The overriding question for the 49ers in the first round of this year's college draft was not: Who will general manager Trent Baalke pick? Obviously, that was a very important question.

The overriding question was this: Can Baalke atone for putting A.J. Jenkins' name in an envelope in Draft 2012 as his mystery pick, and actually selecting him with the Niners' only first-round pick, the 30th overall, this man who caught no passes last season. One wonders if Baalke jinxed himself by using the wrong kind of envelope, if he dropped the name in a legal-size envelope when a smaller one would have sufficed.

On Thursday night, Baalke selected safety Eric Reid from LSU in the first round. Reid is fast and hits hard and he will help the 49ers.

Does this atone for Jenkins and the envelope?

The answer is. Yes. Sort of.

Let's be clear about this. The Niners need a cornerback more than they need a safety — they need a starting cornerback to be precise. They need a starting cornerback for a million reasons. And they should have done everything — moved boulders, cleared dirt, razed skyscrapers — to trade up for one.

They need a starting cornerback because Carlos Rogers is slow and no longer can cover the slot receiver. Bill Walsh used to dispose of players before they were done. The Niners are holding onto Rogers after he is done.

They need a starting cornerback because Chris Culliver can run with a receiver but, when he has to turn his head and find the ball, he can't find it and, sadly for him, he loses his guy. Plus he got exposed in the Super Bowl.

The other cornerback, Tarell Brown, is a free agent after the upcoming season, and it will be hard for the 49ers to sign him when they also have to sign Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith and Mike Iupati, and Michael Crabtree the year after that. All of that takes dough, and there may not be enough dough for Brown.

They need a starting cornerback because, in free agency, the Seahawks got speed-burner wide receiver Percy Harvin, and the Rams aggressively traded up to get speed-burner wide receiver Tavon Austin with the eighth pick. Now the 49ers have to contend with tough, dynamic, fast wide outs in their division in four games, one-quarter of their entire schedule.

The 49ers really needed to trade up for a cornerback, specifically D.J. Hayden, whom the Raiders took at No.12. You wonder why the 49ers did not package several of their 13 picks, a whopping number, to get a corner.

On the other hand — and this is a very big on the other hand — they did package picks, a first and a third-rounder, to move from No. 31 to No. 18, Dallas' pick.

And they got Reid, although Baalke said of him, "I don't know that it was a priority."

Really? They got a safety to replace Dashon Goldson, who left in free agency. That was a priority. They get big props for replacing Goldson with Reid who will start right away even though coach Jim Harbaugh, rightfully so, insisted there will be open competition at safety.

The 49ers just got themselves a starter in an area of need. And they were aggressive and they were creative. Good for them and good for Baalke.

Compare what the Niners did this year compared to last year. Last year, Baalke conducted an unproductive draft. He basically redshirted a bunch of draft picks as if he had no needs. He had needs. Instead of drafting players who actually would and could play — LaMichael James played some — Baalke stockpiled players like someone stockpiling furniture in a warehouse.

Judging by what he did in the first round on Thursday, he did much better this year. He must have thought it makes no sense having 13 picks and doing that stockpile thing all over again — sofas with sheets draped over them in a silent warehouse in some forgotten San Francisco neighborhood.

It would make zero sense to do that because he would inevitably cut many of those 13 picks, and that would be a waste. He needed to package picks for quality players, for difference-makers.

And he did that, got a difference-maker in Reid. If I were giving a grade to his first round — I clearly am — I'd assign Baalke a B-plus. It's a very good grade, but it won't get him to Phi Beta Kappa any time soon.

On the other hand, he atoned for the envelope caper. Congratulations to him on making a clean start. As far as A.J. Jenkins is concerned — return to sender.


For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.