Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Draft needs at positions of relative strength
By Mike Sando
Kevin Seifert and I will be getting together later Tuesday for a pre-draft "Inside Slant" podcast. One subject we'll discuss: areas teams could address in the 2013 draft with an eye toward contract situations that won't factor this season.
Examples jump out for two NFC West teams with strong rosters for 2013.
The San Francisco 49ers appear set in the short term at wide receiver and cornerback. The Seattle Seahawks are even stronger at corner -- best in the NFL, according to our recent rankings from Matt Williamson of ESPN.com.
But the picture can change dramatically for those teams at those positions in 2014.
Michael Crabtree is the only proven wide receiver under contract to the 49ers past 2013. The team's 2012 first-round choice, A.J. Jenkins, could strengthen the long-term forecast with a strong showing this season. Until that happens, however, the 49ers could stand to protect themselves. Anquan Boldin is on a one-year deal. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are coming off injuries and unsigned beyond this season.
Signing Crabtree to an extension could make sense at some point, but that wouldn't change the picture for 2014. Crabtree is already signed through that season.
So, while receiver isn't an immediate need for San Francisco, it's a position the team could justify addressing in the draft. Having Jenkins and another draft choice under contract for the longer term at low cost would buy flexibility with Crabtree if Jenkins and the draft choice were productive.
At cornerback, the 49ers have Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver signed past 2013, with rights to Perrish Cox, who can become a restricted free agent. That's not a bad base to build around. But with Tarell Brown, Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock unsigned past 2013, some longer-term planning could be in order.
Having 13 choices in the 2013 draft should give the 49ers ample options.
Seattle's corner situation appears rock solid for this season. Richard Sherman is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. Brandon Browner fits the Seahawks' scheme and has gone to a Pro Bowl. Antoine Winfield should upgrade the nickel corner position significantly.
However, Browner can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season. So can Winfield. Walter Thurmond and Will Blackmon are also signed through 2013 only. Sherman is on track to command top dollar following the 2014 season, when Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas is also due for a new deal.
Drafting a cornerback this year should not be an urgent priority for the Seahawks given their strength at the position right now. It would provide some longer-range insurance at a position that will need addressing in the not-too-distant future.