Dazzling draft day all about impact for 49ers
It's pretty fair to say that Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan, after more than two years of working together, are getting this draft thing down to a science. The 49ers did what they set out to do to begin the draft late Saturday morning when they selected Ole Miss stud linebacker Patrick Willis with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round. Willis - the best player remaining on San Francisco's draft board, bar none - is a defender with star potential the team had targeted with its top pick since Niners' coaches came away quite impressed after a week of rubbing elbows and sharing thoughts with Willis at the Senior Bowl in January. After making that selection, a dapper Nolan - resplendent in a tailored suit and pink tie - took to the podium during a draft party at the Santa Clara Convention Center. With a large throng of 49ers Faithful cheering heartily, Nolan joked and laughed and made for good times but also turned downright serious when talking about Willis, the latest shiny new part for his developing defense. "I'm really excited about him being on our football team," Nolan said. "He will be instrumental in our transformation to the 3-4 defense. We've coached him already at the Senior Bowl, so we know a lot about him, which is really important." How important? Nolan let it be known with certainty that Willis already has joined the core nucleus of young players the 49ers will build around, guys such as Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Manny Lawson, to name a few mentioned by Nolan. "When you get to know somebody," Nolan continued, "you really get to find out what you really want in your football team and what it's going to look like, so I think he's outstanding from that standpoint. When you're building the right team, you need to pick the right people as well as the right players. Patrick will be it and he's an outstanding guy." But the 49ers were only getting started with Willis. Things turned interesting a few hours later at the tail end of the first round, when the 49ers made a deal that moved them into the No. 28 overall slot, where the team grabbed Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley. Staley was the last player remaining on San Francisco's board of prospects that the team had hoped to get with its No. 42 overall selection in the second round. Knowing that wouldn't be possible as other prospects of the team's liking were snatched up, the 49ers acted swiftly and decisively before the Baltimore Ravens - who were expected to be on the prowl for a top offensive lineman, most likely Staley - went on the clock with the No. 29 overall pick. To get their man before the Ravens did, the 49ers worked a trade with the New England Patriots that at first glance seemed a little heavy in New England's favor. San Francisco packaged one of its four fourth-round selections - the No. 110 overall - with its 2008 first-rounder and sent those picks to the Patriots to move into New England's No. 28 slot. "As I've said in the past, we target about four players every time we make a selection," Nolan said. "Staley was the only one left of the four guys we were hoping to get at 42. So it was pretty quick the way those players came off the board, but we were hoping to make that happen for ourselves at 42, but it wasn't going to, so we felt it necessary to move up to make it happen sooner." The 49ers then got a 2008 first-rounder back when they engineered a trade with Indianapolis that - looking strictly at the numbers - seems likes the 49ers fleeced the Colts. The 49ers sent their No. 42 pick to Indianapolis - which was targeting a player it wanted at that slot, Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh - in return for the Colts' first-round pick in 2008 AND Indianapolis' fourth-rounder in 2008. A first- and fourth-round pick in return for a second-round pick? The 49ers had to know right then and there that things were going their way on this draft day. "As it worked out, when you look at all the math - if you put it all together - we got Staley at 42 and we got our one (first-rounder) back," Nolan said. "Next year's draft is a full, complete deal. We just have to perform better than Indy on the record, and then we get a better pick. But nonetheless, we've got a one for next year and we've got all of our picks. "And it just turns out, that had we taken Staley at 42 - which wasn't going to happen - had we'd done that, we'd have the same kind of draft. And we felt at that time we had to go up and get him. But really, because we also got a four in the deal with them - which was the four we gave to New England - everything worked out." So, essentially, the 49ers ended up getting Staley - who's now seen as a new fixture for the future at one of the team's tackle spots - for a second-round pick after all. And then things just kept getting for the home team. When the 49ers went back on the clock with the No. 76 selection - the second of the team's two third-rounders - Jason Hill, a prolific receiver from Washington State, still was available. The San Francisco native - a three-year starter who had two 1,000-yard seasons and scored 32 touchdowns in college - was a great value selection for San Francisco after 12 other receivers already had been taken. So was San Francisco's final pick, when the Niners capped their dazzling opening day by grabbing Florida defensive lineman Ray McDonald with their second third-round pick, the No. 97 overall. McDonald, considered one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the draft by several publications, was projected by some as a late first-rounder. He'll be slated for duty both inside and outside along San Francisco's 3-4 defensive front. "Hopefully, (McDonald) can be an impact player fairly early for us, and the same goes for Jason as well," Nolan said. And that makes the first day of the 2007 draft all about impact for the 49ers, who may have picked up four of those type of players Saturday, and - with six selections still to come Sunday - they're hardly done yet.
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