Ranking the 49ers' draft 'wants'

March 27, 2012, 4:45 pm
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With their salary cap whittled down to the point where they can fit in their draft class and not much else, let's assume the 49ers are finished spending free-agent dollars.The focus now shifts toward the draft.The 49ers have seven draft wants -- and that's because needs is just too strong of a word.As I see it, there are only two positions where the 49ers can add a starter. At the very least, they need depth at those spots.Here is the complete list of spots the 49ers will look to fill in the draft:1. Guard: Daniel Kilgore is penciled in as the starter at right guard with the departure of Adam Snyder. But Kilgore will not be running unopposed. The 49ers could add a veteran-minimum type of player to challenge for a starting job. And the 49ers could add a potential first-year starter with a selection within the first four rounds of the draft.

2. Wide receiver: Michael Crabtree is likely to be a starter, and the other starting job is up on the air. Randy Moss is coming out of retirement. The last time Moss played in the NFL, he was not up to starter quality. Free-agent pickup Mario Manningham, a front-runner to start alongside Crabtree, averaged 52 receptions over the past three seasons with the New York Giants. If the 49ers select a wideout in the first or second round, there should be a good competition in camp.
3. Safety: Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the starters, but the 49ers have nobody behind them at this moment. Veteran Madieu Williams started three of the first four games due to injuries. The 49ers have not placed a priority on re-signing him. And Reggie Smith played 239 snaps of defense (23.6 percent of the time) as an extra defensive back. Smith is looking for a better opportunity on the free-agent market. So look for the 49ers to attempt to bolster this spot.
4. Cornerback: Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown return as the starters, and Chris Culliver enters his second NFL season as the team's third corner. If the 49ers select a cornerback with their first-round pick, then, that player would have a chance to step in and open the season as a starter. More likely, the 49ers would add a player to compete with Tramaine Brock for the job as the fourth corner.

5. Running back: Frank Gore is the starter, but the 49ers can be expected to try to upgrade behind him. Kendall Hunter is a change-of-pace back -- not an every-down solution. Anthony Dixon was in the doghouse a year ago because he was inconsistent with his assignments. Veteran Rock Cartwright was signed for his special-teams play. The 49ers are definitely in the market for a 215-plus-pound no-nonsense runner who is reliable in blitz pickup.
6. Outside linebacker: Parys Haralson is a good insurance policy to have behind starters Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. But the 49ers should look to develop another young player for depth purposes. Outside linebackers Monte Simmons and Rick Elmore finished the season on the 49ers' practice squad. But Simmons signed with Philadelphia Eagles, and Elmore went to the San Diego Chargers.
7. Defensive line: The 49ers have some young players behind the entrenched starting line of Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald. The 49ers have depth with Ricky Jean Francois, Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams and Will Tukuafu. But a couple players from that group must step up and win places in the rotation. After all, Smith played 91.1 percent of last year's snaps, while McDonald was on the field 83.5 percent of the time. Depth means nothing if the coaching staff does not have the confidence to play the backups.
There is a very soft market for inside linebackers -- and an even softer market for restricted free agents. So it looks as if Larry Grant will return as the 49ers' primary backup to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman on a one-year tender.
Of course, the 49ers could select a tight end, too. It's not a need with a roster consisting of Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and blocking specialist Nate Byham. But Walker's contract expires after the 2012 season, so it would make sense, too.And it would definitely make sense if it's a best-player-available situation.

49ers 2012 draft pick
Round 1: No. 30 (No. 30 overall)
Round 2: No. 30 (No. 61 overall)
Round 3: No. 30 (No. 92 overall)
Round 4: No. 30 (No. 125 overall)
Round 5: No. 30 (No. 165 overall)
Round 6: No. 30 (No. 199 overall)
Round 7: No. 30 (No. 237 overall)(Updated to reflect official NFL draft order.)

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