D-line is No. 1 priority in draft

And with the No. 26 selection in the first round of the NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select ... Well, a defensive lineman, of course. All things being equal, the Niners will select the best college defensive end or tackle still available with their first-round pick Saturday, then hope to grab a top receiving prospect with their second-round pick.

San Francisco's top priorities in the draft are, in order, at defensive line, wide receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback. If the best athlete available when the Niners pick falls into either of those categories, the Niners will pick that player. But the abundance of topflight DTs and DEs in this year's draft indicate the Niners will grab one of those players at their turn. This all could change if the Niners move up or down in the first round, as they did in both 2000 and 2001.

"Obviously, if you look at our team and who we lost, defensive lineman is going to be something we're going to look at very seriously in the draft," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said.

The Niners lost starting left defensive end Chike Okeafor to free agency and released starting right defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield in a cost-cutting/performance-related move. Former starter John Engelberger could replace Okeafor at left end, but the Niners are less certain at tackle, where Jim Flanigan - last year's third DT - currently is listed as the starter. He's backed up by second-year player Josh Shaw and a collection of fringe veterans.

"We don't have a lot of holes to fill," general manager Terry Donahue said. "We've got a defensive tackle. In theory, we lost a starter there. We lost a defensive end. We've lost a starter there. We don't have any other starting positions (to fill). I would expect that we'll draft at some point an end and I would expect at some point in the draft we'll draft a tackle."

Expect one of those choices to come in the first round, unless one of the top four receiving prospects slides into the 49ers hands. There are too many quality DT and DE that should still be around at No. 26 for the Niners to pass.

The Niners had Miami end Jerome McDougle and Colorado's Tyler Brayton in for visits during the spring and, while McDougle probably won't be available, the team could find itself with a shot at several top-shelf prospects, such as Ohio State's Kenny Peterson, Penn State's Michael Haynes, Nebraska's Chris Kelsay, Texas' Corey Redding, Louisville's DeWayne White and Wake Forest's Calvin Pace. The list of top tackles also is deep with the Niners perhaps dreaming that a prospect such as Texas A&M's Ty Warren, among others, will slide to them.

"Obviously, we lost a tackle and an end and we're going to have to replace them," Erickson said.

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