Here’s a 49ers draft preview I wrote for the Press Democrat’s Thursday sports section.
1. REPLACING BOLDIN
Anquan Boldin will be a free agent in 2016. He is one of the best third-down receivers in the NFL, maybe ever. Twenty-seven of the catches he made on third down last season resulted in first downs — tops in the NFC. The Niners need a possession receiver who can replace him in 2016. Former East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy is one of the best possession receivers in the upcoming draft. The Niners can get him in Round 4.
2. REPLACING CULLIVER
The 49ers don’t have a long-term replacement for cornerback Chris Culliver, who signed with the Washington Redskins this offseason. After he signed, the Niners gave a cheap one-year deal to cornerback Shareece Wright — a nobody. A short-term replacement at best. Former Stanford cornerback Alex Carter would be a much better replacement. The Niners can draft him in Round 3 — the same round they drafted Culliver in 2011.
3. REPLACING SMITH
The Niners tried to prepare for Justin Smith’s retirement two years ago when they drafted Tank Carradine. If they still thought he could replace Smith at defensive tackle, they wouldn’t have signed 33-year-old Darnell Dockett this offseason. The Niners need a top-flight defensive tackle, and they can get one in Round 2. Former Ohio State Buckeye Michael Bennett is one of the best in the draft.
4. REPLACING GORE
Now that Frank Gore is with the Indianapolis Colts, the Niners have just one running back under contract through 2016 — Carlos Hyde. His backups — Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter — are signed only through 2015. Both are injury prone. Neither likely will be with the 49ers after next season. The Niners need a quality running back to pair with Hyde in the future, and they can find one in Round 1.
5. THE SELECTION
With the 15th pick in the 2015 draft, the 49ers will take former Georgia running back Todd Gurley if he’s available. He simply is too good for the Niners to pass on him. Some draft experts think he’s the best running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. Gurley probably would have been a top-five pick if he hadn’t torn his ACL last October. If some team takes him before the Niners, they will draft a replacement for Justin Smith — former Texas Longhorn Malcom Brown, a quick, powerful defensive tackle.