1. Defensive End draft class prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

The San Francisco 49ers will be very interested in drafting a defensive end to fill the huge void created when they allowed Chike Okeafor to jump ship and join Mike Holmgren as a Seattle Seahawk. Okeafor, 27, signed a two-year exclusive contract with Seattle that is worth about $4 million dollars. He started every game for San Francisco last year despite being an undersized defensive end, in fact he beat out second-year defensive end John Engelberger for the starting position in training camp and pre-season.

He produced six sacks and had a total of 32 tackles, but the main cause of his ejection seems to stem around the durability questions that plague him. Okeafor has a history of injury problems and has been known to take excessive time off in regards to his conditioning. His injuries center on problems with his back and hamstrings, as well as a broken right fibula that he suffered from back in 2001. All of these injuries combined limited Okeafor to three starts and spot appearances in his three previous NFL seasons.

What it all came down to in the long run was green cash, and Okeafor wanted a lot of it so the 49ers let him walk. He demanded an up front signing bonus of $2 million dollars something Seattle ultimately agreed to do. The 49ers were not willing to be held for ransom so they let their unrestricted free agent walk out the door to a division rival.

San Francisco drafted Chike in the third round of the 1999 NFL draft, even though he started every game last year it was felt that he could be easily replaced with John Engelberger at a far cheaper price. You can bet though that the 49ers will draft a defensive end much like they did Chike to compete with John in training camp.

A) Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs 6 feet two inches and 245-pounds.

This is the top man at this position and will not be available to the 49ers when they get ready to draft in the first round. Suggs has so much to offer a team in search of a defensive end that will need an immediate impact player. His strengths are his speed and penetration and his weakness is limited to just his size. He will need to gain some weight if he is to compete at the professional level even though he has dine a fairly good job at defending the run in college.

He is so fast that he is able to literally run down ball carriers and cause damage behind the line of scrimmage. He uses his hands in a most effective way in keeping blockers off from him. He has the ability to redirect well and has a great ability to square into his tackles. He has however been caught over pursuing at times and taking too wide of an angle while in pursuit. When comparing him to someone Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins come to mind.

His speed is evident from being a running back in high school and he ran the 40 in 4.61 so speed is definitely something that you can expect from this athlete. He is also someone that you’ll be able to line up in several different positions and create mismatches with your opponents. He is expected to go early in the first round of this draft, tempting some teams to trade picks in order to step up higher and take him.

B) Penn State’s Michael Haynes 6 feet two inches and 280-pounds.

You can bet that should Michael be around when the first round number rolls around for the 49ers that they will consider him. It has been speculated that playing next to defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy has reflected Haynes performance, but the facts remain that he is as good as Suggs in a variety of ways. His strengths are penetration and blitzing and his weakness is play recognition something that can be eased with proper coaching.

He may not have blazing speed overall but he shows an excellent burst off the ball and establishes both knowledge and leverage when a play is at hand. He has a knack for making positive plays behind the line of scrimmage causing blockers to always be beware of his presence. He recorded 15 sacks and 23 tackles last year behind the line of scrimmage.

He has worked hard to elevate his stock from a possible fifth and sixth round draft pick to landing straight behind Suggs in the first round of this draft. His size is ideal for the professional ranks and many teams will have him projected on their lists. He is smooth in changing directions and pursues from the backside with speed and stringing out plays laterally as he moves.

He ran the 40 in 4.74 and has the ability to twist and stunt when it is necessary but is sometimes slow to anticipate a play at times. He is expected to be picked in the early to mid parts of the first round making him a reach for the 49ers.

C) Miami’s Jerome McDougle 6 feet three inches and 270-pounds.

Here is another candidate that might be around for the 49ers to choose. He is one of the best prospects at this position in a draft that is very rich in this particular area of expertise. His strengths are his overall speed and lateral movement and his weaknesses are his size and his hands. He is a very fast player that is quick off the line of scrimmage and he possesses power and speed that make him an attractive option for many teams.

