NFC champion 49ers gear up for draft with 13 picks
Santa Clara, Calif. • With 13 draft picks, Trent Baalke has built quite the board of potential players. A board that is well prepped but could change quickly as the draft unfolds.
The San Francisco 49ers general manager has already fielded his share of calls from teams trying to boost their chances by acquiring some of those selections from the NFC champions.
"It's up to us to turn those 13 picks into quality picks," Baalke said. "Certainly the more darts you have the more balloons you can pop."
The media-shy Baalke isn't tipping his hand much as to what he might do, though he is always open-minded.
Could San Francisco take a quarterback? Maybe so, maybe not.
How about a safety? Sure.
"You're not going to get a straight answer from me," said Baalke, who prefers to let coach Jim Harbaugh serve as the face of the franchise. "It's possible that we could draft any position. We're not opposed to draft any position. I've always maintained there's good players at every position. It's our job to find them. We treat the seventh round the same way we treat the first round."
San Francisco, which lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans, has its first pick at No. 31 Thursday night near the end of the first round.
The 49ers are still looking for the person to fill the huge void left by free safety Dashon Goldson's departure for Tampa Bay at the start of free agency. Perhaps a tight end, too, after Delanie Walker signed with Tennessee. Bolstering the defensive line could be another emphasis.
One player in the potential pool is Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, who attended the 49ers' pro day last week.
"There's a pool of players that I would think that many around the league have similar value on. That pool is large," Baalke said. "Could you get the same player at No. 39 or No. 45 that you're going to get at No. 20? That's certainly a possibility."
San Francisco also made 13 picks in 1986, helping set up its roster for the next two Super Bowl championships in 1988 and '89.
From the moment the 49ers lost the Super Bowl in February, players vowed to return and take the next step: winning a sixth championship for the storied franchise.
"There's a lot of variables in this year's draft, probably more so than in any drafts I've been part of," Baalke said. "We've got a pool of players but you don't know if people are going to move up. There's a lot of value in the draft, more so than just top-tier guys. There's a talented pool of players, probably a larger pool but not as many clear-cut guys."
While this team already has a deep and talented lineup on both sides of the ball after last season's special run, Baalke is thinking beyond 2013 and if some players picked make an immediate impact this season, that's a bonus.
If Baalke's track record is an example, San Francisco will make the most of its picks.
In his first draft in charge, 2010, Baalke selected right tackle Anthony Davis with the 11th overall pick and left guard Mike Iupati at No. 17 and each offensive lineman has started every game for a much-improved unit.
That group played a big part in making Colin Kaepernick's transition a seamless one when he took over as quarterback in November from Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick who was traded last month to the Kansas City Chiefs following Kaepernick's speedy emergence. Kaepernick was drafted in the second round in 2011.
While Kaepernick is focused on his own offseason training with the teammates he knows, everybody is eager to see how he performs for a full season under center, and how Baalke continues to build a team around him for the long haul starting with this draft.
"We have great players right now, so I'm going to leave that up to the front office," Kaepernick said. "We're just going to work with the players we have right now and make sure that we're ready."
With the strong-armed, speedy Kaepernick leading the way, the 49ers are counting on remaining a regular contender. They ended a franchise-worst eight-year stretch without a playoff berth or winning record in Harbaugh's first season in 2011 then topped that by reaching February's Super Bowl.
From Baalke's perspective, working ahead to build a roster for years down the road starts with a draft like this one considering the 49ers have so many options with 13 selections.
"We're in that stage where we're trying to stay ahead of the game from a picks standpoint," he said. "You'd rather not draft to need. You'd rather draft prior to need. The teams that have been successful are not drafting to need on that specific year."