San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers’ top needs entering the NFL draft

The 49ers looked into Clemson inside linebacker Stephone Anthony in the run-up to the draft. Will he be around when they pick in Round 2?
The 49ers looked into Clemson inside linebacker Stephone Anthony in the run-up to the draft. Will he be around when they pick in Round 2? AP

The 49ers will have their highest selection, No. 15, since the end of the Mike Singletary era when the draft begins Thursday.

One question: Will general manager Trent Baalke try to go even higher, as he did in 2010 and 2013? In those drafts, he found Week 1 starters in right tackle Anthony Davis and safety Eric Reid.

The 49ers have no truly pressing vacancies as they go through the first minicamp of the year this week. But they do have some needs, beginning with:

Wide receiver

Anquan Boldin has been the bedrock of this unit since he arrived in 2013. Boldin, however, turns 35 during the season and he’s not signed beyond this year.

The 49ers spent a lot of money on Torrey Smith to give the offense the deep threat at wide receiver it’s been missing since Terrell Owens was on the roster. But Smith never been a No. 1-type wideout.

The 49ers could use one for the future, and this draft – considered nearly as good as last year’s when it comes to receivers – should be used to restock the position. The 49ers could come away with multiple pass catchers.

Possibilities: Trade up for West Virginia’s Kevin White or Louisville’s DeVante Parker in the first round; Auburn’s Sammie Coates, Ohio State’s Devin Smith, Georgia Tech’s Darren Waller, Washington State’s Vince Mayle in later rounds.

Cornerback

The 49ers have numbers at this spot but very few sure things.

Tramaine Brock is a lock to start at one of the spots. Brock, however, has gotten hurt every time he’s had a chance to be a full-time starter and he’s never handled the job for a long stretch.

Newcomer Shareece Wright would start on the other side if the season kicked off today. The scouting service Pro Football Focus ranked Wright, who came over from the Chargers, 105 out of 108 cornerbacks last season. Youngsters like Dantae Johnson and Kenneth Acker also will compete for roles.

Possibilities: Connecticut’s Byron Jones, Washington’s Marcus Peters, Michigan State’s Trae Waynes in the first round; LSU’s Jalen Collins, Ohio State’s Doran Grant, South Florida’s Chris Dunkley in later rounds

Outside linebacker

The 49ers appear loaded at this critical position … for now.

But Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are coming off of down seasons. Smith, who had two sacks in seven games, is heading into the final year of his contract and is one off-field misstep from being booted off the team. Brooks, 31, has a high salary and his 2014 season was marked by attitude issues.

Aaron Lynch had a strong rookie season, but Corey Lemonier all but disappeared last year. Reliable backup Dan Skuta left via free agency.

Possibilities: Florida State’s Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round; Arkansas’ Trey Flowers, Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin, Norfolk State’s Lynden Trail in later rounds

Inside linebacker

No group received a shot to the solar plexus this offseason like inside linebacker.

What was at one point the 49ers’ richest position is a question mark following Patrick Willis’ and Chris Borland’s retirements last month.

NaVorro Bowman appears on track to make a comeback from his January 2014 knee injury. He’s taking part in the 49ers’ ongoing minicamp sessions. Michael Wilhoite started 16 games last year on a top-five defense.

Beyond them, the 49ers have 2013 draft pick Nick Moody and several players who have mostly played special teams.

Possibilities: Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, Miami’s Denzel Perryman in the second round; TCU’s Paul Dawson in later rounds.

Tight end

First Frank Gore, then Willis, and eventually … Vernon Davis?

Next season, the team’s long-time tight end could be the third 49ers stalwart to leave the team. Davis is entering the final year of his contract and is coming off the worst season of his career. He seems rededicated this offseason, but he’s also 31 and was seeking a big contract last year.

Davis’ would-be replacement, Vance McDonald, has had a meager start to his career and injured his back last season.

The 49ers like upstart Derek Carrier, a former wide receiver. But he lacks experience and got hurt when he had a chance to play last season. This is not a deep draft class for tight ends, and none may be taken in the first round.

Possibilities: Miami’s Clive Walford in the second round; South Carolina’s Rory Anderson, Texas A&M’s Cameron Clear in later rounds.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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