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1. Quarterback Class prospects in the 2003 NFL Draft.
This is an area where the San Francisco 49ers will not be a participant as expected, however no one thought that the 49ers would pick up Brigham Young University's Brandon Doman in the fifth round last year either. Just last year Brandon Doman was involved in a dogfight back in mini-camps and training camps with Arena League star Aaron Garcia. He won that fight and was able to stay on the 49er active roster, but the 49ers remained skeptical as to the future of this position by acquiring a former first-round bust in Cade McNown from the Miami Dolphins.
McNown will battle second-string quarterback Tim Rattay for the coveted back-up spot behind starter Jeff Garcia. The training camp battles to come should be intense and competitive as Rattay has been tendered an offer as a restricted free agent of $605,000 with a seventh round draft pick as compensation. This brings the total of quarterbacks on the 49er roster to four where all of them will be in competition with each other and more likely then not one will be cut to free up roster space for other vital positions.
Team consultant Bill Walsh has been involved with Cade McNown's rehabilitation and has been practicing on the field with him to get his throwing shoulder back up to par. The progress has been substantial and he should be able to battle Rattay for the back-up position should he by-pass Brandon Doman.
Should the 49ers even remotely be interested in drafting a quarterback it would come in the late rounds of this draft based on the needs of the team as a whole. The 49ers have a history of obtaining and training some of the best quarterbacks in the league, but they really reached back in the 2000 NFL draft when they picked up Gio Carmazzi in the third round. He never turned out to be the player the 49ers thought they had scouted and analyzed over time and soon became a liability that they parted ways with rather quickly.
I will mention some of the top prospects at this position and some others that the 49ers may show some interest in with the quarterback class of 2003. This is a class that is rated rather high in talent and potential and there could be as many as four prospects that go in the first round.
A) Marshall's Byron Leftwich 6 feet 6 inches tall and 250-pounds.
He has all the makings of a great quarterback and should be one of the very first four quarterbacks taken in the first round of this year's draft. His strengths are his arm strength and of course his superior size to other prospects. His weaknesses are trying to do too much in the realm of forcing the ball into tight coverage and his footwork needs to be fine-tuned. He also has run a 5.00 in the 40-yard dash as well.
Leftwich is the perfect pocket passer almost in the same mold as a Dan Marino, not a very good prospect for a West Coast offense type team in ourselves. He should generate a lot of interest from club's such as Cincinnati and those clubs's that are in dire need of an immediate starter.
He has some mobility but taking off and running is not an option you want to pursue with this athlete. He can throw a deep ball with tremendous velocity and can make an average wide receiver seem great. He has great awareness on the field and can even throw the ball on the run with very good accuracy.
However Leftwich has benefited from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in college football, some question as to what he can do behind a weaker line that has been battered due to injury or ravaged by the salary cap.
He does try and make plays as a play breaks down sometimes to his dismay as he forces the ball into very tight coverage, he also needs work on his footwork and release point in his stance something that can be ironed out with good coaching. He is expected to go early in the first round of this draft and rather quickly at that. He is not of an elite class but he is the best available at this position in this draft.
B) USC's Carson Palmer 6 feet four inches and 225-pounds.
Here is yet another classic pocket passer just like Byron Leftwich and one of the best available at this position. His strengths are his knowledge of the game itself and his towering size and ability to survey the field at will. The only real weakness that Palmer has is maintaining a consistency as to his mechanics and talents as a player. He is well versed in change having played under a number of different coaches and he is a four-year starter that has battled some personal injuries himself.
He has made great performances happen against top tier college teams and has shown an ability not to be rattled while under intense pressure. He has also made tremendous comebacks when from behind and has faced some dire consequences and turned them into positives as he manages his offense up and down the field. He has some obvious difficulty avoiding a pass rush something he will need to work on and has been off the page at times with his receivers.
Palmer will be the type of quarterback that will either be a boom or a bust prospect so the chances are what they are. He will need a system that will be able to tend to his individual strengths and capitalize on those. Palmer ran a 5.14 in the 40-yard dash and he seems to be able to buy time while in the pocket as a play wears down. Palmer is expected to make a difference on any team where he lands and is expected to be drafted in the early first round of this draft.
