It has been a week since the marathon of TV coverage many know as the NFL draft. With minicamps beginning and most of the transactions settling down, it would be appropriate to examine many of the teams’ offseasons. One team that has stood out, since the end of the 2006 season, has been, hands down, the San Francisco 49ers.
After a spending spree at the beginning of the free agency period that added four new potential defensive starters (CB Nate Clements, S Michael Lewis, NT Aubrayo Franklin, LB Tully Banta-Cain) and a new wide receiver for QB Alex Smith (Ashley Lelie), the 49ers’ attention focused in on the NFL draft. With eight picks to work with, they had the option of trading up – rumored conjecture had the Niners going after heralded Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson at #2 overall. Rated the #1 player overall by ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., Johnson had all the tools necessary to be a breakout wide receiver for any team. Ultimately, the 49ers passed on the chance, and stayed at #11 overall, without losing any of their picks.
Nolan’s “non-move” turned out for the best for him and San Francisco on the first day of the draft – they used their first pick to take standout Mississippi LB Patrick Willis. Many believe that, with his potential, he could anchor the right side of the 3-4 defense for years to come. With his talent at the position, some even believe that Willis could become as potent of a linebacker as the man whose number he has chosen for his jersey – #52, Baltimore LB Ray Lewis.
Rather than wait until the second round, the 49ers didn’t hesitate, trading with the New England Patriots to get back into the first round. They used their second pick to take Central Michigan OT Joe Staley, one of the best offensive tackles in the draft. He will be vital to protecting Smith in the future, eventually replacing the likes of Jonas Jennings, and Pro Bowl OT Larry Allen. Although it cost them their first-round pick for next year, they provided themselves with insurance for next year, trading their second-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for their first-round pick in 2008.
They further strengthened their offense as the day wore on, with two potentially big moves – first, they took one of the fastest wideouts in the draft, in Washington State WR Jason Hill. Next, they spent one of their three fourth-round picks in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, to acquire standout WR Darrell Jackson, to further cement their depth at the position, as well as plug in an experienced wideout to help further Smith’s development at QB.
The 49ers spent the next day of the draft building up their depth at defense. In the fourth round, they took Florida DE Ray McDonald, Nebraska LB Jay Moore and Florida DT Joe Cohen, all potential starters for the 49ers defense in the future. Texas CB Tarell Brown was considered a good addition to add depth to the 49ers secondary. Kansas State RB Thomas Clayton, taken with their final pick, could potentially be an outstanding backup to incumbent starting RB Frank Gore.
Going away from the draft, the Niners seemed to make all the right moves. Many draft analysts agreed – Mel Kiper Jr., as well as Scouts Inc. draft analyst Todd McShay, named the 49ers, as well as the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, as the big winners of the 2007 NFL draft. With the potential these picks have, the San Francisco 49ers of 2007 could very well be a playoff team. After making all the right moves this offseason, the Niners have positioned themselves to be a force in the NFC West, and, ultimately, a possible NFC playoff contender.