49ers set to shoot for stars on draft day

Mike Nolan has been deliberately positioning the 49ers for the 2006 NFL draft since last September. Now the team is just about complete with all its wheeling and dealing and the detailed inspection of up-and-down legwork leading up to the April college lottery. With another seminal San Francisco draft now one week away, Nolan and Co. say the 49ers are staying put in the draft order and shooting for the stars. That is, unless someone comes calling with a late offer they just can't refuse.

But unless that offer to trade down from their No. 6 overall pick comes along – "There have been talks and everyone is trying to stay in the game. People want to find out how committed you are to your spot," Nolan said Friday afternoon – the 49ers are unlikely to make any more attempts to trade up and will use their two first-round selections on April 29 to grab players who will be expected to come in and start immediately.

The 49ers relinquished two value picks in a deep draft – the No. 37 overall near the top of the second round and the No. 68 near the top of the third – to acquire the No. 22 overall this week from the Denver Broncos. There is some speculation San Francisco is aiming to package more picks to climb higher in the first round, but Nolan says the team plans to use the two high picks it now owns.

"I'm all for a lot of picks," Nolan said. "But we are a football team that needs to add starters before we really concentrate on depth. Early on, it's not about how many guys, it's about having quality guys. This (Denver) trade, as it paints the picture, is more about getting starters and guys that come in and can be impact players."

And so, the 49ers plan on getting at least two of those types at positions of need in what is shaping up as a draft that will have an endurance of quality prospects through the first day. And it will be easier for San Francisco to identify those players from its two lofty perches in the first round, since the team has so many positions of need from which it can choose.

"Unfortunately, it's safe for us to say that we can truly take the best player available, other than maybe a quarterback, because we have needs at just about every spot," Nolan said. "In our case, it's evident. I don't know if you can really name a position outside of quarterback where we've really established ourselves that that's going to be the guy that we're going to work with."

The 49ers are prepared for the process like they seldom have been in recent years, and Nolan and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan indicated as much several times while taking a few roundabout, backhanded slaps at a previous management regime that allowed five veteran linebackers (three of them starters) to all become free agents in the same year – the same regime that selected four first-round draft picks and three second-rounders since 2000 than no longer are with the team.

Nolan said the experience gained by team personnel and scouts while coaching at the Senior Bowl, attending college Pro Days and the NFL Combine – in addition to the time put in by McCloughan's personnel staff, scouts and team medical staff – has put San Francisco's draft board in working order a full week before the draft begins.

"We continue to put the board together, but it is close to being complete," Nolan said. "Scot and I will have more meetings over the weekend and the next week as far as lining things up, but a lot of that work has been done up to this point, so that will be beneficial for us."

Nolan told the story of last year's draft, when he and McCloughan – who had been hired on Feb. 1 – had been working together only a few months before taking on the consequential decisions of picking first in every round of the draft for a talent-gutted team.

"Last year, Scot and I were scrambling. This year, we have had a lot more focus," Nolan said. "We can focus more on the draft as opposed to so many other organizational things we had to do last year."

"We put the board up and lay it out," Nolan continued. "If you do all of your work like that, a lot of time it is a boring room (on draft day). John (York) commented last year on how this was the most quiet the draft room has ever been. The only thing that would change it (is) if someone comes up with a new scenario we haven't thought about. It's hard to get stuck (even) if you haven't done your work, but there will be a player of value at that pick."

McCloughan identified North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk and Maryland tight end Vernon Davis as "impact type-players" the 49ers could take if they're available at No. 6. He also expects to maximize the value of the No. 22 pick, about which Nolan and McCloughan discussed at length before finally deciding to give up the possibility of getting two quality players (at 37 and 68) for the chance to get one that's a cut above.

"That's one of the reasons we discussed this trade," McCloughan said. "Coach and I went through about a day and a half of talks of what is the good and what is the bad. We were sitting at (No.) 37, and we felt that we would need the board to work our way … which I believe it will, (now) that we have the chance to get a real good football player – a much better chance at 22 than we would have at 37."

Considering that the status and order of the top 10 could fluctuate dramatically depending on where the top three quarterbacks (USC's Matt Leinart, Texas' Vince Young and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler) are selected, McCloughan said the 49ers have prepared for multiple scenarios that could develop once the first round gets underway.

"That is what is unique about this draft," he said. "I have not seen a top 10 this sporadic this late in the process of a draft. What happens is there are three quarterbacks and with New Orleans (which owns the No. 2 overall pick) signing Drew Brees … it is very unique. My gut tells me once one or two of these (top prospects) starts to slide a little bit, teams might come flying up there for them, especially a quarterback."

And those teams could come flying directly up to San Francisco at the No. 6 slot to get those players, which means the 49ers could be set for the draft today but might not be so set once they actually get there.


Niners Digest Top Stories