Trent Baalke walked calmly into the 49ers defensive meeting room on Wednesday afternoon to a room full of local reporters and cameramen inside of team headquarters. All were on hand to hear draft insight from the 49ers general manager, soon to run his third draft overseeing San Francisco’s personnel department.
“My mind is somewhere else right now,” admitted Baalke as he sat down in front of the gathered media. “It’s in the draft room.”
Baalke spoke candidly on some his draft philosophies during his 45-minute visit, but when asked to share insight like his opinion on Stanford tight end Coby Fleener or the exact number of prospects remaining on the team’s draft board, Baalke didn’t go into specifics.
“I enjoy the draft process, a lot. It’s what we work for,” Baalke said during his conversation with the media.
Despite not offering his assessment on Fleener, the tight end who reportedly visited with the 49ers at the team’s local pro day but did not participate in field drills, Baalke offered other morsels of notable draft information instead.
Most notably, the 49ers general manager believes there is “one player” who the 49ers expect to be available when they make their first-round selection at the 30th pick.
“We have one (prospect) we feel real good about,” Baalke said. “If we’re able to move up or not move up, we’ve got to be prepared to make a pick at 30. There is one (prospect) in particular we feel will be there, and if he’s there we’ll make the pick.”
Baalke said there’s other options in mind with the first-round selection, but will not hesitate to select their designated first-round target.
After all, Baalke’s early gut feelings paid huge dividends in 2011, his first draft as the team’s general manager. Baalke had only watched college tape of then-Missouri defensive end
It didn’t take long for Smith to make Baalke’s vision pay off. A 14-sack season that broke the franchise’s single-season rookie sack record by Smith certainly made the 49ers proud of the selection.
In terms of the work that goes into draft day, Baalke said the San Francisco personnel department hasn’t changed up their previous routine. Baalke certainly enjoys the process of working closely with 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble and 49ers director of college scouting Joel Patten.
Baalke looks forward to continuing the group-wide effort on the personnel side that yielded so many rookie contributors just one season ago.
“We made decisions as a group,” Baalke said. “When you have a lot of great people around you, you let them do their jobs.”
Perhaps the biggest portion of the collaborative process involves the team’s gold helmet rating system.
Baalke explained how the team identifies draftable players with a “gold helmet” system, where the 49ers personnel staff places a gold helmet sticker on player’s card on the team’s draft board. The gold helmet signifies a player deemed to fit within the team’s core principles away from the field: being good citizens and competitive players. Physical traits have nothing to do with earning the sticker designation.
“That’s one of the final things we do,” Baalke explained. “Sunday I sit down with the personnel staff and we go over each guy on our board.”
Gold helmets are crucial to a prospect’s chances of being selected by the 49ers. Last season, Baalke estimated that only one of the team’s nine draft picks wasn’t designated with the sticker.
Baalke wouldn’t reveal the exact number of “gold helmets” on San Francisco’s draft board, but did say it typically stays around the 150 mark from year-to-year.
Besides draft talk, there were also non-draft questions posed to the NFL’s Executive of the Year. Baalke discussed the team’s multiple options in finding a new starting right guard and his thoughts on the 60 players already in town participating in the team’s offseason strength program.
Baalke said second-year linemen
“They’ve had a year to develop and are ready to compete for that role,” Baalke said, before noting, “There’s still a draft and free agency.”
Baalke said the goal is to let the offensive coaches decide on the best five players to play on the offensive line.
Overall, competition was a constant word spoken from the mouth of the 49ers general manager.
“We love competition,” Baalke said when asked about potentially drafting a wide receiver. “You’re trying to create it as much as you can. You don’t want to overload a position, but competition is good for everyone and real good for the football team.”
As it currently stands, Baalke’s draft board is 90 percent complete with “some tweaks” left to be made.
Even with a talented roster returning from 2011 sprinkled in with a key free agency signings, Baalke’s mind will remain in that draft room until April 28, the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft. After that, it’ll go back to doing what he does best.
“We like our roster,” Baalke said, “but we also believe there’s a lot of work to be done.”