49ers Draft Preview
With the NFL draft on Thursday the Niner Noise writers present what the 49ers should do with their first pick in the draft at the seventh slot. With so many needs on both offense and defense it is tough to predict how the 49ers will draft with the first pick. Making things more complicated is the 2011 NFL season may or may not begin on Thursday morning which would cause general manager Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh to reevaluate their draft strategy. Either way here is how we think the 49ers will draft:
49ers Should Draft Offensive Line
The offensive line dictates how many seconds the quarterback has to drop back, look, and pass. It dictates how big a hole there is for the running back and if there is a block in the secondary to break the play open; for more than a few yards. Last year we drafted two of the best offensive linemen to help protect and advance the offense. No one can argue that 17th pick Mike Iupati standing an impressive 6’5 and weighing in at 331 pounds or 11th pick Anthony Davis standing an equally impressive 6’5 and weighing in at 323 pounds, have both done a great deal to help shore up the line.
Despite this improvement in the line, between our three quarterbacks the 49ers suffered forty-four sacks, almost one in every ten passing plays, and lost two hundred and fifty-seven yards. The 49ers ran 401 times for an average of 4.1 yards per run. Jim Harbaugh is looking to bring in a more aggressive pass attack, and no matter the quarterback, they are going to need time to pass. Even with a passing attack plan there will need to be some room for Frank Gore to burst through the defense.
To solidify the offensive line the 49ers should pick Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin in the first round, with his 6’7 stature, and 314 pounds. He has proven to have a solid head on his shoulders, by routinely picking up blitzes, and delivering a powerful punch as he explodes off the line. There is no doubt that Carimi would make an instant impact on the line.
Though I feel that Carimi is a high quality first round pick, seventh is way too early to add him to the 49ers squad. To make this a worthwhile pick, the 49ers would trade down with either New England at the 17th pick or the Texans at the 11th pick.
49ers Should Draft Defensive Line
The safest selection in the first round of the NFL draft in recent years has been the players in a three-point stance on both sides of the football: offensive and defensive line. The two positions are the safest because you can get rookies to start from week one of the season and they can be effective. Some even make the Pro Bowl as rookies. The 49ers last year drafted two offensive linemen with the 11th and 17th picks in the draft, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. Davis started 12 games and Iupati started not only week one of the season but every game on the schedule. Davis and Iupati did struggle early on and did not make the Pro Bowl but the talent is there.
With as many as 10 to 12 defensive linemen possibly being in selected first-round of the draft the 49ers with the seventh pick should select the best D-lineman available. Luckly for the 49ers there are only three teams picking ahead of them that will most likely select a man on defense. With the Panthers must likely going with quarterback Cam Newton the Broncos who select second overall will get their chance of selecting from the full board of defense and mostly likely will go with defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Picking third is the Bills who will select quarterback Blaine Gabbert, followed by the Bengals going with wide receiver A.J. Green, the Cardinals drafting cornerback Patrick Peterson and the Browns selecting linebacker Von Miller.
The 49ers will be able to pick from defensive tackle Nick Fairley, linebacker Robert Quinn and defensive ends Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt. As much help as the 49ers need in the secondary going with a defensive lineman to replace an aging Justin Smith and free agent Aubrayo Franklin is the smart move as a consistent and dominate pass rush can alleviate pressure on the secondary. Cornerback can be resolved in free agency and in the later rounds. The 49ers with the seventh pick should go with Auburn’s defensive tackle Nick Fairley. At 6-3, 291 pounds Fairley has quick feet and power that can have an effect on the whole defense. Fairley’s performance in the BCS National Championship game showed he can play in big games and is ready for the NFL. Fairley’s 12 sacks last season also helps. If the 49ers were smart they will draft a defensive lineman, a position that can make an immediate impact for Jim Harbaugh and his defense.
49ers Should Draft Cornerback
The 49ers desperately need three things this offseason quarterback, outside linebacker and cornerback (nose tackle becomes a 4th if they don’t re-sign Aubrayo Franklin). Coincidently these have been three biggest needs for the team the better part of the last decade. Quarterback is obviously the team’s biggest need, but considering there are no quarterbacks in this draft worthy of the #7 pick all indications are Jim Harbaugh and company will look elsewhere for their quarterback.
