Offensive Tackle: The need for an offensive tackle is glaring, but that does not necessarily mean the 49ers will take a tackle in the first round. The 49ers were dead last in passing offense and their poor quarterbacks were sacked 55 times. Alex Smith took his share of criticism, but it is hard to throw from your back. There really is no need to say more.
Wide Receiver: The days of Jerry Rice and even Terrell Owens are way behind the Niners. At this point they'll settle for anyone that can get open a handful of times during a game. The 49ers averaged just over 145 yards per game though the air and recently added veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce and potential playmaker Bryant Johnson in an attempt to increase production. Arnaz Battle, who led the team with 50 receptions, will be back along with Ashley Lelie. The team elected to let Darrell Jackson go after one disappointing season. Expect the 49ers to draft a receiver early and if things break right for them they could find themselves with the number one receiver they so desperately covet.
Cornerback: This is the wrong division to be in if you are going to struggle in the secondary. The 49ers were 22nd in passing defense last year and allowed opponents 227 yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks had an average rating of 90 against them, yet even with all those passes attempted against them, San Francisco managed only 12 interceptions. Nate Clements provides some stability but there is not much else after that.
Outside Linebacker: The defense is in such shambles that you need to start with pure athletes. You need guys that can not only get to the passer, but just create havoc. The 49ers managed only 31 sacks last year and provided no relief for their struggling secondary. The current group of Manny Lawson and Tully Banta-Cain was not very impressive. For any 3-4 defense to work properly, sacks must come from the outside linebacker position.
Quarterback: The Niners are not ready to throw in the towel with Alex Smith, but it must be frustrating to see how far Eli Manning and Phil Rivers have come, not to mention Ben Roethlisberger pulling the Pittsburgh Steelers into a tie with the 49ers for the most Lombardi Trophies. This is definitely at the bottom of the priority list, but there is a possibility the Niners could select someone to compete with Smith in the second or third round. Smith has obviously not progressed as far as they expected and some question whether he was just a system quarterback at Utah. To be fair, Smith has had no protection and no wide receivers as documented above. The Niners might want to grab a quarterback with an eye on the future in case 2008 is just as bad.
The following are grades from our 2007 draft selections. This information is also from nfldraftbible.com.
(1-11) Patrick Willis, OLB, Mississippi: Willis instantly made his presence felt, becoming an all out tackling demon. His explosiveness toward the ball allowed him to lead the league in tackles with 174. The linebacker put his 4.5 speed and ability to good use, covering the entire field and making stops 40 yards downfield when necessary. The phenomenal rookie also pressured the passer to the tune of four sacks, while posting two forced fumbles. With those numbers, it's no coincidence that Willis was named the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. Grade: A+
(1-28) Joe Staley, OT, Central Michigan: After a slow start, Staley steadily improved and wound up as the most consistent performer on San Francisco's offensive line. The 6'6" 306-pound right tackle is mobile and very light on his feet. Staley is expected to move to left tackle in 2008. Grade: B+
(3-76) Jason Hill, WR, Washington State: Plagued by groin and hamstring strains, the lightning-fast Hill only saw action in five games. In his limited duty, the college speedster caught only one pass for six yards. Grade: D-
(3-97) Ray McDonald, DE/DT, Florida: The versatile lineman received a limited number of snaps in nine games, but proved to be strong and athletic. McDonald has a history of wearing down and may be better suited for a backup role, but may get an opportunity to prove that he's a three down player. Grade: C+
(4-104) Jay Moore, LB/DE, Nebraska: The athletic defender spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve following a high ankle sprain. In training camp, Moore was in the process of learning how to play linebacker. Grade: Incomplete.
(4-126) Dashon Goldson, S, Washington: In addition to serving as an aggressive special teams ace, Goldson also provided his new team with a glimpse of his hard-hitting style and potential as a blitzer. The instinctive safety is a classic in- the-box defender who can become an intimidating presence. Grade: B+
(4-135) Joe Cohen, DE/DT, Florida: After a promising start in the preseason, Cohen's rookie campaign was cut short by a torn ACL. He'll continue being evaluated as a nose tackle in 2008. Grade: Incomplete.
(5-147) Tarell Brown, CB, Texas: Brown displayed decent coverage skills as the team's fourth corner often assigned to the slot receiver. He has what it takes to improve if given the opportunity, although he needs to position himself better when tackling. The young athlete dropped from being a possible second round pick due to two arrests during his time at Texas. Grade: B-
(6-186) Thomas Clayton, RB, Kansas State: Drafted as an underachieving back, Clayton acquitted himself well during the preseason, showcasing his talents as a strong and shifty inside runner. He was placed on the practice squad for the entire regular season and will once again compete for a spot in 2008. Grade: C