What's more valuable to the 49ers, a player's potential or his readiness? Do they draft a guy who can step in immediately or one who may have to sit for a while but has a better chance of being great? In scouting parlance, do they take a guy with a high floor or a high ceiling?
It's a debate NFL evaluators have every year and it's something the 49ers likely have been discussing when it comes to the 30th overall pick. The team's biggest needs, arguably, at are guard and wide receiver, and there's a nice convergence of need and availability at the end of the first round. Those two positions also raise classic ceiling-vs.-floor conundrums. To wit:
High floor: Many prognosticators see the 49ers taking Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler at this spot. And why not? He started for three years in a physical, pro-style, run-oriented offense in one of the nation's top conferences. He's big, he's smart and he's steady. He's a guy who could step into the 49ers' vacant right guard spot from Day 1.
High ceiling: On the other side of the argument is Amini Silatolu, whom I profiled in today's Bee. He played at a Division II school, Midwestern State. Silatolu flashes all sorts of potential. He's a feisty, 314-pound guy who can dunk a basketball with ease. Watch tape of him at Midwestern State and he gets down field and tosses around defenders - sometimes two on the same play - as if they were made of cardboard. But in the Lone Star Conference in which he played, some of the linebackers weigh 190 pounds. He's a bigger risk than Zeitler.
High ceiling: The most common name here is Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech. He's a 6-4, 215-pound wideout who ran his 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. He played in a physical, run-oriented offense and has the body and the mentality to be a good down-field blocker. But he just didn't have very many passes come his way at Georgia Tech. In three years, he caught 49 balls, which is less than half the number Kendall Wright caught last year alone. Pick Hill and the 49ers are betting on his potential.
High floor: The alternative could be LSU's Rueben Randle, who many see as a refined route runner who has natural receiver instincts and who played in the best defensive conference in the nation. Randle doesn't have Hill's size or downfield speed, but he's more fluid than Hill, and like Zeitler, would be more game-ready as a rookie.
My sense is that the 49ers usually would opt for the kid with the higher ceiling, the better potential. The front office loves the team's coaching staff and has faith that it can smooth the rough edges off a player like Silatolu the way they did with Mike Iupati in 2010. The 49ers also aren't desperate at either guard or wide receiver. If a rookie isn't quite ready to step in in 2012 - no sweat, there are other options at both positions.
That's my sense of how the team generally feels about this kind of debate. What we don't know is how the team feels about the individuals above. Maybe Mike Solari wasn't impressed with Silatolu's grasp of the game when he visited last week. Maybe the 49ers think that Hill plays a lot slower than his timed speed and has questionable hands. Maybe they think Randle, who also played in an offense with a dubious passing attack, has just as much upside.
And of course, there also are wild cards at both positions, such as Wisconsin's Peter Konz (He also can play center and the 49ers have no backup at the moment) and Baylor's Wright, who is reportedly slipping toward the end of Round 1. The 49ers also could pick another position, say, tight end.
Come celebrate Draftmas Week with me this morning. I'm hosting a Draft Chat at 11 a.m. You can ask that burning question about Cordy Glenn you've been dying to have answered. Log onto www.sacbee.com/live.
-- Matt Barrows