The NFL draft’s first round is upon us and by now most people who are halfway interested in this sort of thing have read roughly 5000 mock drafts in the last 2 months. A large portion of these drafts have the San Francisco 49ers selecting an offensive lineman with the 30th overall pick. At first glance this makes perfect sense, as the Niners one need for a starter is at right guard. A deeper look at the offense reveals a lack of big play makers among the skill positions. Although an offensive lineman would be a logical and solid (albeit slightly boring) choice, a big time athlete with the tools to create offensive fireworks would benefit the Niners immediately and in the long run.
The few offensive lineman who seem to always be linked to the 49ers are Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz of Wisconsin and more recently Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State. Zeitler and Konz were in a pro style offensive scheme with the Badgers and it seems likely they could step right in from jump and fill the microscopic shoes of the departed Chilo Rachal at RG. Silatolu is a relative unknown from a tiny school who might not be capable of starting in the NFL immediately, but could pay dividends down the line. As for the current starter by default, Daniel Kilgore, the team seems to be very high on him. If this is true, it would seem counter productive to draft a guard and pay him 1st round money when you have a 2nd year player who takes up little to no cap space waiting in the wings to take over. The most logical scenario would be to bring in a veteran offensive lineman, perhaps after the next wave of salary cap casualties, to compete with Kilgore or to start if Kilgore isn’t ready. This all hinges on if the 49ers feel Kilgore can be a consistent and effective right guard in the NFL.
This upcoming draft is loaded with offensive play makers, particularly at the wide receiver position. Athletic freaks like WR Stephen Hill and TE Coby Fleener are expected to be available at or near the 49ers 30th pick. The team most definitely needed to address the lack of ability at the wideout position through free agency and to a degree they did. WR Randy Moss hasn’t played in a year and some change and we really don’t fully know what to expect from him. WR Mario Manningham is a talented receiver (especially when he is covered by CJ Spillman) but has never really displayed anything more than number 2 or number 3 receiver qualities. The Niners would serve themselves well to draft a player like Hill, who is an explosive play waiting to happen. Last year the Niners drafted a physical freak in DE Aldon Smith and simply let him use his athleticism to become a dominating pass rusher. Lightning could strike twice if the Niners were to draft Hill. Much like Aldon, the Niners could ease Hill into situations that would get the most out of his abilities. Hill’s criticisms are that he is too raw (much like Aldon) and that he never ran the route tree at triple option Georgia Tech. The fact that he played in an option system in college and his size (6’4″” 215) make him an excellent blocker who would not be a liability at all in run situations. The fact that he is an inexperienced route runner is much like Aldon Smith being inexperienced last season at anything other than destroying the opposing quarterback. The defense had depth at OLB last year, leading to the luxury of Aldon relieving OLB Parys Haralson on passing downs and concentrating strictly on teeing off on the QB. The depth at WR would afford the Niners the chance to use Hill in select situations when the team needed a big play or simply need to lift the lid off the defense, leading to more space for RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree. Hill’s speed and home run capabilities are something the defense would have to pay attention to, even while he polishes his route running skills. The same can be said for Fleener, who would come into camp as the number 3 tight end, eventually replacing Delanie Walker who is a free agent after next season. Fleener could be used strictly in specialty packages along with Davis to form a west coast Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernnadez combo. Jim Harbaugh loves to utilize multiple TE sets as witnessed last year by OT Joe Staley and DT Issac Sopoaga lining up there. Fleener (6’6” 245) and Hill would both be huge (literally) in the red zone as there size would be a tremendous boost in an area where the Niners struggled mightily last season.
This years draft could very likely be turned upside down by trades. This is the first year teams are definitely operating under a rookie salary cap, so trading into and out of the first round won’t be so prohibitive. If Hill or Fleener are available when the Niners pick, they would help themselves immediately and in the long run by drafting this type of player. Both could get by on there athleticism as spot play makers in their rookie season and blossom into stars down the road. Playing behind a Randy Moss or a Vernon Davis could certainly teach the youngsters a thing or 2. For the first time in a long time, the 49ers don’t have a huge, glaring need going into a draft. With all 11 starters returning from arguably the best defense in the NFL it’s time to look at becoming more explosive on the offensive side of the ball.