What the 49ers will do with those 12 draft picks will reveal where new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh hopes to take the once storied franchise.
The club needs to fill the most important position on the field, but won't find a quarterback on the board anyone believes is certain to succeed in the NFL (There will be a remarkably athletic passer with a history of making sound decisions available very, very late in the draft, though).
The Niners need pass-rushers, backfield depth, a speed receiver and a defensive tackle or two.
Here’s a look at how the 49ers could land the best player in the draft, address their needs and still come away with a big time college quarterback who is the great athlete that Harbaugh lusts after.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
It’s nearly impossible to imagine the six teams selecting ahead of the 49ers passing on Peterson. Mel Kiper Jr. has him rated No. 1 on his vaunted Big Board -- the best player available in the 2011 draft. Analysts who claim to know insist that Peterson will be available with the 49ers pick No. 7. There’s the game-changer, the lockdown corner that championship teams rely on.
If Peterson’s gone, the 49ers won’t jump for a quarterback. Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara would be the shutdown corner the club needs.
Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Austin missed his senior season after being caught dealing with an agent. Typically, the media proceeded to bury the guy questioning his work ethic and competitive drive. Hey, he didn’t enter last year as one of the top 10 players in the 2011 draft because he’s lazy and doesn't play hard. He’s a run-stopper who can rush the passer. This is Harbaugh’s first chance to show his skill as a communicator and motivator in the NFL. A first-round talent at No. 45 overall.
The 49ers would be making a mistake to reach for a quarterback in the second round.
Demarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
The 49ers don't have an every-down back behind Frank Gore. So, Murray’s a super choice at 76 overall. He was a game-breaker for the Sooners, rushing for 1,214 yards and catching 71 passes -- a key talent in the West Coast offense. Injuries slowed him some in college, but the 5'11", 213-pounder ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and would give the club something even Gore can't provide -- breakaway speed.
There are few sure-thing selections, but most of them are running backs from big time college programs.
(Picks 108, 115 overall)
Ross Holman, OLB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes have produced outstanding linebackers, so it’ll be hard for the 49ers to pass on the 6'1", 240-pound all-Big Ten selection with the first of two fourth round picks. The case could be made for Florida strong safety Ahmad Black, since Taylor Mays failed to live up to expectations as a rookie last year
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Here’s a game-breaker for what should be a revitalized Niners’ offense. The 6'4", 209-pounder caught 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 TDs on a horrendous Miami team that typically has players perform better in the NFL than they did for former Hurricanes’ head coach Randy Shannon. Hankerson runs a 4.4 40.
Kelvin Sheppard, ILB, LSU
The first-team, all-SEC linebacker could provide the Niners a versatile defender in the late rounds. Sheppard was the Tigers’ leading tackler. When in doubt, draft a guy who knows how to win.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech
Somebody actually thinks they know who the 49ers will take with the 174th pick overall? Well, Harbaugh wants an athletic quarterback and there really isn’t a more athletic passer in this draft than Taylor. He’s 6'1", 217 pounds and was stuck in an archaic offense where he seemingly had to make every big play for the Hokies. He was intercepted just four times as a senior, so he makes sound decisions. When he decides to run, that 4.4 40-yard dash time would be a weapon.
Taylor's no less a bet to succeed in the NFL than any quarterback in the draft.
Armando Allen, RB, Notre Dame
The 5'9", 199-pounder would add backfield depth at 190th overall. He is coming off hip flexor surgery, but is an all-purpose back, kick returner and a help on special teams. His college numbers are deceiving after playing behind woeful Irish offensive lines.
(picks 210, 230, 238, 249 overall)
Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford
There are faster receivers available, meaning this gifted pass-catcher could be reunited with his college coach in the final round. Whalen’s 6'1", 202 pounds but his 4.5 40 time will scare off teams who will find the board filled with speed-burners. The former Cardinal has special team skills, too.
Jason Kelce, C, Cincinnati
The 49ers have had depth problems at the position and the 6'3", 300-pounder showed he can block for the pass at the run in college.
Quentin Davie, OLB, Northwestern
The guy’s 6'4", 232 pounds and can go all day, according to draft analysts. He starred as a senior and his height gives him the ability to add weight to, perhaps, play defensive end, too.
Jason Teague, FS-CB, TCU
The fact that he played two positions in the secondary will give Teague an edge over the hundreds of players who’ll be holding their breath hoping to get a call at the end of the final round of the draft.
(Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at email@example.com.)