The 49ers currently have the 14th pick in the draft, their highest position since 2011 when they took Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick, and they likely will have nine picks overall in May. Their current spot likely will fluctuate a bit with the final week's slate of games, but it's certain the team will end up with a mid-round pick.
Where should their priorities be? Here's my take:
1. Wideout. Finding an explosive receiver to stretch the field and put fear in opposing defenses should have been the priority in recent years, especially last year when the draft teemed with that type of player. Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd are pending free agents, and it seems more and more likely that neither will be back. Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson seem earmarked to be the starters in 2015 with Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton in support roles. Boldin, however, is signed for only one more season. Johnson is signed for two more. He's had only a bit role in the offense this year but still injured his knee badly enough that he's missed the last two games.
2. Pass rusher. Even if the current hubbub involving Aldon Smith blows over, the 49ers still have issues. Smith had two sacks against Washington the week after he returned from his nine-game suspension. He's been stuck on that number since. He and fellow projected starter Aaron Lynch haven't recorded a sack in the last three weeks. Depth is a huge issue. Ahmad Brooks will count nearly $9.7 million against the 2015 salary cap and, given his ho-hum season and his run-ins with the coaching staff, seems certain to be cut. Dan Skuta is a free agent while Corey Lemonier has virtually disappeared after a promising rookie season in 2013. Looming over everything is the fact that Smith is one slip-up away from being suspended for a very long time.
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3. Tight end. This position was the team's strength when Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker were together. Now? To illustrate how little the 49ers have gotten out of Vance McDonald, a second-round draft choice last season, consider this: At Rice University, McDonald was considered the receiving tight end while Luke Willson was the blocker. Wilson, whom the Seahawks took in the fifth round last year, had 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns Sunday night against Arizona. McDonald has 149 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in two seasons. Furthermore, the 49ers must make a decision on Davis, who has been the team's deep threat in recent years but who has just two catches beyond 20 yards this season. He has no catches in the last two games and will count more than $7 million against the salary cap next season. Derek Carrier and Garrett Celek provide depth, but both were hurt this year despite minor roles.
4. Running back: The 49ers have two running backs signed for next season, Carlos Hyde and Kendall Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury. That suggests the team will make an offer to Frank Gore, if they haven't done so already. Gore, however, has hinted that he wants to test the market and could be gone whether the 49ers want him back or not. Alfonso Smith provides some depth and is valuable on special teams. But the team could use another young runner in the mix, perhaps a healthy one this time.
5. Defensive line. The 49ers' once-abundant d-line depth evaporated more quickly than M.C. Hammer's fortune. Ray McDonald is gone and Justin Smith very well could retire at season's end. If that's the case, the 49ers' starting defensive line could look like this next year: LDE Quinton Dial, NT Ian Williams, RDE Glenn Dorsey with Tank Carradine entering in passing situations. That's pretty good, but the 49ers may seek more depth.
1st: Own pick
2nd: Own pick
3rd: Own pick
4th: Denver's pick (obtained in 2014 draft-day swap)
5th: Own pick
6th: Own pick
7th: Indianapolis' pick (in trade for Cam Johnson)
In addition, the 49ers are expected to get compensatory picks for losing Donte Whitner, Tarell Brown and Boobie Dixon in free agency in 2014. They likely will get an extra seventh for Dixon. The acquisition of Antoine Bethea will negate one of those losses, and the 49ers likely will end up with an extra selection in either the fourth, fifth or sixth rounds.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.