Finally the draft is here
April 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM
Where will the 49ers go in this draft? Everyone that is a 49er fan is trying to evaluate just what they will do. Lord knows they have a tremendous amount of holes to fill as questions arise as to their true intents and purposes regarding little movement in free agency and allowing proven and talented players to leave without batting an eye about it.
Certainly it leaves many to think that the San Francisco 49ers are El Cheapo or even worse. With the antics revolving around the Steve Mariucci firing and the way owner Dr. John York has been slashing budgets it makes everyone believe that this franchise is just running by the very threads of its pants. Can we honestly believe that the ownership and management of this franchise will do everything in its power to make continued runs at the Vince Lombardi trophy in years to come?
Some 49er faithful have already conceded defeat as they view the episodes of the many under York that it is every indication that the franchise is turning over a bad leaf. Turning into what many have said resembles the worse franchise in the NFL being the Cincinnati Bengals. There is validation with some of these thoughts I will admit myself, as the 49ers seem disinterested in pursuing any avenue of improvement with its public relations with its fans.
And on the other hand are they thinking of the long term? We stand to lose the best offensive weapon in the league should we not choose to work an extension of his contract. That being wide receiver Terrell Owens, almost a one-show bang this incredible athlete can turn a losing proposition into a winning one in just a matter of time. He has incredible determination and motivation as well as a mentality never to give up, just give him the ball is all he asks.
Already there are signs that the 49ers are losing their infrastructure in letting solid proven veterans in Dave Fiore and Dana Stubblefield leave. They have already labeled these players for our benefit and made note they were let go for very legitimate reasons. Dave was let go because of his injury history, they did not note however that he always fights back and makes the roster though. And then you have Dana labeled as being overweight? Yet Dana points out that he was never ever approached about having a weight problem or a decline in his productivity in communication with management.
And then we sign someone like punter Bill LaFleur who was a proven flop all season long and was instrumental in making absolutely no improvement at all on special teams for this franchise? What gives here folks? These are the contradictions that I’m talking about. The very reasons so many fans are growing frustrated as the franchise makes controversial moves like this, and for what reasons?
Voids now exist in these areas as these players are gone and new ones have been created with wide receiver Tai Streets making it known loud and clear he is not interested in being a 49er long term and defensive end Chike Okeafor headed north to play for a divisional rival of ours. J.J. Stokes has been allowed to seek a trade but Lord knows no one wants him knowing he’ll be cut after June 1st anyways. Why give up precious draft picks when you can pick him up anyways on the waiver wire.
Stokes value has been more than dramatized in his inability to stay healthy and his lack of breakaway speed in getting by defensive backs that are covering him. As you can see this leaves the 49ers in a precarious predicament in the wide receiver class as everyone of our receivers are on a bubble except for Cedrick Wilson who is but a third or fourth receiving option.
The need for a wide receiver then becomes all the more pressing, especially for a new head coach that loves to go three wide outs and throw the ball down the field. Here the 49ers are expected to address this need maybe even multiple times in this 2003 draft.
Just this past March Tai Streets, 25, a restricted free agent tested the waters of leaving San Francisco once and for all. In my mind it showed that he was yearning to be a spotlight player after making 72 receptions for 756 yards and five touchdowns last season. Streets has grown discontented with San Francisco having to play second fiddle next to J.J. Stokes for such a long period of time. He also yearns to leave to be closer back home so that he can be closer to his family. All of these things combined have weighed on Streets to seek a trade in order to get him out of the Bay Area.
San Francisco though was not about to cut loose Streets without some sort of compensation as they made Streets a qualifying offer of $1.318 million to retain him as a restricted free agent. By rights the 49ers have first rights to Streets and could seek a number of middle to lower round draft picks as compensation from another team interested in him. Streets desire is to get closer Chicago where he grew up and played for the University of Michigan.
He also is a volunteer coach for a 14 and under basketball team. His commitments though with the 49ers force him to travel long distances all the time in regards to this. His commitments to the Chicago area have drawn him to consent that he wants to leave sooner rather than later.
