It's almost Draftmas Eve, and visions of first-round picks are dancing in my head. ... I don't know if I've ever been as flummoxed before the draft. You don't need to be reminded that I called four - count 'em, FOUR! - of the 2009 draft picks ahead of time, but I will remind you again (and again and again). This year, there's so much more talent in the first round and the 49ers have a new trigger man. It makes it more difficult to predict. I feel I have a good read on some guys - no so hot on others. To wit:
Earl Thomas, S, Texas. I don't think the 49ers will be interested in Thomas in the middle of the first round. I think there are concerns about Thomas' size and his ability to hold up. The 49ers also have a young free safety in Dashon Goldson and another potential free safety in Reggie Smith. Where they need depth is strong safety where Michael Lewis is due to make $4.1 million in base salary this year, $5.7 next year and $6.7 the year after that. Look for the 49ers to find a backup strong safety in the middle rounds. Virginia Tech's Kam Chancellor seems like a Lewis clone.
Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers. Everyone I've talked to has said the same thing. A.) Physically, he's one of the top two tackles available. B.) Character-wise, he's a big liability. The question that Trent Baalke and the 49ers will have to answer is whether their burning need for a right tackle, plus the coaching staff's assumed ability to handle someone like Davis, outweighs the character concerns. My sense is that Mike Singletary will press for Davis the way he pressed for Michael Oher last year. If anyone has insight into Davis, it's area scout Todd Brunner, a New Jersey guy who lives just down the road from where Davis went to high school and played college.
Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame. I have no idea if the 49ers' "interest" in Clausen is real or it's a smoke screen. But I'd be scratching my head if Clausen got past the Browns, Bills and Raiders - three teams that badly need a quarterback - and the 49ers picked him at No. 13. The biggest rationale for taking Clausen is that Alex Smith is in the last year of his contract and that you don't pass up a good quarterback when the future of that position is murky. What would happen to Nate Davis if Clausen is added? The 49ers probably would use him sparingly in the exhibition season, cut him in the beginning of September, pray to a higher authority that he passes waivers and then stash him on the practice squad.
Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama. I thought I had a read on McClain - that he wasn't cut out to be a "Ted" 'backer - but after talking to two sources in last couple of days I'm second-guessing myself. McClain's rap is that he was merely an open-field player who was protected by a very good 'Bama defensive line. But that also was the rap on Patrick Willis coming out of college; that he wasn't physical enough to play inside linebacker in the NFL. That is, just because McClain wasn't asked to take on blockers doesn't mean he can't do it. I have McClain going to the Giants at pick No. 15. But he could go anywhere from pick No. 8 on.
-- Matt Barrows