C) Miami's Ken Dorsey 6 feet four inches and 200-pounds.
Here is a potential prospect that the San Francisco 49ers may be interested in, but only should he slip far into the later rounds. His strength is his leadership abilities on and off the field and his weaknesses are his arm strength and his accuracy overall. It is a bit scary that his weaknesses are in two vital areas of being a true quarterback but Dorsey has a proven track record of being a winner. He has just one college loss on his resume of 39 career starts, that is a winning percentage of .974%, which makes the weak end look rather misleading.
Dorsey ran a 4.95 in the 40-yard dash and gets the ball to his receivers almost instantly as he makes very quick decisions on the field. He is not quick or explosive but rarely makes mistakes while on the field and getting the ball to his receivers. However his passes tend to float and he has a tall thin build that some question will hold up under a steady beating of getting tackled and sacked.
However he is worth the minimal risk as he has proven to be a winner while out on the field and will give a team versatility and a character of winning with his superb attitude. Dorsey is expected to go somewhere in the early fourth round, something the 49ers may not look that seriously into until the sixth and seventh rounds appear.
D) Boston College's Brian St. Pierre 6 feet two inches and 220-pounds.
This is yet another candidate that the 49ers just may be interested in but again only should he fall into the later rounds of this draft. His strengths are his decision making and his ability to throw the deep pass with pinpoint accuracy. His weaknesses are consistency and forcing throws into coverage. St. Pierre has a great deal of knowledge on the game of football and is very athletic as well running a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash.
He has the ability to throw quick strikes deep down the field and his accuracy on placing the ball right into a wide receivers hand is simply breath taking. He can pull the ball down and start running should a play begin to breakdown. He does need work on footwork and throwing off his back foot. Needs to take the time to set and plant himself before actually throwing the football.
Despite all of this he is a great prospect that could blossom over the course of a few years and reach the next level as a starter should he get the proper training and coaching allocated to him. He is expected to go somewhere in the mid to late fourth round a position the 49ers will wait and see if he falls further.
2. Running Back Class prospects in the 2003 NFL draft.
San Francisco has no real need at this position as well, but you can never rule out them taking a running back as they by-passed this position last year completely and probably will again this year as well. Their highest pick on a running back occurred back in 2001 when they selected Pittsburgh's Kevan Barlow in the third round and has been everything that the 49ers have hoped for.
Barlow has made tremendous progress while playing in tandem with veteran Garrison Hearst but he yearns for more playing time and really wants to be the featured back this season. That hope may prove to be a reality under new head coach Dennis Erickson as he has a tendency to rely heavily on a one-back system. The 49ers ranked in at sixth place this past season with the best rushing attack, and they have three good reasons in Garrison Hearst, Kevan Barlow and Fred Beasley in not selecting a running back this season.
The 49ers kept a total of six running backs on their roster last season and will probably follow suit again in that direction. They also field promising NFL Europe MVP Jamal Robertson who has been an inspiration to the team on special teams as well. But despite all of this you can bet that should one fall where they can be noticed the 49ers will become interested.
The running back class is not of very great strength this year so the talent will be widely dispersed as the rounds wear on. Teams will have to trade up in order to acquire anything that can become a starter right away. The rest will be just potential development projects as the rounds wear on throughout the two-day draft.
A) Oregon's Onterrio Smith 5 foot 11 inches and 205-pounds.
This is a potential prospect for the 49ers simply because he is from Erickson's past but he would have to fall almost into the third round for true consideration which is highly unlikely considering his abilities. His strength is his juking abilities almost on the same page as Garrison Hearst and Charlie Garner. His weaknesses are his work ethic and his durability. The one thing that is for certain though is that he is the fastest back available in this draft recording a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.
He has the ability to just leave defensive backs grasping at air as he travels by them with his juke and jive motion. He has a great slashing style of attack and can cut back rather quickly when he has to. He has great burst through a hole and has a great ability to make it to the outside unscathed. He also demonstrates patience by waiting on his blocks to develop and then taking his calling seriously. He also has very soft and natural hands but prefers not to block, something he will have to work on in a West Coast offense style of attack.