He is so relentless that he never stops playing until the game is finally over. A good blocker can however due to his size manhandle him on occasion. His lateral movement is so defined that he works well in either the inside gaps or on the outside. He has amazing strength for a defensive lineman his size and he’ll use that to his advantage as a season wears on. He ran the 40 in 4.82 and makes plays up field whenever he is called upon. He is expected to be taken somewhere in the middle part of the first round, the 49ers would be wise to consider him should he still be on the board.

D) Texas Cory Redding 6 feet four inches and 270-pounds.

One of Cory’s attributes is his physical style of play. He comes from a school that is famous for great defensive linemen and he continues that proud tradition. His strengths are his size and dropping off the line of scrimmage. His weaknesses are his motor and his technique. He sometimes has been seen to lack the motivation and killer instinct necessary in order to finish plays. He shows inconsistencies at times and then plays with an intensity and passion that would make your head spin.

He ran the 40 in 4.71 and relies on brute power a lot of the time to finish plays. He will however have to change that technique once he proceeds at the NFL level. He has the ability to drop back a few steps and break down passing lanes, but he may have difficulty with much bigger offensive tackles. He is very effective off the line of scrimmage and is rarely ever knocked off his feet. Redding is expected to be around when the 49ers pick in the first and possibly in the second round.

2. Inside Linebacker prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

Here is a position that is solid for the San Francisco 49ers in having Derek Smith and versatile Jeff Ulbrich at hand. We are stocked on the outside as well in Julian Peterson, Jamie Winborn and Saleem Rasheed. This is not to say the 49ers will not draft a linebacker at all, because they very well could consider another one for special team’s purposes in the late rounds of this draft. You will not however see a linebacker taken by the 49ers in the early rounds if at all for that matter, based on the ideal depth at this position.

Derek Smith will command a high salary cap figure but I don’t se the team looking to replace him as of yet. They may draft an inside linebacker to groom as his eventual replacement but Smith has not done anything to warrant any consideration in this area based upon his fine performance.

A) Pittsburgh’s Gerald Hayes 6 feet one inch and 245-pounds.

This is a linebacker that never quits he gives 100% the whole time that he is on the field and would be valuable as a special team’s standout. His strengths are his run defense and his pursuit and his weaknesses are his size and speed. He is kind of slow in getting off the line of scrimmage and will have to address that once drafted. He is much better at tackling run defense then he is in rushing the passer.

He does have adequate instincts and is able to move laterally with fairly good ease. He is not able however to sustain his speed over a long period of time which gives questions to his conditioning. His size at just over six feet is a bit of a concern as well and raises questions as to him ever being a starter anywhere. He did run the 40 in 4.71 and has shown that he can shed blocks well and is exceptional at pursuit in the open field. He is expected to go somewhere in the third round.

B) Mississippi’s Mario Haggan 6 feet two inches and 255-pounds.

Haggan comes in with a great deal of experience but really struggled in his senior season. He commands a big physical presence on the field but lacks the top-notch speed of a linebacker the professional level. His strengths are his size and forcing fumbles and his weaknesses are his overall speed and pass coverage. He ran the 40 in 4.94, which casts speculation on his longevity at the pro level of the NFL.

He has shown real struggles in staying with his opponent while going downfield for more than 10 total yards. His pas coverage skills also need work if he is to be successful at all; he is certainly a project player for someone to take under their wing. He would flourish as a run-stuffing linebacker because that is what he excels at the most. He does still have good penetration and is very good at stripping the ball and forcing fumbles.

He has the ability to hold his blocks and is able to take the correct angles in getting to the action at hand. He is able to read plays with ease and follows through with filling the gaps that are created. However he is not very explosive but excels at having good football knowledge and uses that to his advantage. He is expected to go somewhere in the third to fourth rounds of the draft.

C) Syracuse’s Clifton Smith 6 feet two inches and 250-pounds.

Here is a big time run stuffer that clogs the middle like you wouldn’t believe. He has the ability to hold his ground against blocks or even beat them altogether. He has the ability to wrap up an opponent and bring them down on first contact. His strengths are run defense and upper and lower body strength and his weakness is being unable to change directions.

