What do NaVorro Bowman, Ray McDonald, Corey Lemonier, Chris Culliver and Frank Gore all have in common?
Each was a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. In the NFL, a third-round pick may not be as sexy as a first-round selection, but if a team drafts well, a third-rounder can be gold. And the 49ers have found several nuggets over the past decade.
So when the 49ers were awarded an extra draft choice this week as compensation for free agents lost after the 2012 season, the fact it is a third-rounder – the 100th overall choice – is not insignificant.
Going into the three-day draft that begins May 8, the 49ers now own 11 draft choices, including one in the first, two in the second and three in the third round – six of the top 100 choices.
For a team that needs to catch up with the Seahawks and stay ahead of the rest of a very competitive NFC West division, those choices will give general manager Trent Baalke the ammunition he needs to make deals to move up during the draft if there’s a player he believes can be a difference-maker.
Last year, the 49ers used a compensatory pick in the fourth round to draft former South Carolina standout running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore – who sat out all of last season to rehab a knee injury suffered in college – is being counted on this season to begin making an impact as the heir apparent to Gore.
The 49ers’ most crucial needs seem to be at cornerback and wide receiver, but with so many selections available to him, Baalke also has the liberty to draft for the future (as he did last season with injured college stars Lattimore and Florida State defensive lineman Tank Carradine).
Even the quarterback position – manned by starter Colin Kaepernick and new No. 2 Blaine Gabbert – will likely be beefed up in the mid-rounds. Head coach Jim Harbaugh already has scouted several quarterbacks in person, and loves to bring in more quarterbacks (as he did last year with seventh-round pick B.J. Daniels) who can provide roster competition.
Also, too, with so many picks, Baalke can make deals not only to move up in this year’s draft, but he can also trade for future picks – allowing the 49ers to restock their roster next year, as well.
For the 49ers in recent years under Baalke, it seems the team is always in great position going into the draft. And the extra third-rounder now in Baalke’s pocket gives him one more valuable chip.