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Trent Baalke's selection of Aldon Smith (right) was a surprise in 2011. Baalke may have other surprises in this year's draft. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
When it comes to the draft, the 49ers often do the unexpected.
General manager Trent Baalke surprised many with his first-round picks of Aldon Smith and A.J. Jenkins the past two seasons.
Now, on the eve of this year’s draft, the buzz is that the 49ers will move up high in the first round to take an immediate impact player. With 13 draft picks in his pocket, Baalke certainly has the chips to make such a move.
On the other hand, the Niners’ most surprising – and smartest move – could be standing pat at No. 31.
This draft is much shallower at the top and deeper in the middle, meaning Baalke could hold his ground and get some very good talent at the tail end of the first round and with his two second-round choices, the 34th and 61st overall selections.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh in March said this draft is an important one for the franchise and that Baalke “has to be on his ‘A’ game.”
That may mean not trying for a bold move, but taking three of the top 61 players available. And, it would be opposite of what so many analysts are predicting the 49ers will do.
In fact, when Baalke met with Bay Area reporters recently, he almost said – in a roundabout way – that the Niners can get the players they want in the positions where they are drafting.
“There’s a lot of value in the draft, more so than top-tier guys,” Baalke said. “It’s a talented pool of players. It’s a larger pool, but not clear-cut guys.”
This draft has been projected to be deep in safeties and defensive linemen (both clear needs), and there are highly rated tight ends available, too, to replace Delanie Walker.
For a team with a solid roster coming off a Super Bowl, collecting three young playmakers in the first two rounds would be considered a bountiful harvest – especially if Baalke and his staff prove again to be excellent evaluators of talent.
With hours to go before the first-round selections, we don’t know which way Baalke will go. Go bold and move up? Or stand pat?
And Baalke won’t say.
“You’re not going to get a straight answer from me,” Baalke told the media last week.
But here’s betting that Baalke decides to pick at No. 31, No. 34 and No. 61.
Right now, it would be the unexpected tack. It would be the Baalke way.