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April 23, 2009
Niners draft prospects: How they fit

With the draft just two days away, it's time to get into the nitty gritty. GM Scot McCloughan said yesterday that many of his conversations with Mike Singletary pertaining to the draft are about how a particular player will fit into the 49ers' plans. When you spend a Top 10 pick on a player, ideally you want him to start right away (see: Willis, Patrick) and you want him to be a three-down player (see: Willis, Patrick.)

How will potential No. 10 picks find their way onto the field? First, let's trim the list of candidates. No one knows for sure, but it's a safe bet the following players are gone before the 49ers are on the clock: quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, offensive tackles Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Andre Smith. (And, yes, A. Smith will be gone). That would leave the following:

WR Michael Crabtree: McCloughan yesterday listed receiver as one of the positions the team would like to fill. In fact, he said the 49ers could use a couple of them. He also said that big-play receiver is a position teams should obtain through the draft because they are usually prohibitively expensive as free agents. Crabtree was a huge playmaker at Texas Tech - a clutch receiver with great hands and excellent body control. But there are caveats: First, he played in a gimmicky offense that skewed his numbers. Second, he's been hurt this offseason and hasn't run for scouts. Third, he's not as big as advertised. When it comes to high-profile college receivers who are busts in the NFL, (Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Reggie Williams, etc.) the common denominator is that they can't get open in the pros. The 49ers would have to convince themselves they are not falling into the same trap that has routinely snagged Detroit and Jacksonville over the past decade. The other question is where Crabtree would play. The 49ers need to keep good-looking second-year player Josh Morgan on the field at all costs, but Crabtree likely would line up at Morgan's split end position. That would kick Morgan over to flanker where last year's top receiver, Isaac Bruce, played. None of these guys are slot receivers - that's Jason Hill's role - meaning one of the three will have to sit.

LB Aaron Curry: He's considered the best player in the draft, so how the heck does he get to No. 10? Well, Curry is not a sack master, he doesn't protect the QB and he doesn't score touchdowns, all of which means he could slide. It's hard to see the 49ers allowing Curry to get away, but where would he play? There's certainly a big need for a long-term "Ted" linebacker who would play next to Willis, but that doesn't seem to be a good fit for Curry. Instead, his skills project him as a strong-side outside linebacker. But that's where Manny Lawson plays, and the team has high expectations for Lawson this year. If the 49er draft Curry, a first-round linebacker will be on the sideline when the season starts.

DE Tyson Jackson: This guy practically screams 49ers. He's big, physical and comes from college football's best conference, the SEC. He would be a perfect fit at left defensive end on the 49ers' three-man defensive line ... if they hadn't spent a first rounder on a left defensive end, Kentwan Balmer, a year ago. McCloughan said he will draft the best player available regardless of position. Jackson will test that theory.

WR Jeremy Maclin: When McCloughan was discussing what he wants in a receiver yesterday, the first word out of his mouth was speed. Maclin's got that. He's a very fluid runner with great hands who makes big plays after the catch. Like Crabtree, he came from a spread offense but there is no concern that he can't run away from defenders. Maclin also seems to be a perfect heir apparent to Isaac Bruce at flanker, and you can envision a nice father-son relationship between the two Missouri residents. Maclin's issue, as it pertains to the 49ers, is size. The 49ers like bigger bodied receivers. Those receivers can beat jams at the line of scrimmage. They are valuable blockers in the running game. And they hold up better through the course of the season. In six years covering the 49ers, I've seen only one receiver whose rookie season wasn't marred by injuries. (It was Brandon Freakin' Lloyd! Can you believe it?). My Spidy Sense tells me Maclin will spend a lot of time on the injury report. Heck, he couldn't make it through the combine without getting nicked.

OT Michael Oher: I've written this before, but it's worth repeating: During one-on-one blocking drills at the Senior Bowl, Oher didn't just beat his defensive end opponents. He made them look like pewee league players, knocking them to the ground and plopping on top for good measure. That is, he's not only talented, he's got a nasty streak that has to make Singletary - "We want to impose our will on people." - salivate. One of the big questions about Oher is his ability to pick up a team's playbook. If this is still a concern - Oher had a perfectly acceptable Wonderlic score - after rounds and rounds of interviews, then maybe he slides on past. But with veteran Marvel Smith on the squad, the 49ers wouldn't have to rush Oher into the lineup.

OLB Brian Orakpo: Judging from what McCloughan said yesterday, Orakpo seems to fit everything the 49ers are looking for in an outside linebacker. He's a pass rusher with enough size to be a three-down player. Orakpo has been criticized in that many of his sacks at Texas came through sheer effort. But I think that's precisely the type of player Singletary and McCloughan are looking for. Why wouldn't Orakpo fit? Two reasons: Like Curry, adding Orakpo likely would mean that either Lawson or Parys Haralson, last year's sack leader, would see their playing time curtailed. (Though the 49er would have a pretty powerful OLB rotation). The other is that this draft is deep in 3-4 OLBs. McCloughan hit on Haralson in the fifth round. That might embolden him to find another Haralson in the middle rounds.

NT B.J. Raji: It's a catch 22 - if Raji falls to No. 10, it would mean there are character concerns that caused him to fall. From a pure on-the-field standpoint, it would be hard to see the 49ers passing on Raji. He plays a position the 49ers want to upgrade, and moreover, his skill set matches perfectly with what the 49ers want out of their nose tackle. A rotation of Raji and Aubrayo Franklin would be a handful for opposing centers and guards and would make the players to either side - Justin Smith and Balmer - better.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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