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January 3, 2012
Feeling a draft: The 49ers offseason priorities

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With bowl season wrapping up, some of you have been interested in possible 49ers draft picks. First it makes sense to talk about the team's priorities. The 49ers will pick anywhere from No. 26 to - is it possible? - No. 32.

Wide receiver. The 49ers have just two players - Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams - signed beyond this season. I fully expect them to be players in the free-agent market at this position, and Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, San Diego's Vincent Jackson and New Orleans' Marques Colston highlight what is now a deep group of free-agent receivers. If the 49ers don't sign a player (or two) in March, however, wideout has to be a priority in April.

Outside linebacker. The 49ers have just three players on the active roster right now and one of their starters, Ahmad Brooks, is a free agent. Brooks' agent told The Bee recently that he and Brooks are likely to wait until the start of free agency to sign a deal. The 49ers like Brooks, have a certain number in mind for what he's worth but will not get in a bidding war over him.

Safety. Three of the 49ers' safeties - Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams - are free agents. Goldson is looking for the big payday he was seeking last offseason. He's coming off his best season yet and is only 27 years old. The 49ers could franchise Goldson, as the franchise number for safeties will be more reasonable than it is at other positions, including cornerback.

Cornerback. The 49ers could be missing a starter after free agency. Carlos Rogers has been saying how much he wants to return to San Francisco, but he also is likely to let the free-agent market establish his worth. Chris Culliver was a third-round pick last year who was given a big role this season. He's handled it well. If Rogers departed, Culliver would be in the running for a starting job no matter whom the 49ers draft.

Guard. Right tackles Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder both are free agents. My guess is that Rachal won't be back and the versatile Snyder will, but I've been wrong before (See: Baas, David). Still, even if both veterans departed, the 49ers have two players-in-waiting at the position, Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person. One note: Stanford's David DeCastro will be one of the top guards in the draft, and he's likely to be taken at the end of the first round, beginning of the second.

Running back. The 49ers have drastically reduced Frank Gore's workload late in the season because a) he's been working through injuries or b) they're saving him for the playoffs, depending on who you ask. Either way, the 49ers have not been able to lean on one runner during the season. Rookie Kendall Hunter has been excellent all season and Anthony Dixon has appeared to get back into the coaches' good graces in recent games. Still, this seems to be a position at which a run-first team like the 49ers can't have too many bodies. Wisconsin's Montee Ball is a real draft-crush candidate, but I think he goes well before the 49ers draft in the first round.

Tight end. If you watched Stanford games in the last few years, you know that Jim Harbaugh loves tight ends more than he does wide receivers. The 49ers currently have two great ones, but you have to wonder what Harbaugh would do with three great ones. Stanford's Coby Fleener would be awfully tempting if he was sitting there when the 49ers picked. Of note: 2010 draft pick Nate Byham tore his ACL in early August and has resumed running. He should be back to near full strength for the start of 2012 training camp.

Defensive line. The 49ers have both veterans and younger prospects - Ricky Jean Francois, Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams - at this position. Sack leader Aldon Smith also is essentially a defensive lineman. However, their top player, Justin Smith, turns 33 next season. Given the importance of the defensive line to the rest of the unit, it couldn't hurt to spend some of the team's draft capital here.

Positions not likely to be taken early:

Fullback. Bruce Miller has been very good this season. But he's also been nicked quite a bit.

Inside linebacker. Obviously the 49ers have two of the best starters in the NFL. But backup Larry Grant is a free agent who put together quite a bit of good film in December while special teamers Blake Costanzo and Tavares Gooden also are pending free agents. The 49ers could need depth here.

Quarterback. Alex Smith will be back and the 49ers used a second-round pick last year on Colin Kaepernick. Jim Harbaugh also loves Scott Tolzien. Some coaches, however, like to draft a quarterback in the latter rounds every year for the sake of competition.

Offensive tackle. The 49ers have two starters - Joe Staley and Anthony Davis - and a backup, Alex Boone, locked up for a while.

Kicker/punter. David Akers and Andy Lee are heading to the Pro Bowl. No need here.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW 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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