Crunching the numbers: 2008 NFL draft

No two NFL drafts are alike, but when looking at the number of players drafted at each position, the results can be similar. So what are the hot rounds for a wide receiver, an offensive tackle or edge pass rushers – all positions coveted by the 49ers in the 2009 NFL draft? We look at what the numbers say from last year's draft.

The NFL draft is an annual rite of passage for the league, as young talent is fed into the league and future stars are developed. Each year is different. For example, last year, offensive tackle was the hot position, as seven OTs went off the board in the first round. This is another strong year for the position, and the 49ers are almost certain to use one of their selections on a prospect here, perhaps even their No. 1 pick.

While the numbers may change at the top, a typical draft sees approximately the same number of players selected at a position. So, when fans look at the list of prospects, they can get a general feeling of how many players at a position will be selected. There will be about a dozen quarterbacks taken, only a handful of centers and 30 or more wide receivers. Where they go may change, but the numbers remain relatively consistent.

Here is a look by position and round at where players went in the 2008 draft, which may provide some insight as to how many players can logically be expected to be gone if the 49ers take a wide receiver in the third round or a safety in the fifth. What follows is a breakdown by position and the number by round from the 2008 draft:

QUARTERBACK – Total number taken: 13. By round (2-2-1-0-4-2-2). Only two QBs were taken in the first round last year, but both of them – Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco – became immediate starters. Expect the same this year, but realize that more QBs will be viewed as developmental prospects than those with the expectation of being starters. If the 49ers select one, he's likely to fall into the latter category.

RUNNING BACK – Total number taken: 23. By round (5-2-4-1-3-4-4). The RB position has been something of a gold mine in recent years, as teams with needs at RB have preferred to pay young talent rather than spend millions in free agency for backs with a lot of wear on the tires. While there won't be five running backs going in the first rounds, expect to see three or more RBs go in most rounds, with the 49ers likely to take one by the middle rounds.

FULLBACK – Total number taken: 4. By round (0-0-1-0-2-0-1). A position typically ignored, teams tend to develop their own fullbacks and it is rare to see a pure fullback come of the board in the first couple of rounds. This year should be no different. Tony Fiammeta of Syracuse may be the only fullback off the board prior to the fifth round. After signing veteran Moran Norris earlier this month and Zak Keasey also expected back, the 49ers aren't likely to burn a draft pick at this position.

WIDE RECEIVER – Total number taken: 35. By round (0-10-5-5-2-6-7). Last year was a record-setter, as the dearth of wide receivers allowed the Class of 2008 to slip all the way out of the first round before a record-busting 10 wide receivers came off the board in the second round. While that streak will end this year – Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin are cinches to come off in the first round and three or four others could join them – another deep draft class at the position will likely result in many teams going after more pressing needs and letting WR slip, which should again make it a strong position in the second to fourth rounds. The Niners found a gem in the sixth round last year with Josh Morgan and will be looking for the same this year, though they are likely to spring at a prospect with a higher pick.

TIGHT END – Total number taken: 16. By round (1-3-3-3-2-2-2). For more than a decade, the spread of the West Coast offense and the need for pass-catching tight ends has transformed the position. It seems every year that at least one TE goes in the first round, because athletic TEs are at a premium. Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State appears to be that guy in 2009, but this year will likely see similar numbers, as TEs consistently come off the board with a couple in each round. Tight end is a low draft priority for the Niners, who will use a pick at this position only if it's a prospect simply too good for them to pass up.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE – Total number taken: 27. By round: (7-1-2-6-2-2-7). It can be argued that OT is the most important position on a team. You can have a great QB or great RB, but without a strong pair of tackles, the entire offense can sputter. It is unlikely that we will see seven tackles come off the board in the first round any time soon, but with a strong draft class at the position, it won't be unusual to see five OTs come off in each of the first three rounds. If they don't find the edge rusher they covet sitting at the No. 10 pick, the 49ers are likely to grab one of the top tackle prospects available with their top selection.

GUARD – Total number taken: 9. By round (1-1-2-1-1-1-2). 2008 wasn't a particularly strong year for guards and 2009 doesn't seem to be either. But these numbers can be somewhat deceiving. Many NFL guards are converted college tackles, so the numbers can be a little skewed. That said, there may not be a guard taken until the middle of the second round at the earliest.

