Lowell Cohn: 49ers filled needs, didn't grab difference-maker

  • USC center Marcus Martin poses for photos with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the 70th pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Friday, May 9, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

SANTA CLARA — Let's start with a question. Actually it's THE KEY QUESTION for the 49ers:

Did they use the correct strategy in the now-concluded draft?

Before we answer the question — and, hey, doesn't this feel like the essay part of a midterm? — well, before we answer, it's essential to define the Niners' strategy. And, believe me, they had a strategy.

The 49ers identified obvious needs. You could make a list of those needs. The Niners sure did, and then they checked them off one at a time. Relentless. Systematic. Organized.

Here's what Trent Baalke needed and here's what he took.

He needed a defensive back to cover the slot. He needed one because the 49ers let aging, high-priced Carlos Rogers go — he's with the Raiders. So, with their first pick, the Niners took safety Jimmie Ward.

Understand the significance of the selection. Some GMs hand you a lot of baloney about drafting the best athlete available. Baalke went for need. He identified a need. Fulfilled the need. Check that box — slot defender.

Baalke needed a wide receiver because, really, he has only two reliable wide receivers — Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. So, he traded with Buffalo for possession receiver Stevie Johnson. Check the wide-receiver box.

He needed a running back. Badly. Frank Gore looked old at the end of last season. Kendall Hunter was hurt a lot, and when he played, was no big deal. LaMichael James is a jumbo prawn. Marcus Lattimore is rehabilitating a career-threatening knee injury and no one is saying he's actually ready to play.

Tremendous need at running back. With his second pick, Baalke took Carlos Hyde in the second round. Hyde is what football people call a "bruising runner." Not finesse. Bruising. Good pick.

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