After months of buildup, the NFL draft is less than two weeks away. I'm certainly not advocating anyone betting their hard-earned cash on the three-day extravapalooza. But if you were, here are the 10 guys - weighted, mind you - most likely to be trying on a 49ers cap on Thursday, April 22.
1. Anthony Davis, T, Rutgers. The 49ers need an offensive tackle, and Davis is the best tackle likely to be available. Earlier this week, Mel Kiper, Jr. compared the criticisms surrounding Davis to those Michael Oher experienced last year. Remember, the 49ers would have drafted Oher had Michael Crabtree not slipped to them at No. 10. The biggest impediment to Davis becoming a 49er? It might be the Raiders, who have the 8th pick.
2. Joe Haden, CB, Florida. If both Haden and Davis are on the board at pick No. 13 - wow - it's hard to see the 49ers passing up Haden, a physical and talented cornerback who played in a conference, the SEC, the 49ers respect above all others. Then again, will Haden slip past 12 teams? Davis is more likely to be available.
3. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson. Was Trent Baalke puffing smoke when he said the trend is for teams to have two workhorse runners and a home-run threat? Spiller hits more dingers than any draft prospect, and he would supply immediate special-teams dividends to a team that simply must take control of a wobbly NFC West this season.
4. Mike Iupati, G, Idaho. Iupati could be the best player at his position. The problem is that his position, guard, doesn't have a lot of value. If the 49ers took him at 13, they'd be betting he can play right tackle - a gutsy bet considering how shaky Iupati was when he strayed from his normal position at the Senior Bowl. The 49ers would much rather take the Idaho product at pick 17.
5. Dan Williams, DT/NT, Tennessee. It's rare that a draft is deep with interior defensive linemen, and the 49ers might decide it's smart to haul one in when the fishing's good. What's more, the lynchpin of their defense, NT Aubrayo Franklin, likely will be playing on a one-year contract in 2010. The 49ers need an heir apparent.
6. Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan. Graham has good pass-rush skills and he's tough against the run. The 49ers have passed on other 'tweeners - Aaron Maybin, Everette Brown, for example - in the past due to a perceived lack of grit. However, Graham is undersized, and pass rushers of his dimensions have fallen into the second round in previous years.
7. Earl Thomas, S, Texas. It's not the 49ers' nature to draft a smallish defensive back early in the draft. Thomas' play-making skills, however, are undeniable. And big plays are the missing element in the 49ers' evolution from solid defense to elite defense. If Thomas becomes the next Ed Reed, concerns about his size will seem foolish in hindsight.
8. Charles Brown, T, USC. A tight end who switches to tackle and gets picked in the second half of the first round? That was Joe Staley's storyline in 2007, and it promises to be Brown's this year. The 49ers would be betting that Brown has plenty of room to improve. The question is how quickly he could do so. They'd feel better about taking him if they could trade down in the first round.
9. Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State. The 49ers might value Wilson a little more highly than other teams because he has excellent return skills. Then again, if Wilson becomes a starter, would they really want him handling punts? (See: Clements, Nate vs. Indianapolis).
10. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama. McClain seems more like a "Mike" inside linebacker than a "Ted." In fact, he might be more suited for outside linebacker (Manny Lawson's in the final year of his contract) than "Ted."
Others to consider:
Offensive tackles Bruce Campbell of Maryland and Rodger Saffold of Indiana are intriguing, but the 49ers would feel better about both if they traded down and were picking, say, in the mid 20s. Outside linebackers Jerry Hughes of TCU and Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech would add punch to the defense. It's hard to see Morgan, however, getting past Seattle at pick No. 6 and Miami at pick No. 12. USC safety Taylor Mays does not make enough plays to justify a mid-round pick. Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews might be the best workhorse runner in the draft. The 49ers could use him to trade down and collect more picks.
Penn State's Jared Odrick is just the type of workmanlike player the 49ers have coveted in the past. The fan base, however, wouldn't be jazzed about the pick, and the 49ers already have an abundance of defensive linemen, especially for a 3-4 team. Do the 49ers go with a Big 12 receiver two straight years and choose Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant? Very doubtful. Then there's Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. My sense is that the 49ers made their only significant move at quarterback when they signed David Carr. It seems like they're happy with the QB cards they're holding.
-- Matt Barrows