Will 49ers Make Bold Move?
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 20, 2006

BY TRADING with Denver to add the 22nd pick in the first round, the 49ers put themselves in position to make another bold move – but I believe they’ll play it safe.

My suggestion would be to package their two first-round choices and move up, so they could take North Carolina defensive end Mario Williams. The Houston Texans, who have the first pick in the draft, have been making a feint in the direction of Williams, but if they keep that pick, bet on them taking Reggie Bush.

The Niners could make a deal with the New Orleans Saints or the New York Jets, though, to grab Williams.

I’m a firm believer that you win with great athletes. When you’ve got a chance to get a true impact player, go for him. Williams is that kind of player.

The defensive players who make a difference are those who play on the edge – defensive end, outside linebacker, cornerback – because they’re the ones who can most affect the passing game.

Williams is a superior pass rusher, something the 49ers really need. They get a strong push up the middle from Bryant Young, but they’ve had to rely on blitzes to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. The now departed Andre Carter was a better player than most 49er fans realized, but he was never the great pass rusher they needed, whether at defensive end or outside linebacker.

Williams could be that kind of pass rusher, one who could make everybody else in the defense look better. A consistent pass rusher from the outside gives the quarterback less time to exploit weaknesses in the secondary, and he also creates openings for other defensive linemen if he’s double-teamed.

A. J. Hawk is just a cut below Williams because he’s an outside linebacker with great speed who could also be effective rushing the passer from the edge. But Hawk, too, could be gone if the Niners stay in the No. 6 spot. The Green Bay Packers, drafting just ahead of the 49ers, insist they’ll go for the best athlete available – and that will be Hawk.

So, if they don’t trade up, the 49ers will probably lose their chance to draft a defensive player who is an impact player. The only other player on their “A” list would be Texas safety Michael Huff, a very good player who could certainly help, but he’s not an impact player.

THE LIKELIHOOD is that 49er coach Mike Nolan will not make that trade to move up. He’s said he would like to get two starters out of the first round, and he could do that by keeping both picks.

The second pick will almost certainly be used on a cornerback. Shawntae Spencer showed signs of developing into a shut-down corner on one side last season, but there’s nothing but uncertainty on the other side. Mike Rumph would probably be the starter going in, but it would be charitable to describe Rumph as mediocre. When he was injured, the 49ers had to use a variety of players, some coming in off the waiver wire, so that is clearly a need.

There’s a lot of depth in the draft at cornerback. At 22, at least one of the following corners should be available: Jonathan Joseph of South Carolina, Ashton Youboty of Ohio State, Antonio Cromartie of Florida and Richard Marshall of Fresno State. Any of them would probably be an improvement on what the 49ers have there now.

Who would be their first pick? If Hawk is taken by the Packers, the 49ers emphasis would shift to offense, and they’d draft tight end Vernon Davis. There’s some irony in that because the buzz in the NFL had been that the 49ers would trade down in the first round to Denver’s 15th pick, so the Broncos could move up to grab Davis. Instead, the trade went in the other direction.

Davis is an exceptional talent with great speed who would cause serious matchup problems for the defense. If Eric Johnson doesn’t come back – a serious concern because he’s spent two of the last three years on injured reserve - the 49ers will certainly need a tight end, and having a target like Davis would take the pressure off quarterback Alex Smith. Last season, Smith never had a tight end who was a good target. Trent Smith was brought in for a short time but played sparingly and was then released.

The question I have about Davis is his blocking. He’s more of an H back type, like Antonio Gates or Kellen Winslow, but the 49ers have changed their offensive style to a power running game, which requires a tight end who is a good blocker.

That question will have to be resolved when Davis gets here, because it’s looking more and more as if he’ll be the Niners pick.

INTERESTINGLY, this trade of draft picks came shortly after the 49ers finally got the executive they needed for their front office, Val Heneghan.

Heneghan probably didn’t have much, if anything, to do with this trade. It’s most likely that Nolan and Mike Shanahan had been discussing trade possibilities for some time, and this was a culmination of many discussions. And, the 49ers had said that Heneghan would not be involved in draft evaluations.

Nonetheless, the Heneghan addition was a good one, because he’s well known and respected throughout the league. No, he isn’t John McVay – the Bill Walsh-McVay combination can’t be duplicated – but he’s still a man whose phone calls will be answered.

Overall, I have to say I like the way Nolan is conducting business in the offseason – even if he doesn’t take my suggestion to trade up.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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