49ers gear up for another key draft led by Baalke
A year ago, Trent Baalke guided the San Francisco 49ers through
the draft for the first time and added a few key pieces to a team
favored to win the NFC West and reach the playoffs after a long
absence. His top two picks became immediate starters on a revamped
offensive line, while several others also made impacts as
In Baalke’s second go-round, after a recent promotion to general
manager, his moves next week will be an even bigger deal: San
Francisco is in dire need of a difference-maker at quarterback. And
this could be the best chance to find that person in a time of
uncertainty with the lockout.
”It’s a critical decision,” Baalke said this week.
The 49ers have the No. 7 overall pick next Thursday night. They
are likely to use that first selection on a defensive player such
as outside linebacker and proven pass-rusher Von Miller or
cornerback Patrick Peterson – the kind of shutdown defender the
veteran unit could use in the backfield – if either is still on the
board. Or, it could be reliable run-stopping linebacker Robert
Quinn out of North Carolina.
But Baalke and new coach and former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh
will have their eyes on all the talented QBs in this draft to see
who might fit well into their West Coast offense.
While San Francisco has extended an offer – an ”olive branch”
as Baalke put it – to 2005 No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith to return
and compete for the starting job this year, the Niners still hope
to find their man of the future.
”Obviously, we need a quarterback,” Baalke said. ”When I made
that statement, that the quarterback of the future wasn’t on the
roster, you simply look at the roster, and we have one quarterback
under contract, and that’s David Carr. So we’ve got work to do,
whether it’s in free agency, whether it’s this draft, or whether
it’s in a trade. We’ve got to figure it out … I’ve got tremendous
confidence in Jim and the coaching staff to win football games with
whoever we bring in here.”
A college star at Michigan and a first-round draft pick taken
26th overall by Chicago in 1987, Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the
NFL for the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers.
During the evaluation process of potential draft picks, he put
the QBs through a quiz in which he had them draw up plays and
coverages to find out how they would handle different reads and
progressions in the offense.
”If you have the DNA of a quarterback, you have the ability to
figure things out,” he said. ”I don’t think there’s any one way
to know if a guy’s going to be a Pro Bowl quarterback, even a
starting quarterback. There’s a lot of factors, and I’m not
professing to have all the answers. You do the best you can and you
try to evaluate the quarterback like you do any other
Last year, Baalke selected right tackle Anthony Davis at No. 11
and then left guard Mike Iupati six spots later. Both started every
game for a team that underachieved and finished at 6-10 following a
surprising 0-5 start. The 49ers haven’t had a winning season since
their last trip to the playoffs in 2002.
Filling in some missing parts through the draft is the only
option considering teams can’t sign free agents during the lockout.
The 49ers also hold one pick in each of the second and third rounds
with a total of 12 selections, most of any NFL team.
San Francisco has two of its core players on either side of the
ball locked up to long-term deals: linebacker Patrick Willis and
tight end Vernon Davis. Baalke orchestrated those contracts last
year in what became a productive first few months as the team’s top
personnel chief. He certainly showed something to team president
Jed York, who this winter said he would launch a national search
for a new GM and wound up elevating Baalke right from within the
Then, Baalke lured the biggest recruit of all – Harbaugh – to
move some 10 miles down the freeway from Stanford four days after
football’s hottest commodity had led the Cardinal to a 40-12
victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and a school-record
Everybody involved is eager to get going, and at this point the
draft is the first and only step until the lockout ends. York has
vowed to return this downtrodden franchise to its glory days of the
past when San Francisco was a perennial contender in not only its
division but for Super Bowl titles.
”We’re doing everything we can to prepare for the season and
we’re moving full steam ahead as if we’re playing,” York told fans
in a call-in forum Wednesday night. ”I’m really looking forward to
seeing what Jim can do with this team. I know it’s going to be very
With the unsettled labor situation, it’s hard for Baalke to
compare running this draft to going through the process a year ago
after he took over top executive duties following the abrupt
departure of then-GM Scot McCloughan. Still, there were experiences
”I think the No. 1 thing I learned through the process is
you’ve got to stick to your beliefs. Every time you make an
exception, you usually get burned,” Baalke said. ”I think you
learn a little bit every year. You stick to the core values of what
you’re looking for.”
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this story.