First for 49ers: DB, WR or OT

And with the 27th pick of the 2002 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers will select...

 A defensive back, wide receiver or offensive tackle.

 If the 49ers still own the 27th pick in the first round when that selection is on the clock sometime early Saturday afternoon, they will take the best available athlete among a pool of prospects at those three positions, unless clearly the best player left on their board is a defensive end.

 The Niners already know who their 22 starters will be this season, a nice luxury to have in the middle of April. It allows them to focus on specific players at specific positions to grab a top prospect in the first round who can come in and contribute immediately, if not start. When picking at 27, it's possible a team can get a player who is considered much higher on their particular board.

 "When we pick at 27, in years past, we would pick primarily by need," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said. "We would always evaluate the best player on the board, but we were highly motivated by need. This year, we'll be highly motivated by the best player on board and who is available."

 San Francisco will look first to fill a void at nickel and dime back in their secondary coverage packages, and if Florida cornerback/kick returner Lito Sheppard is on the board when No. 27 arrives, he is the frontrunner for the Niners' pick. Miami cornerback Mike Rumph also could be taken if Sheppard is gone.

 Donahue says there's "probably five or six" players the 49ers would draft "if we felt we had to have a corner at 27." But if Sheppard and Rumph - each considered two of the top four prospects - are gone, the Niners seriously will look at who is left at receiver and offensive tackle, where several can't-miss prospects will go high, but one could slip to 27 depending on how the draft unfolds.

 "If it is very clear to us that at 27 that the best player on the board is a wide receiver and there's a distance between that player and the next player, we would take a wide receiver and not hesitate," Donahue said. That player could be LSU's Josh Reed, Virginia Tech's speedy Andre Davis or one of the Florida receivers - Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell.

 This could be the year the Niners will seriously consider taking an offensive tackle in the first round for the first time since Harris Barton in 1987. Florida's Mike Pearson and Arizona State's Levi Jones might be too good to pass up if they're still around when the Niners select. The Niners need a young stud tackle to start developing and plugging into their line.

 "I think somebody has to fall a little bit, but I think there's a shot," said Donahue, who says there are "four or five tackles" the team would stretch into the 27th pick. Pearson and Jones are rated Nos. 3 and 4 behind surefire top-15 picks Bryant McKinnie and Mike Williams.

 If one of those players at those positions isn't available at 27, the Niners will look to defensive end to see if Syracuse's Dwight Feeney, Georgia's Charles Grant or South Carolina's Kalimba Edwards still are on the board.

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