Since the team cannot solve their biggest need with the #7 pick they will likely turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball. The team is thin at both outside linebacker as Manny Lawson and Travis Laboy hit the open free agent market and with cornerback Nate Clements contract his situation is questionable at best.
So which way should the team go outside linebacker or cornerback? The 2011 draft features two elite cornerback‘s in LSU’s Patrick Peterson and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. Equally there are two elite outside linebackers in Texas A&M’s Von Miller and UNC’s Robert Quinn. The 49ers wouldn’t necessarily be wrong going with any of those four players; all are very talented players and fill a need. If given the choice LSU’s Patrick Peterson is the clear pick. Peterson is a once in a generation type of player, we haven’t seen a college DB this good since Charles Woodson’s days at Michigan. If the draft was based flat out on best player regardless of position Peterson would go #1. If he falls to #7 which is looking more and more likely the 49ers need to pounce on him. Conversely if a team ahead of the 49ers takes Peterson the 49ers should take Amukamara who insiders say the team has rated pretty closely to Peterson anyway.
It’s time for the 49ers to seal up one of the three big team needs that has alluded the franchise for the last decade by drafting an elite cornerback with the #7 pick. While it would be nice to get another playmaker like A.J. Green or Julio Jones we already have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Our offensive line is developing nicely with Mike Iupati and Joe Staley on the left side, David Baas at center and Anthony Davis at right tackle. It wouldn’t seem right spending another 1st round pick on an offensive lineman such as Mike Pouncey or Gabe Carimi not after spending both 1st round picks on offensive line last year and greater team needs elsewhere. NFL teams can find starters at positions like right guard and outside linebacker after round one where ready to contribute players at those positions can be had after the 1st round something that cannot be done when you’re talking about an elite cornerback. Consider also that free agency hasn’t been nice to the 49ers when it comes to cornerbacks (think Nate Clements 8yr $80M deal).
The NFL features very few true shutdown cornerbacks in the league at a time. Right now you could argue that there are only two in Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha. If you want to argue for and add Asante Samuel and Charles Woodson fine but that’s it for elite cornerbacks in the NFL. The 2011 NFL Draft is unique vs. other years because it boasts two top tier potential shutdown cornerbacks. Given how long this has been a need for the 49ers and the likely availability of a star the 49ers should go CB and never look back.
49ers Should Draft Defensive Backs
In 2010, most fans will agree that the 49er secondary underperformed. At safety, Dashon Goldson did not have the breakout season anticipated, and second round “value pick” Taylor Mays was benched. At corner, neither Shawntae Spencer nor Nate Clements played consistently. Here’s a look at the statistics for the 2010 season, with a comparison with two outstanding players:
|Player||Tackles||Assists||Passes Defended||Interceptions||Sacks||Fumbles Forced|
The numbers that jump out are in the Passes Defended and Interceptions columns, and indicate a lack of playmakers – the main 49er defensive backs combined had fewer interceptions than just Cromartie and Reed combined, and just one more pass defended. A playmaking cornerback to pair up with Spencer would greatly improve the secondary.
Some commentators rank cornerback Patrick Peterson as the overall best player in the draft, yet numerous mock drafts have him falling to the 49ers at the seventh pick, due to teams drafting ahead choosing for need. The other cornerback mentioned as a likely 49er pick is Prince Amukamara. Both appear to be outstanding players, but former 49er cornerback Eric Davis had an interesting take on the choice. In a lengthy and thoughtful interview with Matt Maiocco at CSN Bay Area, Davis explained:
"“Both are can’t-miss guys,” he said. “When you talk about athletic ability, Peterson is the better athlete. He’s not a lot better, but he’s the better athlete.”“Now, if you’re talking about playing the cornerback position in the NFL, Amukamara has a higher ceiling. He works better in space. His body movement allows him to work better in space and play multiple defenses.”“Peterson is eventually going to be a safety. He lost weight this year to play at 210. He came into camp smaller. But when you look at two or three years into the league, he’ll be a 225-pound guy, easily. He’ll be a safety more in the mold of Ed Reed instead of a corner. “"
Shades of Ronnie Lott, anybody? Later in the interview, Davis went on to explain that,
"“You have to work in space and get on DeSean Jackson and change direction, put a foot in the ground, read and react. It boils down to simple physics of a body in motion. The longer stride, the heavier the body, the more difficult it is to change direction.”“Prince has the more fluid change of direction. He can start and stop. He can start, put his foot in ground and redirect and cover.”"
