NFL Draft  

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San Francisco 49ers among teams in position to control draft

The commodity that teams covet on draft day isn't a single player or slot -- and, much as they might try, it can't be acquired with a transaction or two.

It's control.

Control to move up. Control to move down. Control to get the player they want in the place that matches his value.

Teams with control don't have to reach. They can add someone at a position where the need isn't necessarily immediate. They can roll the dice and not have it destroy their entire draft.

That, in the end, is what most teams try to build for years to acquire. The New England Patriots did it successfully at the end of the last decade and start of this one -- and they wound up with the pieces, in the form of Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Nate Solder, to create a burgeoning young core around Tom Brady. The San Francisco 49ers have similarly used recent trades to build a base of picks that maximizes the team's flexibility.

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When the 2014 NFL Draft gets underway, Niners general manager Trent Baalke will have more options and, yes, control than anyone else. The Niners have their own picks (Nos. 30, 61, 94, 129, 170 and 245), minus one shipped to the Jaguars for Blaine Gabbert in March. They have a second-rounder (No. 56) as part of the Alex Smith trade with the Chiefs. They have an extra third-rounder from the Titans (No. 77) as a result of dropping back six slots in last year's second round. And they have a third third-rounder (No. 100) as a compensatory pick after losing a group of free agents headed by Dashon Goldson.

Add in a couple of seventh-rounders collected from the Saints and Panthers and the fact that they have 2013 "redshirts" Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore -- who missed all of their rookie seasons while they recovered from injury -- coming back, and you can see how they could be right back here next year.

Unlike some other GMs, Baalke isn't picking for his job, so if he wants to trade out to 2015 with someone who is fighting to stay employed, that would be fine. Because Baalke's roster is stacked, he could take another "redshirt" or two -- like Clemson's Brandon Thomas, who tore his ACL in April -- at a discounted rate. And if there's a guy he has to have, Baalke could trade to acquire him, as the strength of the Niners' team means it isn't vital they maintain a high volume of picks.

To sum it up, plenty of what happens this Thursday, Friday and Saturday will revolve around what goes down in Santa Clara, California, as the Niners look to add some speed on offense and perhaps some insurance at linebacker (where NaVorro Bowman is recovering from injury and Aldon Smith's status in limbo). In fact, no one is in as strong a spot as Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh. Here are five other power-brokers to keep an eye on as things unfold (click on team names to see each squad's full complement of draft picks):

St. Louis Rams

Total picks: 12
Picks in the top 50: 3
Picks in the top 100: 4

The final stage of the Robert Griffin III trade is here in the form of the No. 2 overall pick, which the Rams hold as a result of their swap with Washington in 2012. St. Louis, which also has the 13th overall pick, stands to add to its 12 picks, already tied for most in the league. Assuming Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack goes first, there should be a market for whomever is available at No. 2. If Clowney's there, the Rams will likely think about sticking. If Mack is available, I'd guess the club might look at the possibility of trading with a team like Atlanta -- St. Louis could further build its war chest while still landing someone like Jake Matthews or Johnny Manziel later in the top 10.

Cleveland Browns

Total picks: 10
Picks in the top 50: 3
Picks in the top 100: 5

The Browns are in terrific shape, with multiple picks in the first, third and fourth rounds. Plus, as none of the team's picks are compensatory selections -- which cannot be traded -- all of Cleveland's real estate can be moved. Sitting at No. 4 overall, the Browns are guaranteed to have a shot at one of the four widely perceived "elite" players: Clowney, Mack, Sammy Watkins and Greg Robinson. That puts them in position to add one of those elites or move the pick. The Browns also have the 26th overall pick -- right where a run on quarterbacks could well begin, with clubs considering jumping Houston at No. 33 to get their choice of signal-caller, further motivated by the chance to have a fifth-year option on anyone drafted in the first round.



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New York Jets

Total picks: 12
Picks in the top 50: 2
Picks in the top 100: 3

On the surface, the Jets would seem to be a candidate to move up -- they have a lot of picks and a need at receiver. The problem is that four of their picks are compensatory and thus can't be included in trades. Furthermore, half of their picks are outside the top 150. The Bucs' release of Darrelle Revis certainly hurt the Jets. If Tampa Bay had kept the cornerback, the conditional 2014 pick the Bucs gave New York in last year's trade would have been a third-rounder (No. 69); instead, it's a fourth-round selection (No. 104). Still, having that many total picks gives the Jets the flexibility to deal some of their higher selections away, provided they feel good about what will be there in the later rounds to fill their secondary needs at safety and outside linebacker.

Baltimore Ravens

Total picks: 8
Picks in the top 50: 2
Picks in the top 100: 4

This is as much about positioning as anything else. The Ravens have four of the top 100 picks, meaning they could be the ideal partner for a team looking to move up to get in on a run on receivers or to catch a sliding quarterback. Either way, Baltimore seems to be in a place in which it can add volume; plus, the compensatory picks they collected after losing a group of free agents headed by Paul Kruger give them the flexibility to move multiple times. The strength of the Ravens' roster and the stability of the franchise make them a candidate to build out toward 2015, as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Total picks: 11
Picks in the top 50: 2
Picks in the top 100: 3

The Jaguars aren't exactly flush with early picks, but they are selecting near the top of the first three rounds (No. 3 in Round 1, No. 39 in Round 2 and No. 70 in Round 3). Thanks to deals involving Eugene Monroe and Mike Thomas, they have five picks in a 55-pick stretch (from No. 105 to No. 159). Add in the Gabbert deal (which yielded No. 205) and the Jags have seven picks in a 101-pick stretch (from No. 105 to No. 205). Second-year GM Dave Caldwell could use that currency to move with his early picks (to grab a QB late in the first round?) or continue to build the guts of his roster. Either way, he'll have options -- and a lot of control -- on the draft's third day.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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