season. Should something happen with Wilhoite or -- you know what, I won't even say his name -- the team should have an opportunity to plug a potential hole with a capable stop-gap. This safety net gives Borland the edge over Martin for me.
4. C Marcus Martin
Daniel Kilgore is the presumptive starter at center, but Martin will compete for the job. I don't think it's totally crazy to think he could win the gig, either. Kilgore did just get a new contract, but it wasn't much more than backup money. If Martin comes to camp focused and shines brightly, he could absolutely steal the job.
I don't think he will, though. Maybe in year two, but I'm still giving the edge to Kilgore in 2014. Therefore, Martin will likely be a backup, shifting between center and guard. This still gives him plenty of value and playing time opportunities. While he may contribute more in a silent, unappreciated sort of way, I think we'll come away falling in love with Hyde's big plays in crucial moments. So, it might be a bit unfair, but that's probably how we'll view it.
The team now has quite a bit of offensive line depth, and this pick essentially removes a tricky situation where someone like Adam Snyder is having to play tackle again. So for that, this pick has an indirect benefit to the entire unit.
5. DB Dontae Johnson
Johnson, like Ward, offers the team some versatility in the secondary. He can play on the edges, in the slot and even has experience at safety. It seems as if his primary area of focus might be in dime packages, though. He'll have competition with the likes of Perrish Cox, Eric Wright and Chris Cook.
Something has to give as I can't see all four being on the final 53-man roster. Johnson
6. WR Bruce Ellington
After the acquisition of Stevie Johnson, the 49ers now have a pretty deep receiving corps. This doesn't mean Ellington won't see the field, but unless there's an injury or two, he's probably only going to get a few plays a game. He's also a candidate to just not be active on some days, depending on what the roster looks like for that contest and how much he figures into special teams plans.
A point guard with South Carolina's basketball team, Ellington began shifting his focus more to the gridiron. He's absolutely an athlete, and comes with some nice upside. If the team develops him well, he could end up being a nice addition in a couple seasons. For now, though, he's a role player and depth option.
7. DE/OLB Aaron Lynch
Lynch could see some time if Aldon Smith is suspended for a lengthily period. However, he also has Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier ahead of him on the depth chart at present. He should see some rotational work, but I don't know that it'll be a lot. If Smith only misses a game or two, then Lynch could be a game-day inactive candidate.
8. DB Kenneth Acker
Special teams is probably the best route for Acker to see the field. Even then, I don't know how much time he'll see. I guess it wouldn't shock me if he works himself in as a primary return option, but he isn't going to just be handed that job.
9. DE Kaleb Ramsey
There just seem to be too many players ahead of Ramsey right now on this defense. Even if he has a strong camp, he could be a guy who loses in the numbers game. If he gets cut, he will catch on with another team. I just don't see how he could be a contributor for this team in 2014.
10. OL Brandon Thomas (Injured)
Thomas could very well be a starter next season if he comes back healthy and the Niners move on from Mike Iupati.
11. DB Keith Reaser (Injured)
We all know the team is in need of more options at corner, so Reaser could end up as a contributor as well.
12. FB Trey Millard (Injured)
Millard was rated by some as the best fullback prospect in the draft. While that position has been minimized across the league, this team loves a good fullback. Bruce Miller is signed through 2017, with dead money hits declining each year (starting at $2.4 million). Given Miller's contributions, it might take a lot for Millard to ever become a starter.