The team’s starters for the past three seasons – Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown – moved across the bay to the Raiders via free agency. What’s more, Rogers served as the slot cornerback during that span. Tramaine Brock is earmarked for one spot, but with Chris Culliver coming back from an ACL injury, there are question marks at the other corner. Eric Wright, Chris Cook and Perrish Cox will compete for playing time. But the team could stand to add another cornerback early in the draft. Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) and Jason Verrett (TCU) are possibilities in the first round. Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) and Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) could be targets in the second.
This is the strength of the draft. And while the 49ers are set this year with starters Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, none of their wideouts is signed long term. In addition, the team is considering a long-term contract for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and would be wise to surround him with talent to protect that investment. A trade-up scenario for Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) makes sense. Big-bodied receivers like Cody Latimer (Indiana) or Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) also would work. The team also may need to find a receiver who can return punts with LaMichael James unhappy and seeking a trade.
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The 49ers are preparing for Aldon Smith to miss at least a chunk of the 2014 season. They have faith in last year’s backup crew, Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier. But teams never can have too many pass rushers, especially when their top sack master is one infraction from a year-long suspension. Finding a pass rusher with the 30th pick wouldn’t be a surprise, and Dee Ford (Auburn) or Kony Ealy (Missouri) would be good fits. Later in the draft, Marcus Smith (Louisville), Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas) or Trent Murphy (Stanford) could be tempting.
For the past decade, the 49ers have leaned heavily on a workhorse running back. The problem is that runner, Frank Gore, turns 31 next week and is entering the final year of his contract. Marcus Lattimore is a possible heir apparent, but the 49ers must first be convinced his surgically repaired knee is back to normal. This seems like a mid-round selection with possibilities including Jeremy Hill (LSU), Terrance West (Towson) and Storm Johnson (Central Florida).
The starting spots are set, and the 49ers are unlikely to use a top pick at safety after taking Eric Reid in the first round last year. The team could use some depth, however. Top backups Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman aren’t signed beyond the 2015 season. Spillman, who will be a free agent in March, also is the team’s special-teams ace, and the 49ers need to start thinking about a replacement there, too. There are several cornerback-safety hybrids who could go later in the draft, including Antone Exum (Virginia Tech).
– Matthew Barrows