It's a universal truth that has been noted several times now: the 49ers three biggest needs are at the quarterback, cornerback and outside linebacker positions. Sitting at the seventh overall pick in the draft, they have the chance to feasibly grab the top player at any one of said positions, but they'll need some unwitting help from the six teams ahead of them, barring a trade of some sort.
Patrick Peterson is the consensus best cornerback in the 2011 NFL Draft. There are small pockets of resistance from wayward Prince Amukamara supporters, but let's face it: they probably just think he's got a cool name. No, it's the all-around corner from LSU who is the top corner and potentially the top player overall for this draft class. A lofty label to place on somebody, but when you consider his assets available, it's easy to see.
He's a big, physical corner who plays press coverage very well. His instincts are top notch and he's almost never lost in figuring out what route any given receiver is going to run. There isn't a specific type of wide receiver that consistently beats him, and he could even contribute in the return game if need be. The 49ers would like him especially for his man-to-man ability, especially in new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's (assumed) agressive scheme, where he'll be expected to shut down a team's top receiver.
But what would it take for Peterson to be around at pick seven? By this writer's count, four of the six teams ahead of San Francisco could be interested in landing the best cornerback prospect in a few seasons. Below, I'll look at what it would take for each of said teams to pass up on Peterson.
The Denver Broncos hold the second overall pick in the draft and they are the first team identified as possibly being in the cornerback market. Things are already working in the 49ers' favor in this regard, though, as they've just re-signed star cornerback Champ Bailey to a four year, $43M deal that could go as high as $47M. One would argue that you don't draft a corner in the top three if you're already paying one $47 million, no?
But that doesn't totally eliminate them from the equation. Champ is getting up there in years, and while he hasn't started his decline yet, it could literally happen at any moment. With a rare talent and a team that has enjoyed the luxury of not having to worry about one opposing receiver for the better part of seven years now, maybe Denver looks to afford themselves that luxury for the foreseeable future by locking up Peterson to play behind Champ. The move would also giving Champ the possibility of eventually moving to safety, something he's said he would consider to prolong his career.
To me, the biggest factor in the Denver Broncos not taking Peterson is the fact that there are some fantastic defensive linemen available early on. They will have their pick of either Da'Quan Bowers or Nick Fairley, out of Clemson and Auburn respectively. The latter will not get by Denver under any circumstances, while the former is a solid option for a team that now considers the cornerback position a luxury.
The Buffalo Bills hold the third pick and they are a serious threat to take Peterson. Their need at cornerback isn't glaring, but they do operate under the best player available (BPA) philosophy and could go with Peterson, who would certainly be that player. The good things for the 49ers? They have a couple needs, and a small mix of BPA/need could be gotten away with if need be. What needs you say?
Quarterback, for one. It's feasible that no quarterback has been taken at this point if the Panthers have opted for a defensive lineman or A.J. Green out of Georgia to fill their need for a wide receiver. This means that players like Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are ripe for the taking, and Buffalo just seems like a team that could take one of those two.
For two, the team needs an outside linebacker and someone like Von Miller could easily go as high as pick number three. Taking a quarterback is far more likely at this point, and if I was a betting man, I'd be going with Cam Newton or Gabbert being on their way to Buffalo.
Peterson could also go to someone like the Arizona Cardinals. It is not the most likely of circumstances, and they're probably the least likely of said four teams to be taking Peterson, but cornerback remains a need and it is a possibility that the Cardinals do not want to pass up a prospect like Pat Peterson.
The final team that is a possibility for Peterson is the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are a much harder sell at this point, however. A harder sell to not take Peterson, that is. Their biggest needs at this stage in the draft are cornerback and basically all positions on the defensive line. I don't need to tell you why Peterson would be the smart pick, so let's move on.
Sitting at six, just one pick before the 49ers, the Browns could have a lot of options still available. If De'Quan Bowers is still somehow available, the Browns pick him without a second thought and all is well for the 49ers. Or maybe not, because if Bowers is available, that means one of the three already mentioned probably took Peterson. Still, there are other defensive line choices available. They could look to replace Shaun Rogers with Marcell Dareus, or they could go with the next best defensive end and go with Robert Quinn, a player worthy of the sixth overall pick.
So all it would take for the 49ers to land Peterson would be ... a lot of stuff. The biggest obstacle is the Browns at the sixth pick, and their pick hinges on the other three mentioned. The important thing to note is that crazier things have indeed happened, and Peterson could fall into the 49ers lap.
If he does, do the 49ers pull the trigger?