Streets beat out J.J. Stokes for the second tier wide receivers spot due to Stokes injury that he never relinquished once he got healthy again. Stokes is still likely to be cut after June 1st at salary cap savings of $2.25 million dollars. Terrell Owens meanwhile is playing in the last year of his contract with San Francisco and that deal will be well over $20 million just to keep his interest here. To be able to land a blockbuster deal on this scale the 49ers will have to cut a great deal of corners, but it will be obviously worth it considering the talent in this human being.
Drafting a wide receiver seems to be the most likely prospect next to a defensive lineman in this draft. The 49ers are considering many options but they are looking for a barn burner that will stretch the field in every category such as Florida’s Taylor Jacobs, Florida State’s Anquan Boldin, Penn State’s Bryant Johnson, Illinois’s Brandon Lloyd or Tennessee’s Kelley Washington.
If I were to pick such a receiver my money would go on Washington who fits the same prototype of a Terrell Owens. He would be an exact science in the passing game and would immediately compliment Owens in the passing game. He even carries with him a bit of arrogance that Owens in his early years was blessed with. He is the complete physical package that the 49ers would adore as they did Owens.
He has great size in being 6-4, 225-pounds and running the 40 in 4.45. And he has great leaping abilities, strength, hands, body control and speed. The knock on him is that he is very raw but who isn’t going into the NFL? He also could be a minor distraction with his arrogance and his injuries to his neck and knee leave a little doubt to his durability. All knocks aside though he is in my opinion an elite receiver that fits the bill we are looking for.
Besides the obvious need at wide receiver the 49ers have voids at offensive tackle where aging Derrick Deese at left tackle could become a casualty of the salary cap. It is well known that Deese has been a rock solid mainstay at this position for a very long time. In fact he has received full support from quarterback Jeff Garcia in defending him as the only real option for the 49ers at this time.
However it is in the front office’s mind to upgrade at this position as never before. They realize that Deese is one of the aging veterans on this time that needs to be targeted for replacement eventually. You can count on them doing that in this draft, or at least to start grooming a prospect to replace him by next year. I will say that I am a Derrick Deese supporter he has had a great season last season and has done an exceptional job of protecting Jeff Garcia from being sacked.
Prospects at this position include Georgia’s George Foster, Florida State’s Brett Williams, Georgia’s Jon Stinchcomb and Wisconsin’s Ben Johnson. This class of tackles this year is not a solid one, getting actually very low ratings in ways of talent and ability. The 49ers are expected to take an offensive tackle but draft history will tell you that defense is the priority. The 49ers will probably draft one but probably somewhere in the third to fourth rounds.
I like Georgia’s Jon Stinchcomb simply because he is similar to Derrick Deese in a lot of aspects. He is 6-2, 302-pounds and ran the 40 in 5.06 He is very athletic and a knack for making plays. He does need to add bulk but he is a great prospect to replace Deese at the left tackle position. He has one of the best pass protection records in college and is used to being left alone while in protection of the quarterback. On top of all of that he has seen some of the very best in opposition in college and will project to be an immediate impact in the NFL.
Immediate concerns for the San Francisco 49ers would not go unnoticed when you also look at the defensive side of the ball. There are glaring needs there as well with Dana Stubblefield and Chike Okeafor gone. The defensive tackle that was everything the 49ers were proud of was Dana Stubblefield, he was a force of profound proportions when he played opposite of Bryant Young breaking records left and right and establishing a duo that was feared in the NFL.
The reunion that took place this last season was a great one considering that promise again. But Bryant Young had a sub-par season statistically and so did Dana Stubblefield in comparison. The 49ers saw salary cap savings and pronounced the end of Dana’s career with the 49ers with Terry Donahue making parting comments about his weight.
Now the once great Stubblefield wears the silver and black of an Oakland Raider a team that is hated and despised by most 49er fans considering their rude and obnoxious behavior both from players and their fans that breed violence and hatred for everything but their own.
