Clearly the 49ers were most excited with their first selection in the draft. The team chose Alex Smith who is widely regarded as the best quarterback in this year’s draft. Rumors were abound that the team would try and trade out of the number one spot, but when the 49ers time was up – Smith was their man. After the pick, Nolan explained that Smith was their man all along, and that the team was not worried about his contract demands. Smith is apparently seeking a contract with a roughly $20 million signing bonus.
In the days leading up to the draft Smith seemed frustrated with the 49ers and the rumors about them choosing a pick based on their ability to sign that player. However, after his selection to the team, Smith explained that his contract “is something between my agent and them, specifics that I don’t even understand. I believe we are close; it is something that I don’t believe is going to be an issue at all and will get done before camp.”
Coach Nolan continued to re-iterate that his working relationship with owner John York, and Scot McCloughan is a very good one. Nolan explained that York made no attempt to influence Nolan’s decision as to who to draft financially, or otherwise. Nolan stated that this re-enforced what York had said to him during the interview process, that he is committed to winning and will do whatever it takes to restore this franchise. Meanwhile, Nolan also explained that he was working closely with McCloughan on each pick and prospect available in the draft.
The 49ers put Smith through an awkward workout prior to the draft. The aim of the workout, which among typical NFL drills included tests of coordination, ball handling, skipping and obedience drills, was to take Smith out of his element to see how he would respond. “It was awkward, very strange,” Smith recalled. “I think they wanted to take me out of my comfort zone. I kind of kept my mouth shut and just went to work. It was kind of frustrating, but after it was over, I got an idea what it’s worth.”
“We felt that Alex was the one that most fit what we want our team to look like,” Nolan said. “He brings discipline, competitiveness and intelligence to the table. He is off the charts in all three areas.” Whatever Smith was asked to do, he did. And he gave it his all despite having never attempted some of the drills before. “I kept my mouth shut and went to work. I tried as hard as I could on some of that stuff, obviously I have never done it before, never went on work out like that so it was all new to me. But I worked hard at it, obviously, it was kind of frustrating, but held that in and tried to pull through the work out. You know, take on the coach and see what they were trying to have me do. And then afterwards, I spoke to them a little about it, and then truly got a feeling for it when I visited them and they kind of explained what the purpose of it was.”
Despite only being 20-years old the 49ers are clearly impressed with Smith’s maturity, desire to win, and leadership skills. Nolan feels that physically Smith has the tools to allow him to start from day one. However, Nolan explained that Smith will have to earn the starting job. He will have to show he is capable of leading the team.
One injury note of concern is that Smith has suffered from herniated disks in his back in the past. The injury apparently is healed, and Smith recovered quite quickly. Despite the injury occurring years ago, any back injury always ads some element of risk.
Smith is a really strong quarterback option in this years draft. He has a great command of the huddle, is highly intelligent, has a fairly strong arm and will do whatever a coach asks of him. His intangibles and will to compete are two areas that really drew the 49ers to him. Smith played in a spread offense in college, and will have to adjust to the Pro-Style offense the 49ers run. However, the 49ers feel that his quick decision making process and skills of reading a defense as well as improvising and making plays will allow Smith to make the adjustment quite readily. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy explained that the 49ers would emphasize ball control this year which should help whoever starts at quarterback for this team, and should play into the accurate hands of Smith. Although some teams doubted whether Smith was ready to start this year, the 49ers appear to be hinting that if not by opening day, certainly at some point Smith will be starting this season.
While Smith might have been the most featured pick in this year’s draft, he certainly was not the only pick of the draft. Coach Nolan emphasized that he would like to build an environment around Smith that would give him the best chance to succeed. With the remaining picks on day one, the 49ers appear to be headed in the right direction. David Bass is listed as a center but his position is better quantified as interior lineman. Bass plays all three interior offensive line positions and was regarded as one of the best interior linemen to come out of college in a few years. Some reports speculated Bass would be picked in the first round. Choosing Bass in the second round seems to be a great pick for the 49ers.