His size is so great it’s almost like running into another lineman before you get to the secondary. He can hit the gap really fast and excels at shutting down the run completely. He has amazing strength and will easily be drafted somewhere by the third round of this draft, making him a prospect that has character for the 49ers to consider.

He ran the 40 in 4.71 and has a motor that never quits. He is one of the better later round pickups that will be there after a team drafts the real glaring needs it has in other areas. He isn’t that fluid in making plays in reverse and is not effective against the pass as of yet and has just minimal range. Smith although a project will be a good draft pick that will contribute right away on special teams.

3. Outside Linebacker prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

A) TCU’s LeMarcus McDonald 6 feet one inch and 225-pounds.

A very productive linebacker that doesn’t excel in size and speed but just keeps on going. His strengths are blitzing and making plays behind the line of scrimmage and his weaknesses are size and speed. He is probably the best linebacker at penetration and blitzing in this draft, he actually thrives on that. He also takes exceptional angels in pursuit and has solid range. However he does not have the straight-line speed most teams covet in an outside linebacker.

He very well could be converted into a safety in most cases and would be a devastating hitter in the secondary. He does get adequate depth on pass drops and holds his ground while bullying his way up the field. His build is best suited for the weak-side but he plays like a strong-side linebacker. He ran the 40 in 4.83 and will need to work on making this a priority as he tries to establish a speed number that makes him more compatible. He is expected to go in the third to fourth rounds of this draft.

B) Oregon State’s Nick Barnett 6 feet two inches and 220-pounds.

This could be a favorite for the 49ers especially since head coach Dennis Erickson just came from there to lead the 49ers into a new era. Barnett has shown remarkable improvement in moving his way up the draft boards especially since he is an undersized linebacker in this class. His strengths are play recognition and blitzing and his weaknesses are shedding blockers and his overall size. If at all at the very least he would be a solid special team’s ace and depth for a back-up role in the linebacker corps.

He is very fast and shows great pursuit instincts as well as quickly filling the gaps, while constantly flying around the ball. He plays the game with a lot of intensity by displaying great range and making plays on every part of the field. He has a great burst of speed and can easily run with opponents in pass coverage. This makes him an ideal special team’s standout in my opinion maybe taking the place of a Terry Killens in my book.

He also has the ability to quickly cut off the corners for ball carriers but he sometimes over pursues the action and doesn’t play with great body control. He ran the 40 in 4.59 and can be overwhelmed while in traffic. He would definitely be a weak-side prospect that would require additional protection at first. He would be best suited to play like a nickel linebacker and is expected to go in the late third round to early fourth round of this draft.

C) Michigan’s Victor Hobson 6 feet one inch and 245-pounds.

This is a linebacker that can defend both the run and the pass and plays assignments as if they were engraved inside his head. He shows great range and displays good football instincts. His strengths are tackling at angles and play recognition and his weaknesses are blitzing and lateral movement. He is exceptional at taking broad angles while in attack mode and is a proven commodity in pursuing his opponents.

However he has only average speed having run the 40 in 4.75 and lacks a sure quick burst off the ball. He also needs to work on his blitzing skills and being able to shed would be blockers at the point of contact. He can be compared to his predecessors in Ian Gold and Dhani Jones proven linebackers that have fit in very comfortably at the professional level.

Michigan has a proven track record of producing some of the very best talent that is drafted in the NFL. Hobson is expected to go in the fourth to fifth rounds of this draft, he would be another sure fine depth linebacker as well as a special teams standout.

4. Safety prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

The San Francisco 49ers may be in line with drafting a safety but it is not one of their top priorities. In fact they are more likely to take another cornerback should they decide to draft another defensive back to help solidify their nickel and dime coverage that they have struggled with.

Mike Rumph was supposed to be the answer to this question but he went through some very difficult weeks as a rookie and being picked on. He will have to mature and play at a higher level to clamp down this position and make himself available as a starter someday.

Both Tony Parrish and Zack Bronson make this unit one of the better one’s in the NFL. They both played at a very high level despite ravaging injuries at this position. John Keith has been retained, as has Kevin Curtis who sustained an injury that kept him out all of last year. Both are expected to play key roles on special teams and as depth behind the starters. Drafting a safety could still be a thought for the 49ers considering the injuries that they sustained at this one position throughout the season.

