49ers moving up in class one draft at a time?

The NFL is a class society. That's particularly true for a team such as the 49ers, who still have a layer of residue lingering on their roster from the dirty days gone by when they resided at the bottom of the league. But the Niners are moving up now, and so is the class of their upgraded roster after adding a nine-player draft haul that could put the finishing touches on a playoff-ready team.

The Niners got down to business again Sunday to complete draft weekend 2007, adding five second-day prospects who all have a chance to make the team and, more significantly, make it better.

After adding Nebraska defensive end/outside linebacker Jay Moore, Washington defensive back Dashon Goldson and Florida defensive tackle Joe Cohen in the fourth round, Texas defensive back Tarell Brown in the fifth round and Kansas State running back Thomas Clayton with their final selection in the sixth round, the 49ers finally have a roster that pretty well is filled in with budding young talent and competition for roster spots that hasn't been seen since the day Dennis Erickson arrived to oversee the downfall of the franchise.

That's been the plan since Mike Nolan arrived to run the show two springs ago, and the 49ers coach could come away from this third draft since joining the franchise feeling that his 2007 team finally is one he can proudly and boldly lead around the NFL as a unit to be reckoned with.

Nolan's drafts have been all about premium talent at the top of the roster, but as he has said repeatedly, it is just as important to improve the bottom of the roster, because that pushed the middle of the roster, which pushes the players at the top.

Nolan mentioned that premise and philosophy at two separate times on both days of draft weekend, just to let everybody know that it's more than just a thought stuck in his mind. The Niners hung out with the lower class of NFL teams when he arrived in 2005. They moved into the middle class neighborhood last season.

The object, of course, is to reside in the upper class.

And to do that, the 49ers must improve the division of classes within their own team. Nobody knows this as well as Nolan, a veteran NFL realist.

"The more we can flush out the lower class of our football team, whether we're getting those guys pushed up to middle- or upper-class performers, or the new guys come in and take over the upper class," Nolan said. "That's what we look to do in the second day."

In Moore, the Niners got an edge rusher who will push for playing time in the team's 3-4 defensive scheme and give San Francisco another part that better fits that system. Brown is talented corner who fell considerably in the draft because of character and off-the-field issues, and Goldson and Cohen are other prospects Nolan said could work out to be much better than their draft status. Nolan even said Clayton could make an impression at one of the team's strongest positions - a place where it already has Pro Bowl starter Frank Gore, talented Michael Robinson and shifty Maurice Hicks, who is expected to sign his one-year tender as a restricted free agent by the time the team's three-day spring minicamp begins Friday.

"You would love to get starters out of the second day, but from a realistic standpoint, it takes two to three years for them to get into that role, if that's the role that's mean for them," Nolan said. "You want impact players, but it's a different way than most first-day picks."

As they did on the first day, the 49ers got high value with almost all of their picks, particularly where Moore and Brown were selected. When SFI asked Nolan if those players fell to the 49ers or if they actually were selected where the team had them pegged to go, Nolan gave a thoughtful response.

"That's an interesting question because we won't know for about three years," he said. "We won't know for about three years. Right now, we really like the way it's gone. A lot of the stuff that we said we would do and when we would do it, actually worked out. We got some really good quality where we did draft."

And then, the 49ers also got Darrell Jackson. He needs to be considered a part of this draft class in a superficial sort of way, because the team used one of its fourth-rounders to acquire him on Sunday and give San Francisco the legitimate No. 1 receiver it hasn't had since 2003.

And like Nolan/Scot McCloughan-directed draft classes before them, this one is full of leaders and high-character individuals who want to be 49ers and be part of something special that is brewing here in San Francisco.

"I'm just glad to be here and build a new family," Patrick Willis, the ringleader of this draft class as the draft's No. 11 overall pick, said Sunday after being publicly introduced as a 49er at team headquarters. "I saw those (five Lombardi trophies) on the way in. The coaches are hungry and they want the best for their players and they want to win again."

Win again.

The 49ers have finished with a losing record in each of the past four seasons. In the franchise's 62-year history, the team never has had five consecutive losing seasons. Back when he was hired to take over this reclamation project in January of 2005, Nolan said it could take a good three drafts before the franchise could right itself and be a contender again.

That third draft class now is in the books. And Nolan certainly has no reason to back away from that previous statement.

"I believe it was a very successful draft for us, from top to bottom," the coach said in summary. "I felt very good about yesterday and today. We're very fortunate some of those guys we took were there. I felt good about our first two drafts - I say it each year - but it's evident after each year. I think you'll see the same thing this year."

And that will mean seeing the 49ers move up in class - one draft class at a time.


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