The 49ers have struggled with the offensive line. Whether due to injuries or lack of talent in the past three years, and last year in particular 49ers quarterbacks have spent more time on their backs then standing in a pocket. The 49ers are hoping Bass can change that, and expect him to challenge for a starting guard spot immediately. In addition Bass will backup center Jeremy Newberry who is ferocious when healthy but has struggled to remain healthy in the past few years. Bass’s versatility was a key factor in the 49ers decision to draft him. The 49ers have placed a strong emphasis on improving the line this off-season, and Bass could be a key part of that puzzle.
In following with Nolan’s plan to surround Alex Smith with player that can help him succeed, and shoulder some of the load, as well as with McCarthy’s idea of a ball control offense, the 49ers made a slightly more controversial pick choosing running back Frank Gore to open the third round. Gore’s injury history had some people dropping him to day two, but his on-field performance clearly was enough to impress the 49ers. The problem with selecting Gore at this spot was that others like Marion Barber, Kay Jay Harris, and Darren Sproles were all still available and could have been better picks. In addition, many believe Gore could have been around later in this draft.
Gore is an average speed running back who was first round talent before his two knee injuries. He’s a big player that can provide protection up the middle, a change of pace for Barlow, and is a smash mouth football player. He is tough, competitive and resilient and in that respect could be the antithesis of the Kevan Barlow that we have seen in the past few years. Ultimately though, it’s Gore’s power rushing style and ability to grab chunks of yardage at a time up the middle, and his nose for the endzone that appealed to the 49ers.
Aside from his injury plagued history, Gore tested poorly for intelligence this off-season. His hands have been noted as stiff, and he has the tendency to cradle catches and round off his cuts in the passing game.
The 49ers have been wrestling with their running back position recently. Last season the team suffered through fumbles, inadequate play, poor attitude, poor effort, and injuries at the position. The team was not able to pick up yards in third and short situations. Gore could be the player to change that for the 49ers. He’s not the quickest back out there but can certainly pound the ball up the middle when he is asked to do.
Before the draft there was a fair bit of speculation that the team be trading down to accumulate more picks. But, with eleven in the draft already, this thinking was somewhat flawed. The 49ers traded their 4th round and a 6th round pick to move up to the 94th spot overall and take another offensive lineman at the end of the third round, by acquiring the Eagles pick. Adam Snyder is another versatile offensive lineman that flows with the team’s emphasis on improving the offensive line, and giving Smith tools to work with.
Snyder plays both guard and tackle and will likely be a depth player, at least initially for the 49ers. He has started at three different positions along the line, is a highly respected lineman. Snyder certainly helps guard against losing Kosier earlier this month to the Lions and against the possibility that Kwame Harris does not reach his potential on the line. Still this was a somewhat interesting pick for the 49ers who are still without a proven nose tackle, and having moved up just a few spots in the draft. The first pick in the fourth round generally has a fair bit of value because teams have all night to review their draft boards and find picks that might have slipped through the cracks.
Snyder is a pretty solid prospect with all the measurables one could really ask for. He really finishes his blocks and has good athleticism. He fits the 49ers mold of competitiveness and has good instincts for the game.
The tone of the fist day of the draft seems to suggest the coach Nolan believes that the 49ers offense needs lots of work, and so the entire first day was devoted to this area. Meanwhile, it appears that Nolan believes he can work with what he has on defense. Of course in his post draft conference, Nolan expressed a desire to move a little to the other side of the ball, as well as to move outside of the trenches a little bit too. There were certainly some surprising moves made on the first day, but overall the team seems to have some good value. Most of these players should contribute this year and thus should be improvements over what the team had to offer. I expect that the team is not done trading, and could see the team trying to move back into the fourth round, particularly if over night they determine that a few players they have targeted are still available.