He has had problems in regards to his durability though as he has had problems with his knees and shoulder over the course of two whole seasons, so that can play a negative into his inner circle. However Smith more likely then not will be the first back selected based on his natural abilities and talents and his resemblance to Hearst and Garner in their style of attack. He is expected to go at least by mid second round in this draft if not higher based on the need.
B) Virginia Tech's Lee Suggs 5 feet 11 inches and 210-pounds.
Suggs is another top running back prospect that is quick and shifty for a player that has just come off a major knee injury. His strengths are his lateral movement and his overall speed and his weakness due to the major knee injury is his durability, which will play a role in his draft order on draft day. Suggs ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 and is a willing back that waits for his blocks to develop before exploding through a hole.
He has the ability to set up defenders and make them miss as he runs in and around them, he is best though as a north-south runner that tends to weave and around developing traffic. The other key abilities to Suggs is his abilities in not only running but blocking and catching passes as well, he is a coveted all round versatile back that will be dangerous in many forms.
He has however only average hands and he loses some momentum when he is not running a simple straight line. His overall game instincts and his formidable speed though make up for so many of his shortcomings. He has also handled the calls on his durability by coming back strong from his knee injury, this should propel him as a late first round draft pick well out of reach of the 49ers interest.
C) Colorado's Chris Brown 6 feet two inches and 230-pounds.
Like Smith Brown could be a 49er menu item should he drop far enough in the draft, however that is an unlikely scenario given that his talents have him slated as a mid-second round draft pick. Chris has strengths in both his size and his speed along with a great vision. His weaknesses are his first step quickness and his durability. He has the keen abilities in running through tackles and making defenders miss him in the open field. He also has a hidden talent that could be upsized by using him as a receiver as well.
Chris ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 and has great sped but lacks that initial explosion in his first step process of running and taking off. Chris is also a junior that many scouts say should stay one more year and develop further as a senior. He has had some injuries over the past two seasons but nothing so serious that casts a huge doubt on his overall durability.
When Chris is tackled he always continues to fight in order to make separation. He can be a road grader as well using power and might to funnel in between tacklers but he still must prove that he can handle the everyday chores of being a featured back. He does lack breakaway speed and is not that elusive in a football sense, something he can correct with proper training and technique. Chris is seen as going somewhere in the second or third rounds and would be a welcomed developmental player for any interested club.
D) Miami's Willis McGahee 6 feet and zero inches 225-pounds.
McGahee presents a possibility to the 49ers simply because it has the time necessary to let McGahee recover from a devastating knee injury. Being only a sophomore in college he is making himself available at a very early stage but this athlete is very gifted in many areas. He is the perfect combination of speed and power. While he may not be the speed runner some may covet, he does show tremendous acceleration when hitting a hole and can work it well in traffic.
He can quickly turn into a starting running back with any professional club once he gains needed experience. He was supposed to be the starting fullback for Miami, but when the season began injuries forced him to be inserted as a running back. Overall He is a quality back that is expected to go in the first two rounds despite his injury, San Francisco would only seriously consider him should the injury force him to fall even further.
3. Fullback Class prospects in the 2003 NFL draft.
Here again San Francisco probably will not be an active participant as it carries a trio of formidable fullbacks into the 2003 season. The 49ers probably have the very best fullback in the league today in Fred Beasley. They also happen to have two formidable back-up's in Terry Jackson and Paul Smith. Being a West Coast offense the 49ers rely on the fullback position more heavily than other clubs because they use them in a variety of different roles.
A) Wake Forest's Ovie Mughelli 6 feet two inches and 248-pounds.
Ovie is at the top of this fullback draft class that features up to five top quality fullbacks that could make an impact on any given team almost immediately. His strength's are his patience and of course his size. His weaknesses are his ability to pick up the blitz and his footwork. He has tremendous size that is so important for a quality fullback and a great initial burst right off the line.
His patience speaks for itself as he waits for his blocks to develop before smacking through a hole. He has very good straight-line speed and knows he must show better footwork when standing in the pocket on pass protection. He does lack fluidity and is not as of yet ready as a full-time receiver but with the right system and coaching he will prosper. Ovie ran the 40-yard dash in 4.80 and is probably the best fullback prospect in this class likely to go in the third round.
