Chris Burke: Sports Illustrated
- Round 1: QB Colin Kaepernick
- Round 2: OT Joe Staley
- Round 3: LB Brian Cushing
- Round 4: WR Victor Cruz
- Round 5: DT Paul Soliai
- Round 6: OLB Ahmad Brooks
- Round 7: OLB Derrick Johnson
- Round 8: RB Chris Johnson
- Round 9: TE Martellus Bennett
- Round 10: DT/DE Jason Hatcher
- Round 11: G Donald Thomas
- Round 12: DE Antonio Smith
- Round 13: CB Carlos Rogers
- Round 14: S Pat Chung
- Round 15: TE Brandon Myers
- Round 16: CB Cary Williams
- Round 17:
- Round 18:
- Round 19:
- Round 20:
- Round 21:
- Round 22:
Round 1, Pick 11: Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback
Right in line with what a couple people who picked above me said, I more or less knew that I’d be going QB in Round 1 lest I wind up scrambling for a lower-tier guy later. There were two players on my board with the potential to change that plan: Adrian Peterson and J.J. Watt.
So, when Peterson was still there at No. 11, I definitely hesitated for a bit. In the end, though, I could not pass on a young quarterback with as much potential as Kaepernick displayed last season. Peterson, even being the freak of nature that he is, will have a hard time replicating 2012 and running backs wear down rapidly.
Round 2, Pick 54: Joe Staley, Offensive Tackle
By taking Colin Kaepernick in Round 1, I more or less committed to an offense that features the run prominently. And that, in a nutshell, was the deciding factor as I wavered between Staley and several other players (Andre Johnson among the frontrunners) with this pick.
Staley was the best run-blocking tackle in football last season — with Kaepernick running the show behind him for half that time. He was so dominant, in fact, that not only did Pro Football Focus grade him out as the top OT in the NFL in 2012, but the site pegged his performance-based value at $13.8 million, approximately $11 million above what Staley cost against the cap last season.
Granted, Staley is not as strong from a pass-blocking perspective, as he allowed nine sacks and 19 hurries in ’12. With the extremely mobile Kaepernick running the show, though, that’s not as much of a concern for me. It’s also worth pointing out that Staley will be just 29 when the next regular season rolls around, meaning I should be able to lock him in as my starting LT for a few seasons.
I picked up a top-flight quarterback in Round 1 and now have an elite player to protect him. At least on the offensive side of the football, I’ll consider that a great start.
Round 3, Pick 86: Brian Cushing, Linebacker
Admittedly, this is a gamble, what with Cushing coming back off a wrecked knee and all. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, because I think Cushing, 26, has a chance to be an All-Pro for the next several seasons.
The easiest way to try to counter the NFL’s current run of athletic quarterbacks, multi-threat tight ends and ever-changing schemes is to fill your defense will players athletic enough to deal with anything. Cushing fits that mold — and he especially showed that versatility after the move inside on Houston’s 3-4 (though, it’s nice knowing that he could jump outside in a 4-3, if this draft implodes on me and I have to go that route).
Pro Football Focus rated him third among ILBs in 2011, behind only Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (and fellow RSPWP2 owner Matt Miller tabbed him No. 4 after that season, in his “NFL 1,000″ series).
He deserves to be in that special class when he’s healthy, too, because he’s strong enough to deal with blockers, fast enough to go sideline to sideline and smart enough to assess what’s happening in front of him. Add in an improving knowledge of when and where to blitz, and the ceiling here is really high.
Round 4, Pick 106: Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver
Victor Cruz is 26 years old and has averaged 84 catches and 1,314 yards over the past two seasons. He is a home-run threat every single time the ball heads his direction, and that makes him a perfect complement at receiver to Colin Kaepernick’s dual-threat abilities in the backfield.
We’re still in the early stages of this draft, but Cruz plays right into my strategy to try to build a team that both could compete in the immediate future and also would stay in the mix for years to come. The average age of my first four selection: 26.5.
That’s not to say that I don’t have any long-in-the-tooth vets on my roster or that I only considered players in their 20s — neither is accurate. If I was going to start with one of the NFL’s rising stars at QB, though, my mentality was that I did not want to surround him with a roster that would turn over again in a year or two.
Cruz really fits the mold for everything I have in mind. He’ll draw a ton of the defense’s attention to the slot (or wherever he might line up), and the more big-play threats on Kaepernick-led offense, the better.
Round 5, Pick 151: Paul Soliai, Defensive Tackle
Here’s what I have in my first two defensive picks, Soliai and Brian Cushing: a nose tackle who is one of the best in the league at clogging lanes up the middle, and an aggressive linebacker who thrives at getting to the football.
In that pairing I’ve laid the foundation for a 3-4 defense that ought to be very difficult to move against inside.That’s not to say that I could never use a 4-3 — one of the reasons Soliai appealed to me here is that he transferred his run-stuffing prowess to that set last season in Miami.
Still, I drafted him to anchor my 3-4 front. And with Soliai and Cushing in place, I can get to work on surrounding them with capable players.
Round 6, Pick 171: Ahmad Brooks, Outside Linebacker
Round 7, Pick 214: Derrick Johnson, Inside Linebacker
I stuck pretty much to the script for my first seven picks, which culminated with Ahmad Brooks and Derrick Johnson. I was worried about spending too many early selections attending to my base 3-4 linebacking corps, but I felt like both Brooks and Johnson were terrific values where I took them.
Round 8, Pick 235: Chris Johnson, Running Back
Round 9, Pick 278: TE Martellus Bennett
Round 10, Pick 299; DE/TE Jason Hatcher
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