Now that the team has essentially wrapped up their free agent shopping, let's look at the draft picks we have, the positions of needs, the players we currently have, and where the picks should be used. Now that we have been awarded our compensatory 3rd rounder, we know where and when we will pick. To me, the draft is broken into two phases. The first three rounds, where we have 6 picks for the time being, is where the team will focus on players whose roles will be, more or less, concrete. Rounds 4-7 will be for players with upside who can come in and compete, offer special teams value, or push a veteran out the door. These players will also have a chance to land on the practice squad or "redshirt" if they come in with injury issues. All of this is, of course, speculative at best since Baalke will almost surely do some wheeling and dealing, but many have said that we "have" to trade picks since we don't have room for everyone. I don't necessarily agree and that is why I have chosen to look at the upcoming draft in the following manner. The first list of position groups are the ones that could, would, or should be targeted with the first 6 picks:
Rounds 1-3 (6 total picks):
CB (5-6 roster spots available)
Locks (3): Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock, and Darryl Morris
Competition: Chris Cook, Eric Wright, Dax Swanson
Need (2-3 Players): Some may disagree with my assumption that Morris is a lock but he is a young player with speed who made some noise last year on special teams. Despite the fact that he was an UDFA the team was high enough on him to let Marcus Cooper walk (probably a mistake). Barring an injury or a huge backslide, which can be said for EVERY player, he is in the team's plans. As a whole, this is by far the weakest unit on the team. Wanting a game-breaking WR is sexy but not nearly as necessary. Think of it this way: Which three do you have more confidence in, Brock, Culliver, and Morris or Boldin, Crabtree, and Patton? Not to mention that a third CB is used MUCH more than a third WR on this team. I expect the team to target a CB with its first pick, whether that's #30 or elsewhere. We need a guy with enough talent to push Wright and Cook either off this roster, down the depth chart, or above their current level. In addition, expect another CB to be taken by the end of round three. Team's need 3 starter-quality CBs these days and we have two as it stands right now. Bringing in two guys in the first rounds is the only course of action that makes sense. If one of them is a bust, we have a back-up plan. Joyner might be a guy to target since he has experience as a safety as well.
WR (5 roster spots available)
Locks (3): Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Quinton Patton
Competition: Jon Baldwin, Kassim Osgood, and a bunch of young guys with little to no chance.
Need (1-2 Players): Here is my bold prediction: Only one rookie will make this roster. Feel free to remind me of this when the season starts. My reasons are simple. First, we are a running team. That's not going to change this year, especially if Lattimore comes back healthy and becomes Gore's heir apparent. That means we will use 1-2 WR sets most of the time. Boldin and Crabtree will get most of the snaps with Patton seeing more time this year considering his steady growth last year. The second reason is that we will not keep more than 5 WRs on the roster. Our top three are locks. I don't see Baldwin making the team, but Osgood will be hard to let go. He was an ace on special teams last year. No rookie can offer better kick coverage than him right now and since any rookie will be hard pressed to see many snaps, we keep the guy that has the most immediate impact. All of that said, we still need a rookie to come in and win a spot so we don't have to carry Baldwin or some "Joe Hastings" type player. Look for WR to be the next position targeted after CB, but I will be surprised if we use more than one of our first 6 picks on this position. Once we bring in an early round guy who we like, we will wait until the 4th or later to bring in more competition.
TE (3 roster spots available)
Locks(2): Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald
Competition: Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier
Need (1 Player): Here is where it gets murky. We all know CB and WR are the team's biggest needs, but where do we go after that? I have a feeling we will surprise some of the fans and bring in an earlier round TE. We all saw how stagnant the offense became after Davis left the Carolina game. Three TEs regularly remain active on game days and Celek is probably the weakest player we have on the 53. He is a decent blocker and not much else. Billy Bajema, anyone? McDonald is full of potential. He improved the perceived weakest aspect of his game, blocking, throughout the season. His problem is that he never caught the ball with consistency. I see a big improvement in him this year, but the team still needs athletic pass catcher at this position to take the pressure off of Davis. Carrier is athletic, but raw from all accounts, so the team would be wise to bring in a guy who can offer them something out of the jumbo packages they love. I see a third round guy in their future.
DL (6-8 roster positions available)
Locks (6): Justin Smith, Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Ray McDonald, Tank Carradine, Tony Jerrod-Eddie
Competition: Quinton Dial, Lawrence Okoye, Mike Purcell, Christian Tupou, Demarcus Dobbs
Need (1-2 Players): The top six are set, barring injury of course. Carradine will have the opportunity to prove he can take over for Smith or McDonald. TJE will get to build on a season where he went from roster bubble to rotation regular. Still, TJE is far from being tapped the successor to either McDonald or Smith and Carradine has yet to play a down in the NFL. The team could use another 3-4 DE force for now and the future. NT looks great with Williams coming back and Dorsey playing well last year. Dial will have the opportunity to push them both. Dobbs has certainly had 9 lives on this team, but we need an upgrade from what he brings to the table. Many of the posters here have fallen in love with Stephon Tuitt. If he were available in the late 2nd round, he would be perfect. He is coming off an injury that would delay his season, but the PUP list would be a great place to stash his talent. If he is gone, I could still see the team targeting this position with one of the third rounders. There seems to be a plethora of 3-4 DE guys this year and it would be nice to add some youth to this position.