Of the candidates being considered we have Miami’s William Joseph, Kentucky’s Dewayne Robertson, Washington State’s Rien Long and Oklahoma State’s Kevin Williams. The draft category here is deep so the 49ers could very well wait on this position till the second or even third round. It will be difficult though to pass on the above candidates based on the talent level and playing abilities they all have.
I like Oklahoma’s Kevin Williams at 6-4, 301-pounds and a 4.85 in the 40. He has been compared to none other than Bryant Young and is both durable and explosive. The one thing that the 49ers are looking for though is bulk and that is what they lost with Dana gone. Williams still needs to add some bilk but is quick and changes directions on a dime when called upon to do so. He always seems to get consistent penetration due to his anticipation and fast first step at the line of scrimmage.
He also has great chasing abilities almost the same speed and agility as a defensive end in many aspects which in my opinion is nothing but an added bonus for us on his resume. He is a sure handed tackler with very good short-area power. Williams would be a nice fit in the 49er system and would play as competition for second-year Josh Shaw in the rotation.
Defensive end is another prime time problem for the 49ers, Andre Carter continues to improve as the seasons go by and he had a great season again in 2002. Chike Okeafor his counter-part is gone and that leaves John Engelberger and Sean Moran with the duties as depth starters. John will probably be given every opportunity to win the job, but bulk is lacking at this position, as this is an area where we are weak against the run.
The pass rush has been nothing extraordinary over the years and the 49ers have taken many steps in order to counteract that trend through the draft and free agency. The 49ers have lacked a great threat at this position for a long time and hope that Andre Carter can become that explosive and feared end in the future. Looking back we have not had a defensive end that has generated fear since Chris Doleman and Charles Haley were part of this franchise.
The San Francisco 49ers will address other areas in the up and coming draft, these positions identified are of the most concern for them. They very well could select a guard as that class is a little deeper then the tackle class and they very well could select a quarterback and a linebacker. In order to address special teams they may opt to draft a punter in the later rounds and even groom another running back.
The questions are many and the options just as many, but we must hope that the front office will do everything possible to address problem areas and add depth to sensitive areas as well. With very little movement in free agency and letting others walk, we have hinted that we are saving money to sign premier players set to be unrestricted free agents next year.
The 49ers do have a method to their madness, they have proven draft worthy over the years making a few mistakes along the way such as Jim Druckenmiller, Reggie McGrew and Anthony Parker to name just a few. But the positives in my opinion far outweigh the negative ones. We can only hope that the draft will be filled with excitement and flair and that our opponents don’t grow more formidable but vulnerable.
There is no exact science to drafting, but the 49ers do a pretty good darn job of it with many years of wisdom that is assembled around the war room. Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue will once again be front and center and both have proven over their years to be most savvy in their approach to draft day.
There very well could be some surprises and then again we could just stick with what we have and draft accordingly which I think is what we’ll be forced to do picking so late in the first round anyways. Every draft is filled with panoramic excitement, as you always want your team to find a gem or a jewel in all the manhood that we evaluate to get to this process.
Scouting departments are made and broken on this very analysis and they will be watching closely to see if their long hours and endless traveling was really worth all that they put in for these few days of the selection process. It has to make you wonder just how much goes on behind the scenes when you look at the draft, but let me assure you the work is momentous and the hours are horrendous in dissecting and analyzing all the pertinent material before you.
One thing is for sure in regards to this draft and that is Dennis Erickson will play a large role in this draft in conjunction with General Manager Terry Donahue. He will be on hand throughout the draft giving his expert advice and thoughts on prospects along with his other assistant coaches. Bill Walsh will also be on hand as usual but in a much more diminished role.
The enigma of Bill Walsh still lives on in side the war room and you can bet more so then not that Terry Donahue although having the last word on matters will seek Walsh’s input on many a draft selection and take it very seriously. One thing is for sure and that is the 49ers will seek starters at wide receiver and on the defensive line, rather it is a tackle or an end the draft is very rich in the defensive category.