A) Tennessee’s Julian Battle 6 feet three inches and 205-pounds

Has the height and has the ability to close in on the action right in front of him. His strengths are his size and athletic ability and his weaknesses are his pass coverage skills and experience. He struggled in his senior year getting out-manned and lost coverage on many occasions as the season wore on. He is much better at run support then he is in defending against the pass, obviously something he’ll have to make great efforts to improve upon.

He ran the 40 in 4.55 and is more of a grabber then a sure handed tackler on the field, which leaves doubts about his abilities to wrap up an opponent and bring them down with authority. Of course he needs to be on the field to learn from his mistakes and that is what will happen in his first year in the NFL. You can expect a lot of bumps and bruises along the way with this one. He is expected to go somewhere in the mid second to third rounds.

B) USC’s Troy Polamalu 5 feet 10 inches and 215-pounds.

This guy is the real deal folks; he almost looks like a linebacker on the field because he plays like one. He has a tremendous work ethic and there are many teams that honestly believe he is a better prospect then No#1 ranked Ohio State’s Mike Doss. His strengths are his run defense and awesome hitting abilities. His weakness is narrowed merely to his size something that he will be the only person that can compensate for that.

He ran the 40 in 4.50 and has awesome speed and great success in busting through the line and blocking punts. Troy’s status on the board could move him up considering all the talent and ability that he possesses. He is very agile and redirects himself well; he also attacks with great determination.

Troy plays the game because he loves the game and that is an aspect any head coach would love to have on his team. If San Francisco does look at a safety prospect my money is on this guy. He is expected to go somewhere in the second round.

C) Florida’s Todd Johnson 6 feet and 201-pounds.

Todd plays the run incredibly well and even can get to the quarterback when that is asked of him to do so. His strengths are his tackling abilities and overall speed and his weaknesses are his man-to-man coverage and shedding blocks. He is a very sound tackler that rarely misses once the opponent is in open space. He is at a perfect size to play in the NFL, but he needs to add some strength to his upper body because he struggles to shed blocks once he attacks.

He ran the 40 in 4.65 and needs to work on getting bulkier and much stronger to withstand the daily beatings he will face at the professional level. He does have above-average range and is smooth out of his back-pedaling. He has a keen instinct in ball skills and would make a solid special team’s player for a team that is struggling in that area much like the 49ers are. He is expected to go somewhere in the third round of this draft.

5. In conclusion on the 2003 NFL draft

The San Francisco 49ers faces some tough decisions. If I were the general manager I would do everything I could to accumulate more draft picks somehow. I feel we don’t have enough to address all the needs of the team. However if we are unable to do that I hope that the picks we do have are one’s that provide immediate impact on the team. The needs are many but the center targets are wide receiver and defensive tackle.

Certainly we know that the defensive line will need to be addressed because of the departures of Dana Stubblefield and Chike Okeafor. Both in my opinion are controversial decisions, as I believe that Dana was the one of choice I felt should have been retained. His absence next to Bryant Young leaves a huge gap that will be most difficult for the 49ers to readily fill.

I think that the 49ers will draft a defensive tackle or end as their first overall pick based on these presumptions, only because the wide receiver pool in this draft is very deep and the 49ers will most certainly take a wide receiver as their second choice in this draft. The dangers that exist at wide receiver are real as well. Terrell Owens is playing in the last year of his contract, and the 49ers know this all too well.

It is mine and hopefully all of yours that the resigning of Owens to a contract extension takes place regardless of the cost. Lord knows he’ll be worth every penny when you look around the league and ask yourself who is the best wide receiver in football right now?

Obviously Terrell Owens is that man and should be the only option the 49ers are considering in keeping this athlete in San Francisco at this time. Yes we do need to find a wide receiver that is fast and agile and will stretch the field opposite of Terrell Owens. Only because Tai Streets has made every indication he does not desire to be a 49er long term. J.J. Stokes is on the chopping block as he has been asked to seek a trade and his future is as murky as the fog rolling under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Stokes is not the receiver we drafted in 1995 and he must go in all honesty. He has been given ample time and been provided with enough opportunities to excel by now. Hi inability to separate from defensive backs has compromised his position, as has been his ability to remain healthy.