B) Michigan's B.J. Askew 6 feet two inches and 230-pounds.
Askew is another top flight prospect at this position a needing West Coast offensive system should consider him as a great addition. His strength's are in receiving and speed, his weaknesses are in his blocking and upper body strength. He is a very athletic person and has great hands in catching the ball. He has the ability to extend the hands and adjusts well when on a route for a possible passing play.
He also has some limited ability in working and weaving his way through traffic, however he is built more so as a tailback than he is as a fullback. He remains light and will have to gain some weight if he is serious about playing in the NFL. In any given situation he would be ideal in resting a starting tailback and getting about five to six carries a game or be a third down specialist as well.
Askew ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 and looks like someone that will go somewhere in the fifth to sixth round of this draft. The 49ers remain stacked at this position and will not be in any kind of market for this position, successful drafts at this position has made us strong here in this position for a long time.
4. Wide Receiver prospects in the 2003 NFL draft.
This is the time to find a fleet receiver that will compliment Terrell Owens in our deadly offense. The San Francisco 49ers will draft a wide receiver somewhere in this draft if not in the very first round, this position has been not been answered to our satisfaction for sometime. Tai Streets being a restricted free agent has been tendered and will be back as a 49er that has proven success opposite of Owens this past season. His interest in other clubs though has drawn concerns as to next season so drafting one becomes a priority.
The last receiver taken in a draft by the 49ers was Cedrick Wilson in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL draft. And he has been everything that we hoped for so far on special teams and as a third string receiver that has battled incumbent J.J. Stokes who lost out to Tai Streets just this past season.
New head coach Dennis Erickson will lobby hard for a new wide receiver that will bring heat and competition to the table with Owens and Streets, it may spell the end to J.J. Stokes as his career has taken a tailspin since the emergence of Streets this past season. Being able to set up mismatches on the perimeters and down the field in coverage will allow the 49ers greater flexibility to score and score often.
A) Michigan State's Charlie Rodgers 6 feet three inches and 202-pounds.
This is the most coveted wide receiver in this draft as he is a clear playmaker for anyone in need of a go to guy in any situation. His strengths are his size and his speed two real necessities for any wide receiver that is given the title as a playmaker. His weaknesses are still to be determined as he continues to prove his worth as draft day nears.
He has the ability to get down the field in a hurry and make the big play; he also has the ability to catch that ball in traffic and is big, fast and very athletic. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 and can make a difficult reception even while running at full tilt when it is necessary.
He has the right chemistry in working both the inside and the outside parts of the football field. He has a very good vertical leap and has one of the best pair of reliable hands that you could possibly pay for. He also works hard to gain yardage rights after the catch and is very effective as a blocker as well. He can sometimes be off the page with the quarterback but that is something that is but a minor adjustment with playing time and equalizing experience.
Rodgers is projected to go in the early first round barring him from becoming a 49er for sure. There are many clubs that are starving for an impact receiver such as this one and some interesting deals could take place for someone to acquire him. This receiver comes from a very strong class of receivers in this year's draft class, whoever does pick him will benefit almost immediately.
B) Miami's Andre Johnson 6 feet two inches and 220-pounds.
Another elite game breaking receiver that will be highly sought over as he can come right in and make an impact. His strengths are his upper body strength and his size and speed combinations. His only weakness is his consistency. Johnson is expected to follow Rodgers right out of the gate in this year's draft, he will go far too high for the 49ers to be serious contenders for him. Johnson's 40-yrad dash was 4.45 and he desires to be physical on almost any given play.
Johnson really excels at fighting off jamming attempts at the line of scrimmage not many can honestly say they can do this. Has an all right vertical leap but knows how to time his leaps well in order to gain momentum on the ball. He is very adapt at setting up bait for a defensive back to take the wrong route or find alternate ways of beating a defense.
Johnson is also an adequate route runner and sometimes lacks a second gear as he tries to adjust to getting up to full speed. Needs to work on fine tuning the points that will make him successful in the league but really has only the minimal amount to learn in comparison to others. Johnson will go shortly as the draft opens in the early stages of the first round.
C) Florida State's Talman Gardner 6 feet even and 205-pounds.
