When pick No. 30 comes up tonight, the San Francisco 49ers will select Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.
Or Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler … or Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu … or North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins … or Stanford tight end Coby Fleener.
The truth is, of course, we don’t know who the 49ers will select, or even when they will select, because General Manager Trent Baalke could well make a deal to move up or down in the draft.
He may well take Hill, Zeitler, Silatolu or Jenkins, four names most often mentioned in mock drafts.
But whatever the 49ers do, they should follow only one concept: They should not draft for need in the first round.
With picks in the second through seventh rounds, Baalke can address his needs and wants. Pick a guard to replace Adam Snyder at right guard. Pick a wide receiver for depth and speed. Pick a cornerback to push the starters and provide better nickel coverage.
In the first round, however, Baalke should simply take the best player available.
Even if that player is a running back, a defensive lineman, an offensive tackle, a linebacker or a tight end – positions at which the Niners already have talent and depth – that’s what Baalke should do.
The Niners have no gaping holes. Twenty-one of 22 starters return from a team that came within one victory of going to the Super Bowl. The defense is dominating and the offense improved as the season progressed. So, Baalke has the luxury in the first round to follow his scouting instincts and take the best player available.
It may make no sense to the Niners fans who will gather around the TV tonight to watch ESPN or the NFL Network, but it’s exactly what Baalke should do, because a player with talent will find his way into the lineup.
Take Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, for instance.
The 49ers already have a terrific pass-catching tight end in Vernon Davis and a strong backup in the versatile Delanie Walker. Why take Fleener? Because if he’s there, Fleener appears to be a tight end who can make a difference – a young player with good hands, good size and a good track record as a big-time player for Andrew Luck and Stanford. If he’s drafted, he’ll play, and head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman will find a way to use him.
But Fleener is just an example.
If Jerel Worthy, a defensive tackle from Michigan State, drops to the 30th pick, or Nick Perry, a defensive end from USC, is still there, Baalke should take his pick, even though the Niners’ defensive line is stocked. Either Worthy or Perry (if they live up to their billing) will pay off eventually.
Since taking over as 49ers GM, Baalke has made all the right moves.
Now we’ll get to see how he does in the first round when there’s no obvious need to fill.