Safety (4-5 Roster Spots Available)
Locks(4): Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, C.J. Spillman, Craig Dahl
Competition: Ray Ventrone, D.J. Campbell
Need (1 Player): This is a tricky position group to predict. The starters are locked in. Spillman has been the best special teamer for the past three seasons. I consider Dahl a lock simply because he is the only back-up with any starting experience. If either of our starters went down he would certainly be a drop off, but not enough to kill the defense. Ventrone is purely a special teams player, but a damn good one. If a rookie were to crack this roster it would be between Dahl and Ventrone getting pushed off. Ventrone would probably go because of his one-dimensional value. So what kind of rookie would make the team? A player who projects as a SS (but not just an in-the-box guy) who could cover kicks while he learns behind Bethea. Could we spend an early round pick on this position? I doubt it, but it could happen with the right player. Bethea's contract makes him expendable after 1 or 2 seasons so bringing in his eventual successor is smart, but not necessary this year. If I had to guess, we will see a safety picked after round 4, but I have put this position here just for the sake of argument.
ILB (4-5 roster spots available)
Locks(4): Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman (PUP), Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody
Competition: Darius Fleming, Dan Skuta?
Need (1 Player): This is another popular position to project the team to invest an early round pick. Bowman's injury pushes Wilhoite into the starting lineup next to Willis with Moody as the untested back-up to both. It makes sense to bring in a guy to make sure the position stays a strength. As for the competition, Fleming is coming off back-to-back lost seasons due to ACL tears and Skuta successfully transitioned to OLB last season. With that said, it wouldn't shock me to see the team take a guy in the third round, but I doubt it's as big a need as some posters here believe. Wilhoite proved to be a more than capable starter last year when Willis was out early. Moody is untested, but extremely athletic and has had a year to learn from the best tandem in the league. Skuta could also slide over if the team found itself in dire straits. All of this, of course, is temporary. Bowman is expected back at some point in the season. Even if he had a set back, I could see the team going with Willis, Wilhoite, and Moody so they could save a roster spot for another position. Lastly, ILB seems to be a position that can be found later in the draft. Wilhoite was an UDFA, Larry Grant was a 7th rounder, Moody was a 5th, and even Bowman lasted into the 3rd round. Perhaps Baalke will see it differently, but let's wait until the 5th round to address this position.
Rounds 4-7 (5 total picks)
QB (3 Roster Spots Available)
Locks (3): Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert
Competition: McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Need (1 Player): Harbaugh will have his hands full trying to get Kaepernick to take the next step and rebuilding Gabbert. McBLT has a strong arm and seems to be on a few teams' radars so he could very well push Gabbert for the #2 role. The team will look to bring in a rookie or two to compete with McLeod for that 3rd string position. There seem to be quite a few interesting projects in the late rounds. McCarron doesn't have the ideal physical tools for the NFL, but he is off the charts for football IQ and leadership. Boyd and Logan Thomas are late round guys with intriguing physical assets. If I had to bet on it, I see the team bringing in a QB in the 5th round.
OL (9 Roster Spots Available)
Locks (7): Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Daniel Kilgore, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Jonathan Martin, Joe Looney
Competition: Adam Snyder, Ryan Seymour, Carter Bykowski, Luke Marquardt, Al Netter
Need (1-2 Players): Looney and Martin are the nonstarter locks. Looney got some experience last year and will most likely compete to be Kilgore's back-up at center while trying to prove that he could take over for Iupati if the team lets him go next year. Martin will get this year to learn other positions, put on some more muscle, and prove that he can have a role with the team. Snyder and Seymour have the best chance of making the team after that. Snyder is versatile, if not spectacular. Seymour is a guy the coaches love who project another versatile guy. He will compete with Looney for the role as primary back-up on the interior. The other three will have to make HUGE strides to make the roster. Marquardt is the most intriguing because of his size and athleticism, but he has plenty to prove with the pads on. I can see the team bringing in a guy with experience at center since that is the only position with little experience on the roster. Its also smart to keep competition coming in for this position group since they make or break offensive success.
RB (4-5 Roster Spots)
Locks (3): Frank Gore, Marcus Lattimore, Kendall Hunter
Competition: LaMichael James, Jewel Hampton
Need (1 Player?): Should James be a lock? He is the only player on the current roster with the ability to return punts and kicks and many have bemoaned the fact that he is scarcely used on offense. The main reason I put in in the competition section is because of his perceived unhappiness with his role and the fact that the team has a better version of him in Hunter. Hunter could return kicks and the team could use Patton or a rookie to return punts. The team could also use a larger back for short yardage situations. Gore is another year older and Lattimore's ability to contribute is still a question mark until he steps out on the field and proves it. Still, the team could choose to hang on to James and not need to bring in a rookie. Hampton should provide some competition, but he will most likely come up short, barring injury. Still, if the team could grab a guy like Dri Archer in the 4th, they would certainly look to shop James and address the "big back" area next year.
OLB (4-5 Roster Spots Available)
Locks (4): Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta
Need (1 Player?): If the team decides to go into the season with these four you won't hear me complaining. The only problem is the lack of depth. If one of these guys goes down or Aldon Smith gets into more trouble resulting in a suspension, this team will have a serious issue. Additionally, pass rush is essential to success in this league. Look for the team to bring in at least one player to add some competition and split reps. Michael Sam is an interesting prospect. He seems to be slipping in most lists and could be available in the 5th round or later. He might not have had a great combine, but he was very productive in college and will be highly motivated to succeed in this league with the scrutiny he will get. This would be a great landing spot for him. The community will embrace him and he will not be counted on to have an immediate impact. Look for the team to address this position at some point, but probably not in the first two days. If they grab a guy early it might be a bad sign that the team has less faith in Aldon Smith's maturity.
1st-3rd rounds - CB and WR definitely. TE, DL, S, and ILB possibly.
4th-7th rounds - QB, OL, RB, OLB, and anything that wasn't address sufficiently in the first three rounds.
I didn't include FB, K, P, LS since I don't see any need. We might bring in a FB with potential to play TE, but Miller, Debniak, and possibly Tukuafu provide enough at this position to not need to waste a pick.
What do you think? Are there any positions that you think I got wrong?