This is a wide receiver that the 49ers very well could target based on our order in the first and second rounds. His strengths are speed off the line of scrimmage and just plain overall speed. He is a deep threat and is just what the 49ers need in order to compliment Terrell Owens and take pressure off from him. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.49 and has the ability to be even faster than that.
He usually wins the battles at the line of scrimmage with most cornerbacks, and seems to store energy for when he needs it the most. In the short passing game he is still inconsistent and needs work on his route running techniques. He does work the sidelines well and has demonstrated some good balance while in play.
He sometimes can leave you wondering as at times he makes plays look simple and at other times he struggles. He sometimes has a hard time making the difficult catch but with more playing time and experience that should eventually be achieved. He has been rated as a late first or second round draft pick.
D) Florida's Taylor Jacobs 6 feet and one inch and 198-pounds.
Here is another barnburner that the 49ers should be interested once their number is called in the draft. He has a number of strengths such as overall speed and finding the seam in coverage. His weaknesses are getting off the line of scrimmage and of course his size. One of the nice things about Jacobs is his natural instinct for the game and the way he establishes his body control while in play.
He is also an athlete that can make the proper adjustments necessary in order to complete a play. He also looks at the ball while it travels into his hands and uses his body to shield the ball when necessary. He demonstrates a great work ethic by working hard on and off the field but is not that quick in getting a burst off the line.
Hopefully with good coaching this slight disadvantage can be corrected. He is a champion sprinter in every sense of the word running the 40 in 4.48 but he doesn't transfer that speed all the time right on to the field.
Jacobs has shown that he ha a knack for earning his money though and would do so again for the right club. He should be a welcomed addition immediately and would provide another viable weapon in anyone's passing game. The 49ers could look hard at him in this area.
5. Tight End Prospects in the 2003 NFL draft.
Here is an area that San Francisco addressed in the 2002 draft by taking Mark Anelli in the sixth round. 2001 seventh round pick Eric Johnson has been everything that the 49ers have hoped for. He excels in almost everything he does and has improved on his blocking assignments and has been a major impact player in the passing game.
The 49ers continue to cover this important area by obtaining Jed Weaver from Miami in free agency to become another viable weapon in the 49er offense. Justin Swift a restricted free agent has not been tendered an offer and is currently seeking employment.
A) Tennessee's Jason Witten 6 feet five inches and 265-pounds.
This former defensive lineman has switched and become the No. 1 tight end in this year's draft class. His strengths are blocking and he has great hands. His weaknesses are his inexperience and creating separation from defensive backs. He has been working on getting off the line faster and has displayed some very good speed. He has a combination of gifts in soft hands and is resolute in his blocking schemes.
Witten is also a consistent pass catcher who is constantly making catches when they count the most. He would be a great go to guy in times of crisis or in the red zone as a second or third option. He has also shown a remarkable resiliency to taking punishment and getting right up and moving on. He ran the 40 in 4.75 and is expected to be taken somewhere in the second round of this draft.
B) Florida's Aaron Walker 6 feet 6 inches and 260-pounds.
Walker is a bit of an enigma but very well could be a prospect that the 49ers may be interested in. Unfortunately Florida is not well known for developing great tight ends but Walker has enough natural talent and abilities that compensate for this shortcoming. He has strengths in both his size and his hands; his weaknesses are his blocking and his footwork. Elements that can be developed over time in training and coaching.
Walker has also displayed quick change of direction skills and his great size makes him a prime target in the red zone offense. His footwork and stride need improvement out in the open field and he must show marked progress on his blocking skills.
Although he is somewhat of a developmental project he would be good for someone interested in having a tall target in the passing game. Walker could fall to within rounds that would compel the 49ers to consider if he is still around on the second day of the draft.
6. Stay tuned for more draft coverage: I am writing more on possible draft interests that the San Francisco 49ers may be targeting. Although this is not a complete list of the candidates it is a mixture that includes possible individuals that the 49ers may be thinking about.
This is the most exciting part of the off-season and I take great pride in preparing for this special event. The needs are many for the 49ers we can only trust that the decisions they make will be the right ones, I hope that all of you will tune in to ESPN and enjoy the announcements that will be the new additions to this team.