“We have a much more experienced, deeper football team than in 1999, 2000 or 2001,” Donahue said. “Our approach to each round and free agency after the draft is much different today. You have to change as your team changes.”
Rumors abound right before this draft that some team will take another swipe at trading draft picks for wide receiver Tai Streets. There has been no movement in that direction as of late but that is not to say there won’t be any down the road. The 49ers would want at least a second round pick or better for his services to be rendered somewhere else.
Tai Streets still has a desire to return home to Chicago, but he is being depended upon to deliver for the 49ers in the 2003 season as the second option opposite of Terrell Owens. I feel he has done an exceptional job this past season and should he continue his progress into this season, every attempt should be made to keep him in San Francisco along with Owens.
“Well, there’s been a lot of talk about Tai Streets. I think our joint feeling is there’s no reason to trade Tai Streets. He’s a good player, caught over 70 passes last season,” Donahue said. “He has a chance to be a starter on this team, which he was last year in certain periods. If someone wants to get interested in that, we’d certainly be receptive to listening, but it would have to be a very appealing offer for us to consider doing that. I think Tai Streets will play here and play very well for us.”
What is very well known is Tai Streets desired to leave as an unrestricted free agent after the 2003 season. Something he very well will do once that time comes. He will exercise his rights with his agent in expediting that. Streets has been known to be upset with the 49ers for keeping him on the backburner all the time he was playing to win the position occupied by J.J. Stokes.
Stokes has been a bust since being drafted back in 1995. All the expectations of him has been blown promises of him getting better after each injury that he has managed to achieve like clock work each and every year. With his durability in question he has also proven to be only marginal at best in productivity as he has not been able to use his height advantage to his benefit because he is not physical enough with defensive backs.
Stokes often gets beat up by an aggressive defensive back and knocked off his route patterns as plays unfold. This has proven to be most frustrating to both coaches and fans as they witness this on too many an occasion. Stokes also shows an almost nonchalant attitude at times as games go on, often displaying very little motivation to even be in the right place at the right time.
He has been a victim of dropped passes and blown open opportunities. His injuries have also contributed to him working in cohesion with quarterback Jeff Garcia causing them to not establish a relationship where each one trusts on another as to where each will be.
It would be ideal for the 49ers to win some draft picks for Stokes in a trade situation but you will never see that based upon Stokes numbers and inability to be nothing more then a third tier wide receiver despite his size and build physically.
Long snapper Brian Jennings a restricted free agent has also been contacted by the Detroit Lions as an offer has been extended to him. Jennings has been everything the 49ers have hoped for and would hate to se him pack up and move on. Former head coach Steve Mariucci knows that Jennings would be the ideal man for his new team in the Detroit Lions.
The 49ers on the other hand could use some more draft picks and would pick up a seventh round draft pick as compensation should they not match the qualifying offer being pressed by the Detroit Lions. Brian Jennings stands to get a base contract of $600,000 with a $200,000 signing bonus. But the front office has acknowledged that this is nothing about the salary, just about the position being manned by a veteran that is proven and consistent.
The 49ers in a bid to determine this have brought in several long snappers to try out at training camp to see if there is a possibility of letting Brian go with little effect on the team as a whole. Until they determine that they will stick with Brian if they feel uncomfortable as the long snapper position is absolutely nothing to be toying with.
However the 49ers need draft picks like you can only imagine and the fact that they could receive a seventh round draft pick is appealing to build depth on the team. But at what cost do we do that though? We have to be careful that not all players are honestly expendable and that having proven abilities consistent at some critical positions is most necessary to succeed.
Either way the 49ers have a limited time to make a decision and they could either sign one via free agency or even draft one in this draft coming up upon us. The 49ers have some obvious holes to fill and roster depth spots that need immediate attention. The NFL draft is in my opinion the most exciting time in the football off-season.
This is a marathon two-day sale of meat and potatoes players that are selling themselves for employment and living the ultimate American dream in becoming a professional football player. I encourage all of you to watch and have fun as the 49ers pick the players that will elevate our status to heights we all once knew but yearn to return to right now.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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