Finishing what they started: The draft picks

Whether a result of injuries, merit or predestination, seven rookies or second-year players have worked their way into the 49ers' regular starting lineup by December who weren't there at the end of September. Some will be staying a while. But not all of them. The 49ers must soon determine where the spare parts that have been their 2005 fill-ins fit into the team's grand scheme for major improvement in 2006. Today: A look at the young draft picks who have dented the starting lineup.

DAVID BAAS Position: Offensive guard

How acquired: Selected by 49ers in second round of 2005 NFL draft.

When entered starting lineup: Took over as starting right guard in Week 13 against Arizona after Eric Heitmann moved to center to replace Jeremy Newberry.

Pros and cons: Appears to have all the qualities to become a standout offensive lineman. Has good size, feet and center of gravity and just needs experience at the NFL level. His development this year was considerably thwarted by a torn hamstring a few days before training camp began that kept him out of all the team's summer work. Baas did not play in Weeks 1-2 and was inactive in Week 3 before finally getting into a game. He was slowly worked into the lineup before joining the starting unit in December. Still must learn proper technique to deal with the stronger, quicker defensive linemen that he'll face in the NFL. Must become a more dominant force in his second season.

Where he fits in 2006: When the 49ers finally shake out an offensive line that could be considerably reconfigured next season, Baas should find himself as a starter at center or either of the two guard positions. If not, he'll be the top backup at those three spots, but it will be considered a disappointment if that turns out to be the case. He could be ticketed for starting duties at center if Newberry can't make it back from major microfracture surgery on his right knee.


Position: Quarterback

How acquired: Selected by 49ers in first round of 2005 NFL draft.

When entered starting lineup: Took over as the starting quarterback from an ineffective Tim Rattay in Week 5, then sprained knee ligaments the next week against Washington and missed five games. Returned to starting lineup in Week 13 against Arizona.

Pros and cons: The 21-year-old rookie has had a rocky indoctrination to the NFL at the game's most consequential position. But his tremendous upside is what made him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and that's what will keep the 49ers patient while he continues to develop. Smith has a strong arm and the physical tools to succeed at this level, but at this stage of his career he is overmatched by the complexities of NFL defenses that regularly stack the box and come at him with blitz packages because of their lack of respect for San Francisco's offensive talent. Smith gradually is improving his accuracy, but he still is rattled easily and his biggest downfall at this point is poor decision making. Smith needs two essentials to succeed: Experience and better talent around him. Until he gets more of each, he will continue to struggle.

Where he fits in 2006: He's the team's starting quarterback, come hell or high water.


Position: Offensive tackle

How acquired: Selected by 49ers in third round of 2005 NFL draft.

When entered starting lineup: Made first NFL start at right guard in Week 10 against Chicago when center Jeremy Newberry was given a week off to rest numerous injuries and regular right guard Eric Heitmann moved to center. Moved in as a regular starter at left tackle the next week in place of ineffective veteran Anthony Clement.

Pros and cons: Already was best healthy offensive tackle on San Francisco roster by the beginning of December. Versatile player has the skills to play either guard or tackle but probably is best suited to play on the edge. Is tough and smart and a sound all-around performer. Provided the 49ers with some much-needed relief at left tackle after Clement struggled to protect the blind side of San Francisco's quarterbacks after regular Jonas Jennings was lost for the season in Week 3 to a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Where he fits in 2006: Snyder has displayed considerable promise at left tackle, but the 49ers still plan to go with Jennings there next season as long as he returns to full strength. One possible scenario has Snyder moving to right tackle to take the place of disappointing 2003 first-round pick Kwame Harris, who has struggled at that position all season. It's also possible Snyder could slide into one of the starting positions at guard, where he played throughout training camp and 10 weeks of the regular season before being summoned at tackle. At the very least, depending on offseason upgrades, Snyder will be the sixth man in the offensive line rotation. But it's more likely he'll be entrenched next season in a starting role.


Position: Nose tackle

How acquired: Selected by 49ers in fourth round of 2004 NFL draft.

When entered starting lineup: Took over at nose tackle in Week 12 at Tennessee when regular Anthony Adams moved to left end to take the place of Bryant Young, who suffered ligament damage in his right knee in Week 11.

Pros and cons: Tremendously strong player has displayed some nice development in the trenches after missing his entire rookie season last year with a back problem. Sopoaga is difficult to move out of the middle and gets some nice upfield push while absorbing multiple blockers. Still is a very raw player who must continue to refine his technique to get the most out of his ability and be a consistently effective player. "I don't believe Isaac played an awful lot of football before he played in college," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "A lot of your high school years are times when guys learn a lot about how to play the game and things like that, so he's still pretty raw. But he gets better and better all the time."

Where he fits in 2006: Sopoaga has proven this season that he's a keeper in the team's 3-4 defensive scheme. Like this year, he'll battle Adams and youngster Ronnie Fields – and possibly an offseason newcomer – for playing time at nose tackle next season. That's a battle the 49ers would like to see the big Samoan win.

Niners Digest Top Stories