If Davis is correct, and with 13 years of NFL experience he knows the business, the 49ers would have to make an interesting choice. Peterson seems to be in the Ronnie Lott mold, while Amukamara resembles Eric Wright, the starting rookie corners on the first championship team. If Peterson really is destined to become a safety, then the team would find itself looking for a corner again in the near future. Amukamara would presumably play corner for 10 years and in the short term would match well with Spencer.
Jimmy Smith and Brandon Harris are two additional cornerbacks considered by many to have first round ability. In this scenario, the 49ers would trade back to pick up additional picks. The story on Smith is that he is as talented as Peterson and Amukamara, but has what are euphemistically known as “character issues.” Of course, Warren Sapp had character issues, too, and he worked out pretty well for Tampa Bay. Smith is in the young Nate Clements mold, big and aggressive. He started 27 straight games in college and would be a day one starter.
Harris is what’s known as a “press cornerback” – best at disrupting the receiver at the line of scrimmage. Opponents completed only 1/3 of passes attempted against him in 2010, which would indicate good recovery time and numerous passes defended. A red flag would be that the current NFL favors the receiver coming off the line of scrimmage, and so lessens the value of a press cornerback.
Any of these four cornerbacks would improve the quality of the 49er defensive backfield. The most intriguing has got to be Peterson, with his potential to become a Lott-like safety later in his career. What do you think?
49ers Should Draft Outside Linebacker
The 49ers have built up a defensive unit almost worthy of being elite. They are only missing a few pieces. Cornerback and outside linebacker are the primary needs to shore up their defense. There will definitely be options at both positions when the 49ers select seventh in the first round. On the cornerback side we have potentially Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. Both are instant upgrades in the 49ers secondary and would have a great impact on the pass defense. I have two problems with the 49ers selecting a cornerback: First, I don’t think Peterson, who some believe is the best player in the draft; will be available when the 49ers pick. Second, I believe without a consistent pass rush, they will continue to struggle against the pass.
This is why I think the 49ers should go with an outside linebacker with their pick. There are two great ones are Von Miller and Robert Quinn, who are likely to be chosen in the top 10. Miller is a monster pass rusher and would be a fantastic addition, unfortunately he won’t be available when the 49ers pick so they would have to trade up to get him. The Buffalo Bills were the most talked about landing spot for Miller up until this week. Now there are talks of the Bills taking Blaine Gabbert. If that happens, the 49ers could have a great trading partner in Cincinnati, who has the fourth pick. The 49ers currently hold 12 picks in this year’s draft so they could entertain trading some picks to move up and select Miller. In Miller, the 49ers could have a player being compared to Clay Mathews, who is a difference maker on a defense. If they decide to stay put at seven, there is no shame in taking Quinn.
Quinn is another great prospect who would instantly help strengthen a weak pass rush. Quinn is a bit of a risky pick, but that is typical of a young pass rushing specialist. I think he will end up being more of a Terrell Suggs type of player. Quinn is definitely dangerous and would be a great fit for San Francisco. Though he’s missed a year of playing, he still looks like he is football ready and should have somewhat of an easy transition to the next level.
At the end of the day, all this draft speculation is exactly such. I can’t wait for the draft to finally see how it all unfolds after months of speculation.
Don’t forget to join our live draft chat with the Niner Noise and Fansided.com NFL Sports Network community on Thursday starting at 4:30pm PST/7:30pm ET. You can join the chat here at Niner Noise.