49ers hope to be toasting top draft class

Now, Terry Donahue said, he's going to go have a beer or two. Whether the 49ers GM should be tipping glasses with others who helped assemble San Francisco's 2003 draft class remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The Niners took some chances in going after the best athletes available this weekend, and wound up filling voids at each of their major positions of need while at the same time finding some possible cornerstones for the team's future.

Like many NFL teams, the Niners put a lot into their draft process, and Donahue made a point late Sunday afternoon to thank and congratulate all the scouts, coaches and team personnel who took part in all the hard work that included "everything we could do to be thorough and complete in trying to analyze everyone in the country."

"It was a good process and we're happy with where we're at," Donahue said. "The reality of it is no one really knows exactly how good your players are going to be until they play and stay healthy and perform and develop their careers. But we're pleased with the two days work that we've had. We've got some really good guys to join the organization."

The Niners go for character in a big way, and that was evident in some of the classy individuals they selected, including players that come from big-time college programs such as Stanford, Penn State, Miami, Florida and Notre Dame.

But character only goes so far on a football field, where violence usually takes over and winning becomes dependent on natural skill and aggression. The Niners think they have the right mix in each of their picks.

In first-round pick Kwame Harris, the Niners acquired a potential franchise building block who could anchor the offensive line for the next decade.

"Certainly, our first pick goes a long way to resolving a constant problem that we've had for a long time here - which is a big, athletic, offensive tackle," Donahue said. "We love our players, but the reality of it is it was time for us to go get a big, athletic lineman with an early draft pick. We haven't been able to do that for quite some time because of our defensive needs and the restructuring we had to go through. We felt we'd gotten to a point we could finally do that."

Then, the Niners followed with two quick, feisty defenders who should help the team replace the two starters San Francisco lost from last season.

"We lost two starters and we replaced them with two young, aggressive, active football players," Donahue said. "They're going to have to compete and earn their way, but they're active and fast and quick and we're pleased about that."

On Day 2, the 49ers turned to their offensive skill positions, where they added two receiving prospects and a tight end who could provide dividends both now and later, and then a big quarterback who had fabulous success in college and may possess the intangibles that will allow him to make more of an impact in the pros than most anybody expects.

"We were able today to do some good work at the wide receiver position and invest in the quarterback position," Donahue said. "All in all, things turned out quite well. I think we're all feeling like were very happy and very satisfied. We added some quality athletes, some really good people - which is important to us - and some guys that are going to play a long time in the National Football League."

That, of course, is the most important criteria of all. It's hard to argue that the 49ers got what they were looking for this weekend. Only time will tell if those looks are deceiving or the real thing.


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