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It’s now two days after the draft and for some, the euphoria has worn off. That buzz of satisfaction that accompanies the visions of potential future superstars holding up fresh garnet and gold battle uniforms seems to have left a little faster than Sunday’s hangover.
One thing is certainly different this year, though. For the first time in a while 49er fans were drinking in celebration, not in a semi-suicidal stupor. This draft did more to pump up Niner fans than any free agent acquisition or potential trade. This draft provided the 49ers with playmakers, and the fans loved it.
Playmakers. A word that the fans aren’t used to hearing in the same breath as “49ers.” Vernon Davis doesn’t just bring Under Armor or a (soon to be negotiated, I’m sure) Kleenex endorsement. Vernon Davis brings a presence to the team that other coaches must notice.
Let’s get one thing straight. Vernon Davis should not be moved to wide receiver. He is a tight end and this is where he will provide the most matchup problems. A good team gets all of their playmakers on the field at once. Moving Davis to receiver would necessitate moving current starter Arnaz Battle to the bench. This removes a player than has proven he can help the team.
At tight end, Davis will dominate the focus of opposing teams game plans. This is where the 49ers will derive the most benefit. If Davis lines up on the end teams will have to put a safety over him, and maybe even bracket coverage with a corner. This opens up the field for Bryant and Battle since they will see more one-on-one situations.
Davis can also be put in motion and split out from the line. Depending on the base scheme, teams will have to move a linebacker or safety out to cover him. This either opens the middle for a power running game or leaves Davis with a mismatch on the outside.
The third down production should also be improved, since Davis can convert the 3rd and 6 or 3rd and 8 situations. How many times did the 49ers see that last season? Now Davis can find the soft spot in the middle of the field, sit there, and provide a huge target for Alex Smith.
The fun doesn’t stop there. On defense the 49ers drafted Manny Lawson, a playmaker overshadowed by Mario Williams, the #1 pick in this year’s draft. While at NC State Lawson played defensive end and his conversion to linebacker will not be without its bumps. Lawson translates to the position well, though, with the size and speed needed for edge rushers in the 3-4 scheme. More importantly, this pick fills the void created by Julian Peterson’s departure.
Closing out day one the 49ers selected Brandon Williams, who will no doubt help the 49er anemic return game as well as provide a viable option as a third or fourth wide receiver in the mold of a Steve Smith.
The 49ers draft was spectacular in the first round. Then again, with two first round picks and a deep draft you would almost have to be, say, Terry Donahue in order to mess it up. What the 49ers did later in the draft looked a bit puzzling to some fans. It looked like Scott McCloughan was just going to throw rookie receivers at the depth chart until one stuck.
These players, though, will not play the position they played in college. The 49ers drafted Michael Robinson because of his running ability in the open field. He will be a running back, not a receiver or a quarterback. He can also translate his open field skills to kick returning.
Here is what I like about this move the most, though. The move shows foresight, something the organization lacked. Mike Nolan and Scott McCloughan drafted a solution to a problem. What problem is that, you ask? Kevan Barlow. If Bishop Harris can sneak a gasoline soaked jock into his locker and light a fire under Barlow then that would be a windfall for the 49ers. More than likely, though, this will be the last season for Barlow is he will probably turn in another mediocre performance. Frank Gore will take over the starting role and Robinson can be worked in as the 3rd down back by next season. Instead of waiting for Barlow to succumb to the inevitable and then try and make a move, the 49ers are being proactive.
The proactive bug struck again with Delanie Walker. In the draft board this looks like an odd move because he is the third wide receiver drafted. Not only that, but he is a 6-1”, 240 pound wide receiver. That’s like having a 5’10” 210, pound horse jockey. A little over-sized for the position.
Walker will most likely be moved to H-Back, a position in the NFL that resembles a cross between a tight end and a fullback. Current fullback Chris Hetherington may have beaten out Fred Beasley for the starting fullback role, but he is not a long-term answer. Drafting Walker provides a replacement two years down the line when Hetherington gives out like an old an old, battered truck.
Initially, this looks like a great draft for the 49ers. The 49ers needed playmakers on offense and defense. They got them in Davis and Lawson. They needed help at receiver and they needed a return man that could actually catch a punt. They drafted Brandon Williams. They needed more help at outside linebacker so they drafted Parys Haralson, a steal in the 5th round. Robinson and Walker do not fill immediate needs, but they will be positions that need to be addressed in the near future. Melvin Oliver provides some size at the defensive end position while Marcus Hudson and Vickiel Vaughn will compete for a backup role at free safety.
This draft was not great for the 49ers because they filled all the holes on their roster. They would have needed 10 picks in the first three rounds to even think about doing that in this draft alone. Nor is every pick a sure thing. Like I said, drafting is still an inexact science.
What Nolan and McCloughan showed was an ability to make decisions and evaluate talent. They looked like they knew what they were doing and they put together a draft that is regarded by many as one of the top drafts this year. This is a dramatic shift from the line of first round busts 49er fans are normally used to.
This draft not only infused talent into the 49ers, it helped prove that the organization is once again on the road to recovery.
Draft Picks With Projected Position
Round 1 (6)
Vernon Davis, TE Maryland
Round 1 (22)
Manny Lawson, OLB North Carolina State
Round 3 (84)
Brandon Williams, WR/PR/KR Wisconsin
Round 4 (100)
Michael Robinson, RB Penn State
Round 5 (140)
Parys Haralson, OLB Tennessee
Round 6 (175)
Delanie Walker, FB/H-Back Central Missouri State
Round 6 (192)
Marcus Hudson, FS North Carolina State
Round 6 (197)
Melvin Oliver, DE Louisiana State
Round 7 (254)
Vickiel Vaughn, FS Arkansas