A scout's eye view of 49ers draft, Part I

Kentwan Balmer a risky gamble in the first round, an underachiever who won't perform once he gets the big bucks? Reggie Smith a steal in the third round who could be headed for big things? Russ Lande, draft expert for the Sporting News and author of GM Jr's Guide to the NFL Draft, drops by to speak exclusively with SFI about the 49ers' 2008 draft class, and he has some interesting things to say.

SFI: What's your overall take on the quality of San Francisco's draft? Did the 49ers make the most of their six selections?
Russ Lande:
I like all the picks except for the first one. I think they reached in the first round on (Kentwan) Balmer. I watched him as a senior and while he flashes great talent, he's kind of an underachiever. His senior year was the first year he made an impact. Now, last year I thought they reached on Joe Staley late in the first round, and that kid proved me wrong. He turned out to be a home run. I'm just not sure about Balmer. I think they took a gamble on a guy that could be good. But he has to prove that. I thought they did a great job after him. I love Chilo Rachal. If he would have stayed in school this year, he would have been a sure first-rounder next year. He has a chance to be a very good starting guard in the NFL. It was a great pick to get Reggie Smith in the third round. I thought he might go late in the first round or early in the second. Where they got him was great. The other guys all have a chance to help them, too. Overall, I think they did very well.

SFI: What seems to be the issue with Balmer? Some observers felt he fell to the 49ers at the No. 29 overall pick in the first round. You don't agree with that assessment?
Scouting him, you'd see him flash at times and you'd say, 'Wow,' but then he'd disappear for long stretches of time. It depends on what they're going to ask him to do in the 3-4 (defense). I think he's a gamble. From what I saw and heard from some people, he's not a highly motivated kid. I could be wrong. This kid, to me, is almost a happy-go-lucky guy who is like, 'If it's near me, I'll make the play. If it isn't and I'm not in the mood, I won't make the play.' Balmer is an immensely gifted kid, a big kid that can run and explode. He has the tools that you want. If their defensive line coach is a great motivator and can bring it out in him, then the gamble makes sense. The kid has the talent. I just think he's a risky pick in the first round. You're going to have to give him a lot of money. I think when you give him that, and he gets his money, it might be difficult to keep him motivated.

SFI: So he wasn't the best pick for San Francisco at that point in the draft?
I just didn't like him. Every scout that I spoke to said he's going to rocket up draft boards when he works out because he looks the part and is a personable, intelligent kid. But if you add everything up, he's a flash-type of player and those kind of guys … they can be risky picks. I wasn't surprised he fell to them late in the first round. I was surprised they took him when they did. I think they definitely could have gotten better in the draft at that point. But you have (general manager) Scot McCloughan and (director of college scouting) Dave McCloughan over there, and those guys know what they're doing. You have guys over there who are watching all the film, so it's not like they just took a chance on the guy. They didn't just throw a dart on the board in Balmer. They probably thought he improved so much from his junior to senior seasons that he's probably going to blossom in the NFL, and that's probably why they're taking a little bit of a gamble on him. It's hard to critique a pick that you know is based on evaluation of film from those guys.

SFI: If things do go right, does Balmer have star potential? Where do you see him fitting in as a rookie?
Sure, there is potential for him to be a star. That's if everything goes right. As a rookie, he'll probably be a backup, but he'll play a lot because they need help on the defensive line. I just don't know if he'll ever become that highly-competitive guy that you need to become a really good defensive lineman. The competitiveness and the technique - those are real issues with him. It doesn't seem like he fights like crazy to make plays.

SFI: The 49ers are trying him first at left end in their 3-4 system. Is this a guy that also can play nose tackle in that scheme?
I think he has the talent to play anywhere on the line, but with his body frame - unless he adds a lot of weight - he's going to be best at defensive end, because he tends to play high. He's a 6-foot-4 kid with pretty good strength. He has a chance to play anywhere on the line. But again, I consider him a risky pick because of his lack of consistent production in college.

SFI: When you have only six picks like the 49ers this year, and don't make your first selection until late in the first round, how difficult is it to come away with a good draft?
I think it's easy to have a good draft because you can always get good players if you do a good job scouting, whether you have three picks or you have 10 picks. But (with six picks) you're not going to come out with five or six (contributors). No matter how much research and good scouting you do, one out of three picks are not going to amount to anything. So with six picks, maybe you're looking at three or four. You can definitely have a good draft with six picks, you're just not going to come away with a lot of guys that will help. But I love what the 49ers did after their first pick. They got a lot of guys I could legitimately see being starters in a year or two. I think they did a real good job finding some of those guys.

In Part II, Russ talks about the great value San Francisco got overall from its six picks, projecting that as many as five could be starters someday, breaks down Chilo Rachal's potential to be a "very good" starting guard in the NFL some day, talks in detail about Reggie Smith, Josh Morgan and Larry Grant, says the 49ers did a good job bolstering their offensive line on draft weekend, and gives his final analysis on the contributions the 49ers can expect in the present and future from their 2008 draft class.

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