The time to draft for need is a year or two before there’s a need. With that in mind, here’s where the 49ers should look in this year’s draft:
Wide receiver: Certainly, there’s a need for an injection of speed right now. But it’s difficult to envision a rookie supplanting Anquan Boldin or Michael Crabtree in the starting lineup this season. But with Crabtree entering the final year of his contract, the 49ers have to plan for a scenario in which Crabtree is not around in 2015.
Cornerback: Again, the 49ers can definitely use a cornerback who can make an immediate contribution – most likely as a nickel back. Chris Culliver enters the final year of his deal. And while the 49ers have plans to begin negotiating an extension, they must add a youngster. The 49ers have penciled in Culliver and Tramaine Brock as the starters. They currently have no reliable No. 3 corner.
Guard: Of course, the 49ers want to keep Mike Iupati around for a long time. But with his likelihood to land a blockbuster contract, there’s no guarantee he’ll be back in 2015. If a replacement is required, Joe Looney and Jonathan Martin are among the options. But the 49ers will be in the market for a potential starter who can add to the competition and depth.
Defensive line: Justin Smith isn’t getting any younger. And Ray McDonald will have a base salary of $4.1 million next year. The 49ers did some planning ahead last year with the selections of Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial. The great defensive mind of George Seifert always said his teams could never have too many defensive linemen.
Pass rusher: And teams can’t have too many pass-rushers, either. Aldon Smith is virtually assured to be with the team for at least two more seasons. Still, it can’t hurt to bring in more outside pass-rushers.
Running back: The end is near for Frank Gore. Kendall Hunter enters the final year of his contract. There’s no evidence that LaMichael James can be much of a contributor. And while Marcus Lattimore is under contract for four more years, nobody knows if he can rebound fully to featured-back form.
Quarterback: The 49ers have three quarterbacks under contract. Backup Blaine Gabbert is on a one-year deal. The 49ers can take a late-round flier on a quarterback who has the potential to develop into Colin Kaepernick’s long-term backup.