It is even more likely that the 49ers could draft multiple defensive linemen and wide receivers in order to build up the possibilities of finding that gem we need to shine immediately. Offensive tackles are also a known target for the 49ers as Derrick Deese has a period next to his name short term due to his age. Although Deese has performed exceptionally and has not declined in productivity in anyway, the 49ers are still seeking to get younger and stronger at that position.

The one problem for the San Francisco 49ers is being able to find an athlete that can play the left tackle position. The most important position in regards to your quarterbacks overall longevity and health. The offensive line in my opinion needs to be addressed, as the depth at this time needs an influx of new players that will provide depth to a solid line of starters.

We could also in my opinion draft a punter, which would be a good sure thing based upon the performance of Bill LaFleur this past season. His replacing Jason Baker was supposed to be an improvement and has been nothing of the sort. I feel strongly as I are sure many of you do that special teams is not given the focus it justly deserves.

And then again the 49ers could draft a quarterback because Dennis Erickson does not believe Tim Rattay is the legitimate No#2 man behind Jeff Garcia. Cade McNown will be given every opportunity to unseat him as for Brandon Doman he could be on his way out should he not stop McNown from advancing.

At the running back position the 49ers are stacked, but there could be interest there in finding a replacement early for Garrison Hearst. Rumors have been spread throughout the Bay Area and the media wire that Hearst due to salary cap reasons in the future could be axed. It disturbs me to hear this because I am confident in Hearst’s abilities and see no drop off in his performance. He has many more years of productivity left and I feel the system we have been running is efficient and effective.

Kevan Barlow should eventually be the featured back with Hearst playing the reduced role. The time for a change is near simply because the age of youth demands it to happen. Barlow has been adamant in stating he wants to be the main ball carrier, and his carries should sharply increase this season. Hearst of course may have to accept a reduced salary, which I hope he will to end his career as a San Francisco 49er. But make no mistake about it he is still very agile and quick and far from taking on a limited role.

We start a new era under Dennis Erickson and a new awareness that the ownership runs this team and not the management. Dr. John York from the past experiences involving media relations and player relations has made public that he is the final say in this organization, regardless of the consequences.

Management has been forced to clean up his untidy messes in Steve Mariucci and find a competent replacement. They have also been forced to curb all unnecessary expenses in every department due to the gashing of all things that are considered luxuries within the framework of the organization.

It is a sad day for faithful 49er fans all the way around to see elite players walking out the doors of the Santa Clara complex and never coming back. It is just as sad to see the organization distance itself from its own fans by packing up and leaving Stockton and moving training camp behind closed doors to the public.

So many have been effected adversely because of this, so many dreams including my own in regards to this. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to go to training camp and live the experience folks. I know it was for me and I hope a transitional plan is in place that the same atmosphere can take place again at their new training site year around at Santa Clara.

Expectations from fans remain high regardless of all of this; hopes and dreams of championship flights are still a shadow in the back of every fans mind as a new season approaches. I am praying that the ownership and the management of this team will get back on track and do what is right by its fans. And that is to feel genuine appreciation for them and show them that by creating situations that put them closer to the players and provide that ultimate experience so many yearn for.

A 49er fan carries the winning attitude in their blood because being a fan of the 49ers breathes the very best attributes about football. We are supposed to be the elite in the NFL based upon our past, unfortunately that has been tarnished and compromised by owners that do not share those same feelings and emotions as Eddie DeBartolo always did as a owner.

If even for a moment Dr. John York and Denise DeBartolo could understand and fix the family issues that have been before them, they could concentrate on what is most important to Bay Area fans and all 49er fans around the world. Build a new stadium now rather than later and spend the money that makes this organization a feared one again in the NFL. Resurrect the winning attitudes all around the organization and make each and every player feel proud to wear the uniform once again.