49ers Pre-Draft Strategy

Mar 16, 2013 at 8:39 AM


Like all NFL teams, the 49ers make roster moves throughout the year. But the weeks preceding the draft, with their mad flurry of trades and free-agency additions/losses, demand particular attention. These moves may impact both the roster and salary cap for several subsequent seasons. While some teams seem to prefer a get-there-first-with-the-most strategy, the Niners play a more measured, although by no means moribund, game.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden often admonished his players to "be quick but don't hurry." This quote applies to the 49ers pre-draft strategy. While the 49ers personnel department seldom makes early big-splash signings, they prepare well, recognize a good opportunity when it appears, and then pounce quickly, for example, the trade of a late-round draft pick for Anquan Boldin.

This time of year, the 49ers brain-trust capably keeps at least three components in mind simultaneously before making roster moves: 1) How will adding/losing this player help/harm our team? 2) How will this player's contract affect the salary cap? And (3) how will this move help set up the draft? Of course, every other team struggles with these questions, but the 49ers, with their emphasis on roster flexibility, perhaps gain some small edge in their use of trades and free agency to help set up the draft.

Coming off the 2011 season, many experts pointed out that the 49ers needed, glaringly, another receiver. The 49ers, well along in free agency but well before the draft, signed Mario Manningham, a wide receiver. Mock drafts, and other teams' expectations of whom the Niners might take in the 2012 draft, re-adjusted. The 49ers went ahead and picked a receiver in the first round anyway. With the non-contributions of that first round pick (indeed, meager contributions from the 2011 draft in general), combined with the late season injury to Manningham, one can plausibly argue that the strategy failed, but hindsight makes aces of us all.

Coming off the 2012 season, experts, and the mock-draft consensus, considered the 49ers to have four main areas of need: defensive line, secondary, wideout (again) and special teams. As of this writing, the 49ers have so far signed and/or traded for three of those four needs (Dorsey, Boldin, Skuta) and have hosted several defensive backs. Again, these moves not only fill roster holes, but help set up the draft. How?

First, particularly with the early picks, the 49ers do not necessarily have to draft solely for need. They put themselves into position not to have to choose between "the best player available," or a must-draft starter. Given their variety of needs this year, they can move up and down the draft board for value, and still get players that may help during their rookie seasons. Second, the 49ers competitors will have more difficulty discerning whom the 49ers may or may not choose. The depth chart will not display as many obvious goose-eggs. Other teams may still perceive Niner needs, but not with stone cold certainty. Fostering this unpredictability surely does not displease the cagey Niners.

Why should this max-flexibility strategy work this year, and perhaps give the Niners a small edge? Because, pace the perpetually-contending Patriots in drafts past, the 49ers have more picks with which to work, and demonstrated last year a willingness to trade up and down the draft board to add value. That practice could serve them in good stead this year.

Were the 49ers overly confident in their 2011 roster coming into last year's draft? Hard to say, but the bold mid-season move to install Colin Kaepernick at quarterback means they do not willingly tarry with complacency. Rather, the 49ers' front office appears to be on the ball, and in the process of setting up this year's draft for success. They do not panic, but, as per Coach Wooden's admonishment, remain ready to move quickly when opportunities arise. We fans might not always agree with their every move, but we have the pleasure of rooting not only for a contending team, but for a competent, clever front-office staff. At any rate, both are fun to watch.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


4 Comments

  • mike f.
    I think the Niners should use the first pick on a safety. Given the number of talented safeties late in the round and early second. One of our big holes left by Goldson.
    Mar 19, 2013 at 12:35 AM
    0
    Response: Depending on how free agency plays out, and how the draft falls, the 49ers might very well take a safety in the early rounds. In fact they may draft more than one db.
  • bk
    WIth the loss and gain of free agents so far, what compensatory picks will the 49ers get for the 2014 draft if the free agent signings stop today?
    Mar 16, 2013 at 5:08 PM
    0
    Response: Given the NFL's secret formula for determining compensation, which includes not only salary, but playing time and awards in the subsequent season, this is almost impossible to determine for 2014. If Dorsey, say, plays one of the 49er's lost defensive linemen to a draw, then that may work out to one "push," with no compensation, with the 49ers still receiving a compensatory pick for other lost d-lineman. Conversely, if, for instance, Goldson does not play as well in a new defense, while Dahl makes all-pro (dream on), that would change the equation. Extremely wild guess: one mid-late round pick and two late-round picks.
  • Mike
    Love the 3 moves by Baalke/Harbaugh. Getting a legit deep threat would make our Offense complete & over the top. This TC & season will really tell us about Jenkins who I still have high hopes for. His college tape was solid & if I remember right he was THE main pass catcher for Illinois. Anybody know Sedrick Ellis' story? He reminds me of another Glenn Dorsey. Busted as per his Draft status but could still have real potential in a new environment & if he was improperly used (scheme wise) DHB is another who intrigues me who I heard made progress but a cap casualty based on his lack of production. Could be had on the cheap..is he still improving & on the up & up? You can't teach SPEEEED which you can never have enough of. We still need more IMO. Can't wait for what we do at Safety esp & CB. Can't wait for the Draft! Nice work so far Baalke & Harbaugh
    Mar 16, 2013 at 12:23 PM
    0
    Response: Ah, pre-draft dreams. Enjoyed your sensible speculations.
  • ladale
    The 49ers have to use this draft to address their future needs and not just next season. Frank Gore is around 30 and is oft injured and James and Hunter are too small. Boldin is a good pick up but also over 30. The 9ers have a dynamic Q.B. and should use this draft to place dynamic players around him (Kaepernick). Montee Ball was a scoring machine in college, that's not by accident because the guy just knows how to find the end zone. Justin Hunter is tall fast and has long range to compliment the throws of Kaepernick. These guys would address the future of the franchise instead of just the right now.
    Mar 16, 2013 at 12:12 PM
    0
    Response: Good points. If the 49ers fulfill all yor wishes, they probably will have had a sucessful draft/free agency.

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