Predicting the NFL draft is a crap shoot. Just when you think you have the board figured out, picks or a top player gets traded and the whole board shifts. So as we approach the final days before the draft, be ready for anything to happen.

For the second time in five years the 49ers are entering a transition phase with their franchise. Star players Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, Garrison Hearst and Derrick Deese are all out the door, as well as Ron Stone, Jason Webster, Jed Weaver and Tai Streets. The 49ers offense will now rely on a young nucleus of talent led by emerging star running back Kevan Barlow. The fourth-year University of Pittsburgh product had his first 1,000 yard season last year and led all running backs with 6 touchdowns. San Francisco placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson, assuring that the best player on the defensive side of the ball will stay with the team at least through the 2004-05 season.

But the team does have a bevy of needs entering the draft, and with only a few dollars left under the cap, it is unlikely the team will be able to add any more players through free agency, so this will be a busy weekend for San Francisco. Recent history also shows that the 49ers prefer homegrown talent, with 18 of their 22 projected starters for next season were acquired through the draft.

Anticipate the 49ers to be very active the week before the draft and on the first day. General manager Terry Donahue has stated that he is trying to acquire more picks in the draft because he believes the talent level is very deep and the team has many holes to fill. The team has also brought back Bill Walsh to help evaluate talent. Walsh is notorious for trading down in the draft, and recent history has shown the 49ers are very willing to do so. Rumors have already surfaced that the 49ers may ship the #16 overall pick to Philadelphia for starting guard John Welbourne and the #28 pick in the draft. However, their has been no official word yet on whether that swap will be made.

The first glaring need that the 49ers must address is wide receiver. With the departure of All-Pro Terrell Owens, San Francisco is left with a huge void, and it is the first time in a quarter century that the 49ers haven't had a top flight receiver in their arsenal. Unless the 49ers trade up, expect them to look at Washington's Reggie Williams, LSU's Michael Clayton, Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods, and Wisconsin's Lee Evans. If the 49ers trade down, Evans, Clayton and Woods could still be there at 28, as well as Devery Henderson and Michael Jenkins. Keary Colbert is also an intriguing possibility in the second round. He was overshadowed by Mike Williams at Southern Cal but does hold the school career record with 207 receptions and is a tough receiver who never missed a contest due to injury and has sure hands. He is a bit undersized at 5-10 but could be a solid compliment receiver. But the 49ers have had success at the #16 slot in the past. The last time they selected 16, they selected Julian Peterson.

But don't pencil in a wide receiver in the first round just yet San Francisco fans. Donahue has also indicated that they could select a defensive back or defensive lineman, all depending on who is available at that point. If Miami's talented defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (6-1, 344) is still available at the #16 slot, it may be hard for Donahue and the 49ers to pass on him. Bryant Young isn't getting any younger and recent history has shown that a talented defensive line is crucial for a team to make the playoffs. Texas defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs (6-3, 324) is also rated high on many boards and could be a possibility at 16.  Also, if DeAngelo Hall, a talented cornerback from Virgina Tech, is available at #16, the 49ers should not pass on him. Hall was clocked at a 4.15 40 yard dash time on Virginia Tech's indoor track and is a shut down corner. An athlete as talented as Hall only comes around once every few years and if he some how falls all the way to #16, the 49ers should thank their lucky stars. However, don't expect him to fall out of the top ten.

But as the draft presses on, the draft will get more interesting for San Francisco. Donahue has indicated the team needs to add a third corner, a starting offensive guard, a backup defensive tackle and possibly a punter. The team could also add depth at running back, quarterback, tight end and add a quality punter.

Mock Draft

For the first four rounds I will predict who the 49ers will draft. For the remaining rounds, I will list a few players that could be available and/or positions that they should look at to draft.

First Round - Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma State
It won't be, the 49ers will select Reggie Williams or Michael Clayton if they stay at 16, but it should be. If they swap with Philadelphia, they more than likely will get Woods at 28. Woods has size (6-2 1/2, 200 lbs.) and decent speed (4.57 40) but what is most impressive is his production. 15 touchdowns and over 1300 yards against tough Big 12 competition. However, if the 49ers grab Reggie Williams, he provides good size (6-4, 227) and has been a consistent producer while at Washington.

Second Round - Dwan Edwards, DT, Oregon State
He is a Dennis Erickson guy, and now that Erickson has more of a say in who is drafted this season, expect him to try and grab Edwards in the second round. Edwards was projected higher in the draft by many other boards, but with players like Marcus Tubbs and Igor Olshansky moving up in the draft, Edwards becomes more of a possibility in the second round.

Third Round - Joey Thomas, CB, Montana State
For those who have studied every mock draft available, Thomas is well known by now. Thomas has been moving up draft boards, and why not? At 6'1 he has the size that teams crave in a cornerback. The problem is that Thomas is slowly moving up draft boards, and could be snatched up late in the second round. If that happens, Shawntae Spencer from Pitt, and Nathan Vasher from Texas could also be a possibility here if they fall out of the second round.

Fourth Round - Monreko Crittenden, OG, Auburn
The 49ers need a big offensive lineman to provide depth and Monreko is just that. At 6'3, 328 Monreko is a big body who can open holes for Barlow and provide protection for Rattay. San Francisco no longer goes after the smaller, more agile lineman since McKittrick left and Monreko could be a good fit by the Bay.

Fifth Round - QB
The remaining rounds will be strictly left to best available player, but the 49ers could add a quarterback here. Bradlee Van Pelt, Luke McCown, Cody Pickett, Jeff Smoker and Rod Rutherford should all be available here. Pickett, McCown and Smoker all stand out as good picks if they are still available. Pickett ran a 4.7 40 and was Reggie Williams quarterback in Washington.

Sixth Round - DL, WR, P, K, RB, QB, TE
The 49ers have 2 picks in this round. This late in the draft, the 49ers could go anywhere with this pick. The team could add a kicker, and if Iowa's Nate Kaeding isn't already snatched up, might be a good choice for a team that hasn't had a quality kicker since Gary Anderson. As for the second pick, defensive line depth or wide receiver depth is a possibility. Donahue indicated he may want to add two receivers in this draft with the loss of Streets and Owens.

Seventh Round - DL, WR, P, K, RB, QB, TE
The 49ers grabbed starting tight end Eric Johnson in the seventh round, so gold can still be found in the last round. At 217, the 49ers will grab the best player available.