49ers' draft outlook: Specialists

49ers' draft outlook: Specialists
April 13, 2013, 8:30 am
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The 49ers could use a mid-round draft pick on Tyrann Mathieu and groom him into a special teams weapon. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

49ers Draft Outlook
Specialists
Cornerbacks
Safeties
Outside Linebackers
Inside Linebackers
Defensive Linemen
Offensive Linemen
Tight Ends
Wide Receivers
Running Backs
Quarterbacks

With a scheduled 13 draft picks, few positions are off-limits when it comes to the 49ers' draft.

But with a 2012 Pro Bowl pick at kicker and a first-team All-Pro selection at punter, there is no reason for the 49ers to waste one of their selections on a person whose job it is to boot the football.

However, do not be surprised if the 49ers end up with a player who has experience returning punts. That spot is still a mild concern after the 49ers chose not to re-sign Ted Ginn.

We kick off our position-by-position series on the 49ers' draft outlook with a look at the specialists:

KICKER
Who's here: Phil Dawson.
Draft needs: The 49ers signed Billy Cundiff for the playoffs but stuck with David Akers through the end of the season. They eventually released Akers at the start of the offseason and replace him with Phil Dawson, who made the AFC Pro Bowl team last year as a member of the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers will bring in another leg for the offseason, but Dawson will not face any legitimate competition.
Good fits: Expect the 49ers to bring in a kicker like they did a year ago with Giorgio Tavecchio of Cal. (Tavecchio signed recently with the Green Bay Packers.) Zach Brown of Portland State is somebody worth a look.

PUNTER
Who's here: Andy Lee.
Draft needs: Lee, a three-time Pro Bowl pick and three-time All-Pro, is going nowhere. He is signed through the 2018 season. Lee is such a valuable player in the field-position game with his high, deep and directional punts that assist the coverage unit to keep return yards to a minimum.
Good fits: Lee is the only fit the 49ers need.

RETURNS
Who's here: Punt returns -- Kyle Williams, Perrish Cox, LaMichael James. Kickoff returns -- LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter, Kyle Williams, Ricardo Lockette.
Draft needs: Ginn is gone, and with him goes the 49ers' primary punt returner of the past three seasons. Williams has returned just nine regular-season punts during that time. James had difficulty catching punts in the exhibition season but he worked hard on that discipline in practices during the season. Kickoff returns are less of a concern with James, who did a good job after taking over late in the season.
Good fits: The 49ers are one of the many NFL teams that did a lot of homework on Tyrann Mathieu, whose failed drug tests led to his dismissal from the LSU football team. In 2011, Mathieu finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting after averaging 17.2 yards on 25 punt returns. Mathieu, who also would figure into the mix as a nickel back on defense, could be had late in the third round with the No. 93 overall selection. It's doubtful the 49ers will want to package the picks to move up in the first round to select Tavon Austin (West Virginia). However, they can stay where they are and use a second- or third-round selection on Ace Sanders (South Carolina).

LONG-SNAPPER
Who's here: Brian Jennings.
Draft needs: Jennings, the longest-tenured 49ers player, enters the final two years of his contract. There is certainly no need to replace him, but the 49ers did bring in two long-snappers a year ago for competition. They would not figure to draft a long-snapper unless that player has value at another position, too.
Good fits: Again, there's no real reason to invest a draft pick on anyone to replace Jennings, who is still among the best in the business. But if the 49ers are looking for a little more versatility, they could look for a player, such as Carson Tinker (Alabama) who is a good long-snapper and has additional special-teams value.