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Offseason review: San Francisco 49ers
QB, OLB, NT, CB, WR, OT, DE, RB (depth)
Round 1: Aldon Smith, OLB
Round 2: Colin Kaepernick, QB
Round 3: Chris Culliver, CB
Round 4: Kendall Hunter RB
Round 5: Daniel Kilgore, G
Round 6: Ronald Johnson, WR
Round 6: Colin Jones, S
Round 7: Bruce Miller, FB
Round 7: Michael Person, LT/G
Round 7: Curtis Holcomb, CB
Potential free agents of note
NT, OLB (depth), WR (depth), OT (depth), DE (depth)
The 49ers had a dilemma with their first-round pick. They needed to address their two biggest positional needs: quarterback and pass rusher. They wound up passing on Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker — both raw, talented passers — and selected Aldon Smith. Smith, who lined up at defensive end at Missouri, will transition to outside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 defensive scheme. The move could be a challenge for Smith to grasp, as he has not been able to practice with the team because of the ongoing labor issues.
With veteran quarterback Alex Smith unsigned, the 49ers only have journeyman David Carr under contract for next season. Carr’s base salary of $1.875 million for last season was fully guaranteed, but none of this year’s base salary of $2.375 million is guaranteed, so he could be released once free agency starts.
New head coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear for months that he wanted Smith to re-sign even though he never coached him. Harbaugh will be running a West Coast offense, which some personnel evaluators believe could be the best scheme for Smith’s skill set.
The team addressed the future of the quarterback position in the second round with Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, who had great performances during Senior Bowl week and at the NFL Combine, will need time to develop. While he has an outstanding arm, talent and upside, Kaepernick has an elongated release, which may need to be compacted.
With age catching up to the 49ers at the cornerback position, the team selected Chris Culliver of South Carolina in the third round. While he’s also capable of playing at free safety, it’s believed he’ll play cornerback with the 49ers. Veteran cornerback Nate Clements, who turns 32 in December, is listed with a base salary of $7.25 million for 2011. His salary jumps up to $9 million the following season, so his long-term future with the team could be undecided.
While the 49ers didn’t have a huge need at running back, they could use some speed at the position. Fourth-round pick Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State is a tough inside runner but also is capable of breaking runs open quickly. He gives the team better speed than second-year back Anthony Dixon. Not only is Hunter probably a better fit for Harbaugh’s offense, but he also could project to be veteran Frank Gore’s eventual replacement in a few years.
None of San Francisco's remaining draft picks figures to make much of an impact this season, but fifth-round pick Daniel Kilgore eventually could challenge for the starting center job because veteran Eric Heitmann’s contract is up after the 2011 season. According to a scouting source, Kilgore is capable of playing center or guard at the NFL level.