Which OT makes the most sense for the 49ers?

We all know that coaches, players, and especially agents will pump up the quality and depth of draft classes this time of year. However, when someone such as Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans who is working these days as an analyst on the NFL Network, makes a statement declaring this draft's first round class as the strongest since 1983...

well, a declaration like that gets your attention.

After all, that first round class from 1983 produced six Hall-of-Famers, combined for 77 Pro Bowls and nine Super Bowls.

Can this class really live up to that kind of hype?

Right now, that's impossible to predict, but it sure puts the 49ers in an enviable position, having two first-round picks in the teens. You get the feeling that General Manager Scot McCloughan and Head Coach Mike Singletary must be feeling like a couple of kids at a candy store right now, knowing that seemingly no matter who falls to them at the 13th and 17th slots, they're going to get two players who figure to play right away and make immediate impacts.

With all that being said though, I'm not entirely convinced that either of those picks will be - or need to be - spent on an offensive tackle.

I completely understand the general perception that right tackle is the team's biggest need as we sit here today. I even agree with it. However, while plenty of the experts and draftniks rate the offensive tackle spot as one of the biggest strengths of this draft class, I'm not so sure I agree.

Oh sure, there is plenty of depth here, and this draft may very well produce 15 future starters in the NFL at tackle, but I'm not convinced that more than a couple of the handful of tackles projected to be taken in the first round will wind up being worth the king's ransom they will end up costing being picked as high as they will be.

To me, Russell Okung of Oklahoma State seems to be the only sure thing. He's got the size (6'5" and 307 lbs.), the quick feet, the quality film, and he showed during the scouting combine that he's got both the long arms (36 inches) and the strength (38 reps of 225 lbs.) to dominate.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, most of the scouts feel the same way about Okung too, and he figures to be a top-5 pick.

Everyone else with that first round projection has some red flags in my mind.

Take Iowa's Bryan Bulaga for example. Really, take him because I don't want him. Most folks are enamored with Bulaga because of his physicality, the way he held up in the rugged Big-10 Conference, and the fact that, at 20 years of age, he has the potential to just get better and better.

I look at Bulaga though and I'm reminded of the Raiders Robert Gallery. His arms measured at just 33 inches, which are a bit short in my opinion for a dominating left tackle. Also, in the combine drills he didn't look terribly explosive or athletic, especially in the lower body. Iowa linemen have a reputation for never improving in the pros past the level that Head Coach Kirk Ferentz got from them in college and I just have a feeling that Bulaga will just wind up being a solid NFL guard when it's all said and done.

Then there's Anthony Davis of Rutgers. While he showed flashes of dominance in the Big East, he wasn't always focused and consistent. The scuttlebutt from the combine was that his interviews were anything but encouraging. He was sloppy in most of the lineman drills and managed just 21 reps in the bench press. He's got the feet to play at the next level, but who knows where this kid's head is? The 49ers cannot afford to throw big money at a guy who's raw and undisciplined and wait and hope for him to figure things out. They need people who can contribute from Day One.

Oklahoma's Trent Williams is, in my mind, the guy besides Okung with the fewest risks. He played his senior year, has plenty of experience, and his athleticism was off the charts at the combine, particularly at the 40-yard dash (4.88 seconds, second to Bruce Campbell), and on the broad jump (where his 9'5 was second to Abilene Christian's Tony Washington). The bugaboo with Williams is that he doesn't seem to have an ideal position. While he was excellent at Oklahoma at right tackle, he struggled a bit at left tackle. He projects to a right tackle in the pros, but he only had 23 reps on the bench press. NFL coaches like their right tackles to be absolute maulers. Really, Williams would be perfect as a right tackle for a left-handed quarterback, but the 49ers don't have one of those.

The 49ers could bite the bullet with Williams - and a lot of mock drafts out there have them doing just that - and hope he figures out left tackle in the pros.

It makes a lot of sense for the 49ers to look for a left tackle with their first round pick as opposed to right tackle.

For one thing, the money they have to spend on a pick that high is "left tackle money" to begin with. Secondly, by drafting a left tackle, they have the opportunity to upgrade two positions at once.

The fellas over at FootballOutsiders.com wrote recently that the 49ers had the worst run blocking in the league last season and have also opined that San Francisco's running game took a precipitous turn for the worse at the exact moment when Joe Staley was shifted from right tackle in 2006 to left tackle in 2007.

Sure, left tackle is the glamour spot along the line, as well as the highest earning. Staley very well might balk at being asked to move back to right tackle. However, while he's a very good player on the left side, he's a notch below the best in the game. On the right side he would dominate and very well could be a Pro-Bowler for years to come.

The last first round tackle is Campbell from Maryland. We don't need to waste any time talking about him. He did so well at the combine that it's a mortal lock he'll be picked by the Raiders. Besides, he was so inconsistent on film, I highly doubt the 49ers would be seriously interested in him.

As you can see, there's no perfect fit here at first round left tackle. Singletary said the 49ers will not reach for someone they don't like just because he plays a position of need, and there's no reason to doubt his word. There are plenty of players that can help the 49ers at 13 and 17, even if they aren't tackles.

Maybe they'll look at Clemson's C.J. Spiller as a change-of-pace running back and world-class return man. Maybe they go with a corner like Boise State's Kyle Wilson. Or a safety like Texas' Earl Thomas. Or a defensive end to bookend Justin Smith.

Heck, with so many teams looking to get in on that first round smorgasbord, wouldn't it make sense for San Francisco to trade down a few spots and get an extra second or third rounder for their trouble?

The possibilities are endless.

There are other tackles out there who intrigue me, to be sure. Rodger Saffold of Indiana, Jared Veldheer of Hillsdale, and the aforementioned Washington out of Abilene Christian all showed the athleticism of their first round counterparts and in most cases, were even more impressive. None of the three have first round grades because they played in smaller programs against worse competition.

Still, if the 49ers aren't in love with any of the tackles in the first round, they don't have to gamble and hope their scouts were wrong. They can simply pick one of these guys in the second or third rounds, give them decent but not eye-popping contracts, and make them earn their way on the field.

In the meantime they can re-sign free agent Tony Pashos or perhaps some other veteran as a stopgap and maybe focus on tackle in the draft for 2011.

Maybe I'm wrong and there is a guy out there at tackle in the first round besides Okung whom McCloughan and Singletary are in love with. If that's the case, best of luck and I hope they're right.

Right now though, I just don't see him out there.

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