Donahue feeling a draft

This 2004 season in ruins edged a little bit closer to 49ers infamy Wednesday when the entire team was snubbed in Pro Bowl balloting. General manager Terry Donahue doesn't ever want to see that happen again. Saying that the Pro Bowl shutout is "an indication of where we're at," Donahue for the first time revealed his plans for the upcoming draft and how the Niners plan to spend their "football capital" to re-stock the roster.

With the 2-12 Niners in position for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft if they fail to win their final two games, Donahue said he already has started to consider what the team will do with its top choice in April.

To be sure, there are plenty of options. Needing help in several areas, the Niners could opt to trade down and/or trade for players and draft picks. As the last few years have indicated, there are other teams out there willing to pay a ransom for the No. 1 overall pick.

But Donahue said, as of now, the Niners plans to keep it.

"We're going to have, obviously, a very high pick one way or another," Donahue said. "I would expect that we're going to pick a player. That's my expectation today."

The Niners need all the talent they can get. The No. 1 overall pick in the draft should provide a nice lump sum of it, and ostensibly should become an impact player in the NFL. That's something of which San Francisco's roster of today – with so many of the Niners' best players out for the season with injuries – currently is lacking.

Donahue, however, is not tying himself to that alternative. The 49ers had the No. 3 overall selection in the 2000 draft, for instance, and ultimately traded down before selecting linebacker Julian Peterson at No. 16 in the first round and cornerback Ahmed Plummer eight picks later at No. 24. Those two players arguably are the best first-rounders San Francisco has selected in the past five drafts, and both of them currently are on injured reserve.

"We'll have to wait and see," Donahue said. "I mean, I'm not going to commit to that. But you ask me today – it's December – and I'd say that today, we'd probably end up taking a player."

Donahue's comments came on the day it was announced the NFC won't be taking any 49ers to the Pro Bowl next February. It's the first time since 1980 the 49ers won't be sending at least two players to the Pro Bowl.

The Niners sent three players to the Pro Bowl last year despite a losing season, and six players each the two seasons before that. The best San Francisco could do this year is get fullback Fred Beasley and tight end Eric Johnson named as first alternates at their positions.

"When we had players like Jeff (Garcia) and (Terrell Owens) and (Bryant Young), Ron Stone and those kind of guys, obviously we had a much more mature and developed team than we currently have," Donahue said. "But we'll get some Pro Bowlers out of here. There will be some Pro Bowlers in this locker room."

The Niners need to start collecting a few more right away in next year's draft, and they know it.

Donahue wouldn't comment on junior quarterbacks Matt Leinart of USC and Aaron Rodgers of Cal – both considered potential No. 1 overall selections, though neither has yet declared for the draft – but he did say he thinks juniors that come out early "generally (are) at a higher risk than a senior," even though Donahue himself has selected five juniors in the top three rounds of the past four drafts.

But if the Niners end up with the top pick, and use it, Donahue said the Niners plan to take the best player available regardless of age, class or position.

"I think we do," he said. "I think we'll take the best player on the board, regardless of position."

The 2005 draft will be unique for the 49ers, who usually don't spend much time closely inspecting the very top prospects because they are picking later in the first round and would never have a shot at selecting them, barring a trade.

It's a whole different situation for the team this year.

"We'll spend more time with the top three or four players that we've never really spent any time with," Donahue said. "When you're talking about this early of a pick, you're going to spend a lot more time with those kind of individuals. You're either going to make sure that they fly out here, or you're going to fly to their hometown. You're going to spend a lot more time with them."

Because the Niners will be picking near the top of each round – and they'll also have multiple compensatory selections to work with – the 2005 draft promises to be a bonanza to a San Francisco team that really could use the help.

Some observers consider this to be a weak draft and a bad year to have the No. 1 overall pick. But Donahue downplays that suggestion.

"There's sure a lot of players we'd like to have," he said. "I don't think there's a Peyton Manning. I don't think there's a Michael Vick at this particular time in the draft. I don't think there's those kinds of marquee players. But there are some really good players in the draft. We've got a lot of football capital this year, we're going to spend it, and we're going to end up with some good players."

And, hopefully, several more Pro Bowlers than the Niners ended up with this year.


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