With the key subtractions so far this offseason to the roster of the two-time defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals, many are predicting the San Francisco 49ers" target="_blank">San Francisco 49ers to rise to the top of the divisional pack in in 2010 .
However, in order to improve on their 8-8, second-place finish from 2009, the Niners are going to have to add some more pieces to a roster already solid with a young foundation.
Let's just assume that the offseason acquisition of future backup quarterback David Carr isn't going to be the move to put them back on top of things.
So, with the future in mind, what is typically the easiest way for teams to stockpile talent?
The NFL Draft, of course.
And, thanks to a draft-day trade last year that sent second and fourth-round picks to the Panthers in exchange for their 2010 first-rounder, the 49ers will have a pair of first-round picks to work with in this year's draft.
As we head into the draft on April 25th, San Francisco will be looking to address a few different roster needs, and obviously hopes to relieve the most glaring problem areas with potential high-caliber first round picks.
It's been stated that the Niners' top priority is to find a right tackle, but they're also interested in finding help with a defensive back, a pass rusher, a running back/kick returner, a quarterback, or a wide receiver.
So, based on speculation, mock drafts, and various guesses from experts, what is the best-case scenario for the 49ers in the first round of the draft, assuming they don't trade?
Obviously, with their first pick (13th overall), the 49ers would be expected to attempt to fill their biggest need, which likely means offensive tackle.
The highest-rated tackles coming into this draft are Russell Okung out of Oklahoma State, Bryan Bulaga out of Iowa, Trent Williams out of Oklahoma, and Anthony Davis out of Rutgers.
The next-highest offensive lineman appears to be Mike Iupati, a guard from Idaho, while the next best tackle is Charles Brown from USC.
Some mock drafts, such as that of Don Banks from SI.com, have all four of the highest-rated tackles going in the top nine picks.
So, as this is a "best-case scenario" situation, obviously one of them should have to fall to the Niners.
The lineman most likely of the four to fall to No. 13 would be Davis from Rutgers.
Davis, listed at 6'6" and 325 pounds, has seen his draft stock fall a bit since declaring after his junior season due to a not-so-great combine showing and questions about his maturity.
However, he's considered to be one of the premiere run-blockers in the pool, noted quite often for being proficient at finishing his blocks.
His pass-protecting skills, while obviously solid, are hindered by his immense size and inherent lack of lateral athleticism.
Despite the negatives, Davis will absolutely be a first-round pick, and the 49ers would be very lucky to be able to nab him here.
If selected, he'd likely slide in at right tackle, opposite young Joe Staley on the left side.
If they were to snag Davis with their first pick, the 49ers would be looking to fill what they would deem to be their second most pressing positional need, or just take the best player available, should somebody fall.
While it appears as though Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant is a clear candidate to drop, it would seem quite unlikely for San Francisco to opt to choose a potential "diva" receiver in the first round for the second straight year.
So, assuming running back C.J. Spiller will be gone and quarterback Jimmy Clausen is either unavailable or not enticing enough, let's look at a defensive back here.
The Niners appear poised to jump on either a corner or a safety here, and may just decide which based on the level of prospect still available.
Tennessee safety Eric Berry will be long gone by the time the 17th pick rolls around, and Texas safety Earl Thomas is looking like he could go in the top 10 as well.
That leaves USC's Taylor Mays as the only remaining first-round level safety, and his stock hasn't exactly been skyrocketing of late.
As for corners, Florida's Joe Haden is the top prospect, while Boise State's Kyle Wilson and Alabama's Kareem Jackson are likely later first-round selections.
Let's say the 49ers get lucky and Haden falls to them at No. 17.
A top-10 talent prior to the combine, Haden saw his stock drop a bit when he ran an unexpectedly-low 4.45 40-yard-dash.
However, as the combine is an immensely overrated event, Haden's ability to play football at an elite level should quell any fears teams may have about him.
Some people have concern about the lack of overall polish to his game, but Haden is a hard-nosed player with great instincts.
He's shown superb ability to support in the run game, and has demonstrated great body control allowing him to make plays on the ball without committing penalties.
He's rarely thrown by play action, and, even if he is fooled, his closing speed has been noted as a huge plus.
Haden's physical technique will take some tinkering, but he's physically gifted enough to make the transition.
San Francisco lacks great depth in the defensive backfield, and if Haden were available at No. 17, the 49ers seem likely to jump at the chance to snag him.
Many are predicting the 49ers to take back the divisional crown in 2010, and their pair of upcoming first round draft picks could be a huge step in the right direction.
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