Where they fit

The 49ers added a bunch of shiny new parts to the machine over the weekend, and here's a look at where and how the team will use its nine draft picks, what each brings to the operation, and how several could help in unconventional ways.

TE Vernon Davis (Round 1/No. 6 overall): It's true that Davis will make San Francisco's lagging offense better the moment he steps on the field as an instant starter, but there is more that he brings than meets the eye. With all apologies to Eric Johnson, Davis will be the starting tight end, but the team will move him around to isolate him on linebackers and strong safeties, a matchup that will cause fits for opposing defensive coordinators. Davis could immediately become the No. 1 target in the San Francisco passing game, a rarity for a tight end. But Davis is a rare breed. He will also be used as a decoy in some passing situations, which will allow the team's wide receivers prime opportunities on the edges. Lost in all the talk about Davis and his freakish athleticism and top receiving skills is his blocking ability, which the 49ers will be sure to take advantage of as Davis gets the step on defensive ends and linebackers to help San Francisco's running game turn the corner.

OLB/DE Manny Lawson (1/22): Lawson was mostly a defensive end in college, and he'll occasionally be playing that position when the team shifts to a 4-3 set. But the plan will be for the North Carolina State standout to play outside linebacker in the base 3-4 system. He'll be a pass-rushing specialist whom the 49ers hope can compensate for the losses of Julian Peterson and Andre Carter and, while Lawson might not be the prospect Peterson was coming out of college, he has many of the same skills and clearly has star potential. Lawson will be moved around a bit to take advantage of his edge-rushing skills, but he's the new starter on the weak side at OLB and will be an integral component in San Francisco's defensive game plan as the team moves forward. Lawson is viewed as a four-down player who also could see time on special teams, but the 49ers may find him too valuable for that.

WR/KR Brandon Williams (3/84): Some felt the diminuitive Williams was taken too early in the draft, but that won't be the case with the way the 49ers plan to use him. The 49ers don't have a player on their roster who can cause matchups problems like Williams can as a No. 3 slot receiver, and the sure-handed rookie will essentially be handed the team's punt-return duties as his job to lose. He's a legitimate candidate to challenge for regular No. 3 receiving duties behind starters Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle, and don't be surprised to see him quickly push other holdover WRs down the depth chart.

RB/WR Michael Robinson (4/100): Robinson's selection near the top of the draft's second day was a head-scratcher for some observers, but it shouldn't be. He offers the team a dynamic play-maker that would have went much higher on the first day had he had a defined position. Many draft boards had Robinson coming into the NFL as a receiver, but the 49ers – while they plan to make use of his receiving skills – have the clear intention of making the best use of Robinson's skills as a running back. He'll immediately challenge for the role as the team's third-down running back, and don't be surprised if he works his way into the rotation at the position and receives a few carries that don't go to Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore. He'll also be split out in the slot as a receiver after lining up in the backfield, and the team plans to take advantage of his passing skills on gimmick plays, though that might happen further down the road. He also could make an impact on special teams, and the 49ers already have talked about his skills also translating to the defensive backfield. But he'll be used first where the team needs him most - on offense.

OLB Parys Haralson (5/140): Haralson was a defensive end in college at Tennessee, but he is being brought in to play outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. A great value in the fifth round, Haralson will play immediately as a situational pass rusher and could challenge for a starting berth on the left side. He is undersized to play defensive end, but could play the same type of role Andre Carter did in San Francisco's defense last year, which would put him in situations where he won't be placed in coverage very often.

WR/FB Delanie Walker (6/175): Walker is an intriguing prospect who dominated as a receiver at the small college level because of his size and power. Naturally strong and physical, he is tough for defensive backs to bring down because of his thick body. Walker said he is down to 230 pounds so that he can play receiver with the 49ers, but the team in fact would like to see him put some weight back on to play a fullback/H-back type of role in their scheme. Walker then would be lined up in the backfield and could block on power sweeps, but his role would primarily be as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He may get an opportunity to be considered as a split receiver depending on what he shows the team this spring and summer.

DB Marcus Hudson (6/192): Though he lasted into the sixth round, Hudson has the size and skills of a better prospect and could factor immediately in the team's secondary plans. He may get an opportunity to vie for the starting role at free safety, though he still is a little raw at that position. But, with cornerback skills, Hudson could earn a niche in nickel and dime coverage packages. He has good size and the range to play both safety positions and also could be a factor on special teams, where he shined in college.

DE Melvin Oliver (6/197): Oliver has a chance to make the team as a 3-4 defensive end and even earn himself a spot in the defensive line rotation. With the team currently possessing no quality backups to ends Bryant Young and Marques Douglas, Oliver may already have a roster berth that is his to lose. He's one guy who needs to start showing the 49ers what he can do immediately at the team's minicamp this weekend, because the Niners will be looking for help at free agency at this position if Oliver looks like he can't handle the role.

DB Vickiel Vaughn (7/24): Probably the draft pick that will have the most difficulty making the final roster, Vaughn can change that status in a hurry if he can stand out among the mass of young and/or unproven players the team has competing in the secondary. Even though he was the next-to-last selection in the entire draft, he has a chance to contribute in his rookie season and, like Hudson, could be in the mix for the starting job at free safety, where he excelled in college at Arkansas. If he does make the squad, he'll be used regularly on special teams, which is another of his strengths.


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