49ers' draft fosters serious competition

Carlos Hyde (Getty Images)

The 49ers have made it to at least the conference title game each of the last three seasons. With the 2014 draft now in the rear view, it's easy to see Trent Baalke didn't just supplement an already-loaded roster, he added serious competition and depth in attempt to get his team over the hump.

Coming into the draft, it was clear the 49ers already had a loaded roster. There simply wasn't room for 11 new players to make the team.

But that didn't prevent general manager Trent Baalke from drafting 12 players and adding another in former Bills receiver Stevie Johnson.

The conventional thinking said the 49ers would pick players to address areas of need and use other picks as trade assets to move into the 2015 draft.

"Conventional is not fun," Baalke said at the draft's conclusion Saturday.

The 49ers will have 12 drafted players and at least seven undrafted joining the program. They had 74 players on the roster before the draft, 86 after, and at least 93 once the undrafted guys put pen to paper.

That means guys that have been in the building for a season or more could have their jobs in jeopardy. It's all apart of the environment of competition Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh are fostering. Instead of standing pat, knowing they have one of the best rosters in football, they're doing everything they can to take the team to the next level and win a championship to kick off a new era in Levi's Stadium.

Not a single player is safe, except Colin Kaepernick.

How do we know? The 49ers used their second pick of the draft on Carlos Hyde, who says he will come to battle Frank Gore for the starting job. Those words will be considered sacrilege by some given everything Gore has given to the franchise. But even the team's heart and soul over the last eight seasons will have to earn his job back in training camp.

The 49ers signed center Daniel Kilgore to a three-year extension this offseason, making him the favorite the be the starter in 2014. Kilgore is a guy the 49ers like a lot, but he didn't prevent them from drafting the best center available on many boards in USC's Marcus Martin. There's no doubt Martin and Kilgore will be in direct competition for the top spot on the depth chart.

Key word: competition.

The 49ers drafted Wisconsin's Chris Borland to provide depth at inside linebacker.

San Francisco might have to go six weeks without NaVorro Bowman who is likely to start the season on the PUP list. They really like Michael Wilhoite, but he didn't prevent them from taking Chris Borland of Wisconsin, a player that could start as a rookie on a number of teams.

Baalke drafted a wild card in defensive end Aaron Lynch, who has first-round talent but let personal issues get in the way of his collegiate football career. The team already has Dan Skuta, another guy they like a lot, and third-round pick Corey Lemonier backing up Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. But if Lynch realizes his potential, job security might not be there for those two incumbent reserves.

Again, competition.

You can go down the line of this draft class and connect the dots to a heated training camp competition. Bruce Ellington will battle LaMichael James for return duties. Jimmie Ward will fight for the starting nickel role with hungry vets Perrish Cox and Eric Wright looking to land long-term contracts. Dontae Johnson will do everything he can to make Chris Culliver earn his keep as a starter coming off his ACL injury. And on, and on.

"We try to build the strongest 53-man roster that we can…In order to do that you have to have good football players, you can never have enough of them. Because, if you have 63 of them competing for 53 spots, it makes those 53 that earn them that much better and that's the goal," Baalke said.

If this draft pans out as the team hopes, the 49ers are taking significant steps towards creating the deepest roster they've had since since Jim Harbaugh became coach in 2011, and perhaps the team has had since its championship season in 1994.

"Right now, we feel very good about the collection of guys that we have, both the guys that are in that locker room currently and the guys we've just added over the last three to four days," said Baalke. "But the proof will be in the pudding when they show up and we get them on the field and we go to work."

Where the team stood worked in conjunction with the depth of this year's draft pool. It was regarded by many as one of the deepest in years. The 49ers did everything they could to take full advantage of that depth by selecting 12 players.

As drawn out as the evaluation process has become, it's still a year-to-year endeavor. I asked Baalke if he and his scouting department look ahead a year when it comes to draft classes to try and forecast when it's appropriate to have a volume of picks and when it might not be as necessary. Perhaps they looked at this draft a season ago and realized it was a great year to hold so many picks.

"I know some guys do forecast out a little bit and say, ‘OK, next year's tight end class is going to be…' I'm trying to get through today, to be honest with you," Baalke said.

"Do we know, have kind of an idea what's coming out the next year? Yeah, we do. But to say, there are so many guys that end up coming out, what, 100-plus juniors came out this year. No one would have predicted that. You'd have thought 60, 70 maybe. But, you throw 30 more guys into that pool and all of a sudden you're dealing with guys you never thought of. So, it takes a position that maybe wouldn't have had much depth and makes it a position of depth. It's hard to balance that out. All I know is in two weeks now, because the NFL's done such a good job of pushing this thing back, we're getting on a plane and going to Florida to start on next year's class already. Can hardly wait."

San Francisco appears to have completed its mandate of adding necessary talent to keep the Super Bowl window open. Now it comes down to the players making the necessary plays on the field.

49ers 2014 draft class tale of the tape:

Round 1, Pick 30 (No. 30)

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (5-11, 193)

Round 2, Pick 25 (No. 57)

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State (6-0, 230)

Round 3, Pick 6 (No. 70)

Marcus Martin, C, USC (6-3, 320)

Round 3, Pick 13 (No. 77)

Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin (5-11, 248)

Round 3, Pick 36 (No. 100)

Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson (6-3, 317)

Round 4, Pick 6 (No. 106)

Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina (5-9, 197)

Round 4, Pick 29 (No. 129)

Dontae Johnson, CB, N.C. State (6-2, 200)

Round 5, Pick 10 (No. 150)

Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida (6-5, 249)

Round 5, Pick 30 (170)

Keith Reaser, CB, Florida Atlantic (5-10, 189)

Round 6, Pick 4 (No. 180)

Kenneth Acker, CB, SMU (6-0, 190)

Round 7, Pick 28 (No. 243)

Kaleb Ramsey, DE, Boston College (6-3, 293)

Round 7, Pick 30 (No 245)

Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma (6-2, 247)

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