CENTER – Total number taken: 4. By round (0-0-0-1-0-2-1). The 49ers were one of just four teams to take a center last year – and Cody Wallace was the first center taken in the draft with their fourth-round selection. Teams tend to develop centers and keep them for many years, which is what the 49ers are hoping to do with Wallace as an eventual replacement for starter Eric Heitmann, who continues to perform like a player in his prime. The only difference this year is that there is a premium center in Alex Mack of Cal, who could break into the first round. But otherwise teams tend to be very cautious about using early picks on centers.

DEFENSIVE END – Total number taken: 25. By round (5-4-2-3-0-4-7). Few positions get picked apart more or faster than DE because everyone is looking for pass rushers, but so few teams have two dominant NFL-level DEs. There is always the potential for busts at the position, but it doesn't seem to stop teams. There will likely be three, four or five DEs that come off the board in the first round once again, but very few come with the can't-miss tag. There was an early run on DEs last year with very mixed results, and the 49ers will be wary because they are looking for a specific kind of defensive end – a large body that can play the front edge in their 3-4 system. Many college defensive ends – the ones that can make it in the NFL, that is – project to outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE – Total number taken: 16. By round (2-1-4-2-5-2-0). The defensive tackle position wasn't strong at all last year, but the overall numbers aren't that out of line with a typical year. As more teams incorporate the 3-4 defense and pigeon-hole DTs as either run-stopping nose tackles or two-gap pass-rush types, the number of tackles to come off the board decrease at the top. This year, there again may be just two DTs off the board early – B.J. Raji of Boston College and Peria Jerry of Ole Miss.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER – Total number taken: 25. By round (2-1-6-4-5-3-4). Whereas defensive tackle numbers have dropped with more teams incorporating the 3-4, so has the number of OLBs been on the rise. Last year was a horrible year for top-end outside linebackers, but there will likely only be two or three that come off the board in each of the first couple of rounds. The numbers will be inflated on the second day as teams take project types and those who can fill immediate needs on special teams. The 49ers will definitely be on the lookout for these types of prospects at every stage of the selection process.

INSIDE LINEBACKER – Total number taken: 5. By round (0-1-0-0-1-3-0). It should be noted that 2008 was the worst ILB draft class in years, but teams usually lock down a good middle linebacker when they get one and very few top inside ‘backers hit the free-agent market, making the Bart Scott signing by the Jets something of a rarity. While not an overly strong draft class this year, there will be much more activity than in 2008 – with only one MLB taken in the first four rounds and only two prior to the sixth round. Rey Maualuga of USC and James Laurinaitis are both likely to go in the first round and a half-dozen should be gone by the fourth, making this a position that will see a significant bump in numbers.

CORNERBACK – Total number taken: 32. By round (5-5-4-8-4-2-4). With the increase in passing numbers over the years, maintaining a strong secondary is critical. By the numbers, every team in the league took a corner last year and 2009 should be no different. While there may not be five CBs off the board in the first round, expect to see the final numbers to be strikingly similar. The 49ers' motto is you can never have enough corners, so they likely again will take one at some point, maybe even with a first-day selection.

SAFETY – Total number taken: 14. By round (1-1-3-2-0-4-3). Like tight end, the safety position used to be one that rarely saw one of their own drafted in the first round. That has changed in recent years, but there has never been a glut of them going early. This year, there appears to be only one candidate – Louis Delmas of Western Michigan – and he has no guarantees of going in the first round. It is a value position that can see solid players come off the board after the first round. That is likely to be where the 49ers will look to address their need for fresh young talent at this position.

Although no two drafts are the same, the numbers tend to roll over from one year to the next. If the 49ers are looking to add depth at positions in the middle or late rounds, they likely already have a good idea how many will be gone by the time they target a position in the later rounds. While they don't always fall the same way, when Draft 2009 is over, the final numbers will likely be very similar.

NOTE: Kickers, punters and long snappers were not included in this breakdown, as they are usually just late-round picks, if selected at all. For the record, there were two kickers chosen in the sixth and seventh rounds, one punter in the sixth and one long snapper in the sixth last year. The 49ers are set at each position with kicker Joe Nedney, punter Andy Lee and long snapper Brian Jennings, so they won't be looking at these positions in the draft.

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