By now, every 49ers follower knows the team’s biggest needs in the draft – cornerback and wide receiver.
But over the three-day selection process that begins May 8, the Niners no doubt will select at least one player to challenge for playing time at another position of need: center.
With the departure of veteran Jonathan Goodwin, an unsigned free agent who started the past three seasons in San Francisco, Adam Kilgore is expected to inherit the position.
Kilgore, Goodwin’s primary backup last season, is the front-runner to earn the job, with another veteran, Adam Snyder, capable of backing him up. Snyder can play both guard and center, as can another player on the roster, Joe Looney. Also on the 49ers roster is Ryan Seymour, who also has some experience at the position from his college days at Vanderbilt.
“I feel good about that group competing for that spot,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke recently told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
But with 11 draft choices available, the 49ers are expected to draft at least one player to challenge that group.
In his latest mock draft, Todd McShay, an NFL analyst for ESPN, has the Niners using their No. 1 pick (30th overall) on TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, their No. 2 pick (56th overall) on Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews and their third pick (No. 61 overall) on USC center Marcus Martin.
“Martin has the potential to be a good starting center for a long time, and would be a nice addition to the Niners’ offensive line,” he writes.
Martin, 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, can play guard or center. He’s ranked by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock as the No. 1 center in the draft, ahead of Weston Richburg of Colorado State, Travis Swanson of Arkansas, Bryan Stork of Florida State and Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma.
In February, the 49ers gave Kilgore, 26, a three-year contract extension and it seemed to signal the team’s thinking that he’s ready to step into Goodwin’s position.
“We are pleased to extend the contract of a talented young player like Dan,” Baalke said at the time. “This move is another example of our philosophy to extend the contracts of our own young players.”
But the Niners also have a history under Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh, of bringing in players to create competition at all roster spots. So drafting a center – to help now and in the future – makes sense. Kilgore may turn out to be the answer at the position, but the 49ers will want him to compete for it.