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Now that we've washed our hands of Donahue's cutting people for the sake of cutting people and Erickson's "Apathy Now" propaganda, it's time to direct our attention to the most intriguing aspect of every off-season, the draft.
Although I can't necessarily complain about our previous drafts, my intuition tells me that the Mike Nolan-Scot McCloughan duo will have slightly more success. But that's not to say we're in the clear. If the team squanders the first pick on Aaron Rodgers so he can hold a clipboard behind Tim Rattay for two years before proving himself to be no better than the rest of the Tedford-wives, jump ship now.
Drafting a quarterback with the first pick in the first round is too risky. When can't miss prospects such as Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, David Carr, Michael Vick, and Tim Couch all struggle to break 80.0 on the passing scale, what should we expect from players who paled at the collegiate level? I say fly the top quarterbacks in, have them run a couple wind-sprints, give them their complimentary psychiatric evaluations, and fly them away as quickly as possible.
While Rattay may not be "the answer," he certainly isn't the problem. He's smart, accurate, has good arm-strength, and a good sense of what to do with the ball. It's not his fault that he got sacked on five step drops. It's not his fault that Kevan Barlow averaged 3.4 yards per carry. It's not his fault that Cedrick Wilson can't go deep and Brandon Lloyd won't go over the middle. And it's not his fault that the defense gave up the most points in the league. Surround him with good people, and the 49ers make the playoffs.
The second challenge the team faces is trading down a couple spots and acquiring an extra second round pick. Doing so would give the team four of the top sixty-five players in the draft, and enable them to address their four most critical needs: offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback/safety, and wide receiver.
Like a clothing line that strives to be the lowest priced item in a high end store, teams acquire the most talent by drafting from their short suits of need first, followed by their long suits of need. And while this year's class may not have the top-end talent of last year's, this class is long in two of the team's areas of interest, containing as many as seven impact defensive ends, nine good quality cornerbacks and three quality safeties, two impact offensive tackles, and two impact wide receivers.
From this perspective, it would make sense to use the first pick on either a receiver or an offensive tackle. With no Orlando Pace in this year's class, the team should select either Mike Williams or Braylon Edwards. Mike Williams, who stands at 6'4," is a rock-solid 229 pounds, has been clocked as fast as 4.43, is impossible to bump, has special eye-hand coordination, a unique ability to pluck the ball out of the air and run, and is probably the best player in this year's class.
With two picks in the early second round, the team will still have an opportunity to draft one of the impact defensive ends, as well as one of the three or four best tackles in the draft. If a team's three biggest priorities on draft day are quarterback, offensive tackle, and defensive end, the 49ers will have spent two relatively high picks on two of those critical areas.
With a deep secondary crop consisting of nine good cornerbacks and three good safeties, the 49ers should have their choice of using the first pick in the third round on an impact safety to replace Ronnie Heard, or drafting the best cornerback available and shifting Rumph to safety, where he will have both better ball-hawking and hitting ability than the average free safety.
Anything less than addressing these four areas will leave the team with a significant weakness that opponents will continue to exploit. Drafting a quarterback in the first round would prevent the team from making any progress whatsoever in the next two seasons, and quite possibly make the blackouts we all fear a reality.