That's the million dollar question for Niners fans.
A post by Bay Area Sports Guy shows that most are expecting San Francisco to draft a defensive player with its first pick.
I'm on the same wavelength as most Niner followers. I wouldn't be shocked if the Niners took a tight end—Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert would fit—or a wide receiver in the first round. However, it seems much more likely that the Niners would draft a defensive prospect after the issues they had defending Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens offense in Super Bowl XLVII.
Below are five players I've seen Niners fans clamoring for in various mock drafts and message boards, with an explanation as to why the 49ers might select them in the first round.
DT Jesse Williams (Alabama)
Re-signing Ian Williams and inking Glenn Dorsey should give the 49ers solid depth on the defensive line. But can either hold down the fort at the nose tackle position for an entire season?
Maybe the better question is: Does it matter? So many teams air it out against the 49ers these days that having a dominant nose tackle may not be necessary. San Francisco may want to spend its first pick on a player who can help its nickel defense.
Jesse Williams has the potential to be one of the best nose tackles in this year's class. If the 49ers aren't sure about Ian Williams and Dorsey, the former Alabama anchor would make a lot of sense.
However, Williams wasn't much of a pass-rusher for the Crimson Tide. He only had 6.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in his two years at Alabama. The next defensive lineman on this list has a higher ceiling.
DE Datone Jones (UCLA)
Jones probably isn't big enough to play nose tackle, but that's not why the Niners would draft him. They'd take him to eventually replace Justin Smith at defensive end in their 3-4 defense and play him some at defensive tackle and DE in their four-man front.
As you can see from the highlght video, Jones is lightning quick when he has a lane into the backfield. In his senior season, he had 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
At the least, Jones would be insurance in case Justin Smith sustains another injury. At best, Jones would be part of the Niners defensive line rotation in his rookie season and show signs of future stardom.
CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)
I could replace Trufant with "best cornerback available."
Carlos Rogers needs a bounce-back season to avoid getting cut. Nnamdi Asomugha could be cut before the season begins; after signing a one-year deal, who knows where he'll be next year. Tarell Brown, the Niners' best corner, is a free agent at the end of the 2013 season. Lastly, Chris Culliver is coming off a horrendous Super Bowl performance, and he's a candidate to be moved to safety (he played the position frequently in college at South Carolina).
Without much long-term stability at the position, Trufant would make a lot of sense if available.
His physicality should transfer well to the professional game.
The Niners could also target Florida State's Xavier Rhodes or Alabama's Dee Milliner in the first round, though most expect them to be off the board before San Francisco's first pick.
S Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International)
Either Eric Reid, Matt Elam or Cyprien could be taken by the 49ers in the first round. Of the three, I believe Cyprien will be the most sought after by the Red and Gold.
The former Florida International star is already a good tackler in space, a trait the 49er staff must love. He could get the nod over Elam because of his superior size: Cyprien is 6'0" and 217 pounds.
However, does he have the ball skills to be a starting safety in the NFL?
The next player seems to have more polish than the rest of the safeties in the class.
S Kenny Vaccaro (Texas)
Vaccaro is the player most fans want the Niners to take, depending on the price of the draft-day trade, of course. He's often projected to go in the top half of the first round.
With 13 picks, the 49ers can afford to trade up to snag Vaccaro, but they'd likely have to give up at least a third-rounder along with swapping their first-round pick to make the move.
He just might be worth it.
Vaccaro is already an incredible open-field tackler. He's willing to sacrifice his body for a big hit, a la Dashon Goldson.
Like the other safeties in this class, he doesn't have elite ball skills. He reminds me of Goldson in that regard. He could play free safety, but he might be better off playing strong safety.
Donte Whitner is entering a contract year. Adding Vaccaro as a long-term starter at either safety spot would be ideal.
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