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NFL Mock Draft 2012: Would 49ers Really Target a Defensive End?

The folks at National Football Post have a solid crew of draft analysts and one of them, Wes Bunting, put together his first mock draft of the 2012 NFL Draft season. We only know the order of the first 20 picks, but mock drafts still provide opportunities to assess where players fall and what needs each team will look to assess in the first round.

Bunting's mock has the San Francisco 49ers drafting Nebraska defensive end Jared Crick with the No. 29 pick. Whatever the changes we'll see when the actual order is decided, this strikes me as a bit of an odd projection. I find it odd not because of the specific player, but rather the position.

Crick is projected as a defensive end in the 3-4. The 49ers currently start Justin Smith and Ray McDonald at their two defensive end positions. McDonald just signed a contract extension and at only 27 years of age, he would seem set on one side of the line. Justin Smith will turn 33 at the start of next season, but is signed for two more years and is playing arguably the best football of his career.

The 49ers might be moving into a position where they can afford some developmental draft picks, but it seems like defensive end is lower on that priority list. Even if the 49ers want to consider Justin Smith's replacement now, that would entail either being content to give the replacement minimal playing time the next couple years, or expecting Justin Smith's play to go off a cliff.

The only other possibility is that the team thinks Crick can bulk up enough to move in at nose tackle, but even there he might be a bit tall and Ricky Jean Francois has made solid strides as a possible long term replacement for Isaac Sopoaga.

Given some of the 49ers other more pressing needs, this just strikes me as an odd choice. Some folks may disagree, but for now I just find it a bit confusing for a first round pick.