NinersDigest identified five specific areas of need for the team entering the draft, and now we take a look at how the 49ers did during the three-day college lottery in addressing those needs, giving the team a grade on its success in each area.
QuarterbackAll things considered, the 49ers couldn't have done much better than to find Colin Kaepernick at the top of the second round. He's a great prospect for the West Coast system the team intends to run, and the Niners didn't let him slip away when it became apparent that he wasn't going to drop down to them in the middle of the second. The 49ers got a tremendous athlete who has the tools to make it as a winning NFL quarterback, and they didn't reach for one of the over-rated prospects who were available when they selected early in the first round.
Outside linebackerFirst-round selection Aldon Smith has a ton of potential to be the impact edge rusher the 49ers need to make their defense complete and, in the process, much more effective. There's only two problems: The 21-year-old Smith is young and inexperienced after playing only two years of college ball and ... he's not an outside linebacker. Smith played end in a 4-3 defensive system at Missouri and he'll attempt to transition to strong-side linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 system. How well – and how quickly – Smith can make the adjustment will be the measure of how well the 49ers addressed this need. Possessing the size and tools to become a force at the position, Smith is an intriguing prospect that certainly will have a lot to live up to as the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.
CornerbackThe 49ers almost certainly would have selected LSU's Patrick Peterson had he slipped two more slots to their No. 7 position in the first round, but that didn't happen, so they practically had to pick a cornerback with their third selection after moving up in the second round to get their quarterback prospect for the future. They got a cornerback prospect, all right, in South Carolina's athletic and fast Chris Culliver with the No. 80 overall pick in the third round. The problem with Culliver is that he's a hit-or-miss selection, and the Niners opted to gamble on his potential rather than take a more polished prospect. Most knowledgeable analysts had Culliver going no sooner than the late rounds, if he was drafted at all. No. 80 overall seems an awful high slot for Culliver to go, particularly since he played the entire 2008 season at free safety. Culliver is a tweener with track speed who played three positions in college, but he never really excelled at any of them, and that makes him San Francisco's most questionable pick of the draft, considering where he was taken. Culliver has return skills and may indeed develop into what the Niners need in the secondary, but he comes to the team as nothing more than a project at a position where the 49ers could really use some immediate help. The Niners also took a seventh-round flyer on Florida A&M's Curtis Holcomb with one of the final selections of the draft, but at best he's a long-shot to even make the team.
Running backThe Niners waited until the fourth round to address this need, but they got very high value when they were able to find Oklahoma State's slippery Kendall Hunter waiting for them there. Hunter was generally considered to go no later than the third round, and there's a reason for that after all the talent and productivity he displayed in college. He's little, but little guys with his talent can make it in the NFL, particularly since he won't be expected to be an every-down back. He should be the perfect scatback complement to power slasher Frank Gore and big Anthony Dixon in San Francisco's backfield.
Defensive lineThe 49ers needed another big body to develop here, particularly with their potential problems with starting nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin in limbo as a free agent and the team having nobody to take over for Franklin should he leave except for Ricky Jean Francois, who's shaky at best as a starting candidate. But the 49ers didn't draft a defensive lineman, since they're converting their first-round pick from defensive end to outside linebacker, so they failed to fill or even address this need in the draft and will have to look to do so elsewhere before the season begins.