Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers might not have a place on the field for the player they drafted first overall in 2005, but they regularly stock their lineup with first-round choices from other teams.
Five projected 49ers starters entered the NFL as first-round draft choices for other teams. This figure counts the recently signed Takeo Spikes, who is expected to eventually supplant Jeff Ulbrich on the depth chart.
The other NFC West teams are carrying a combined three starters fitting the same description: Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney (Falcons), Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson (49ers) and Cardinals running back Edgerrin James (Colts).
The 49ers and Rams each have only four projected starters from their 2005 and 2006 draft classes. The Cardinals and Seahawks have six apiece. The difference is significant.
Tampa Bay, Washington, Oakland and the New York Jets have joined the 49ers in building lineups checkered with first-round choices from other teams. Indianapolis almost never finds its starters from another team's draft classes, regardless of the round (defensive end Raheem Brock, a seventh-round choice of the Eagles, is the only Colts starter drafted by another team).
The 49ers rank among the league leaders in retaining their own draft choices -- their roster features 35 such players -- but only 10 of them are projected starters. The league average is more than 12. Indianapolis has 17. New England and San Diego have 14. Arizona leads the NFC West with 15. The Rams and Seahawks each have 12.
San Francisco can pump up those numbers by developing its younger players. None of this team's second-round draft choices is scheduled to start this season (Justin Smiley left for the Dolphins). Rookie receiver Josh Morgan, a sixth-round choice, looks like a future starter. Developing rookie defe
nsive lineman Kentwan Balmer and second-year receiver Jason Hill will be important. And everything changes if Alex Smith emerges as more than J.T. O'Sullivan's backup.