Balls: Pressure is on Baalke to get it right 

click to enlarge Arik Armstead
  • David J. Phillip/AP File photo
  • Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead is a front-runner to land in Santa Clara after the 49ers lost multiple starters from their defense this offseason.
Trent Baalke, your team is on the clock.

And make no mistake about it — the 49ers are Trent Baalke’s team now that Jim Harbaugh is out of the way.

If Baalke wants to quiet the wolves and set a positive tone for the future, he has to hit a home run in the next three days. Or a stand-up triple at the very least. The team needs help at defensive line, cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and tight end, and he has nine draft picks to get it. But the 15th overall pick is the crucial one. It’s the earliest in Round 1 since Harbaugh inherited the Mike Singletary mess four years ago.

So what’s a general manager to do? Baalke could trade the first selection. It may take as much as a third-rounder to move into the top 10, and he values the early rounds too much for that to happen. It seems more likely that Baalke will move down from No. 15 if he trades the pick at all.

The consensus among draftniks is that, if they stand pat, the 49ers will take Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead as their first selection. We know Baalke places a premium on size and strength, and at 6-foot-7, 292 pounds, Armstead is nothing if not big and strong. New coach Jim Tomsula also is said to be enamored with the kid. Although this is not his decision to make, the head coach will have some input, one has to think.

Yet Balls isn’t sold on Armstead that early in Round 1, and it’s not alone. Some scouts believe he lacks the leverage and the quickness to become an impact player at the next level. In college, he was more effective as a run-stopper than a pass rusher, they point out. As a junior, he had 2.5 sacks last season. Is it wise to invest the 15th pick on a potential two-down player? If not, could Baalke trade down, still be in position to take Armstead or a cornerback such as Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), Byron Jones (Connecticut) or Marcus Peters (Washington) in Round 1 and add another pick or two in the later ones?

For now, this much is certain: If Baalke intends to put his stamp on the team, then he may want to start tonight.

COULD RAIDERS LUCK OUT? The Raiders have their sights on wide receiver Amari Cooper (Alabama) at the No. 4 spot, but those wild and wacky Jacksonville Jaguars could throw the first round up for grabs one pick earlier.

The Jaguars have been linked to USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, widely regarded to be the best player in the draft. But general manager David Caldwell fooled us last year, when he selected quarterback Blake Bortles at the third overall pick.

The Jaguars also like Cooper a lot, and it won’t be a shock if he’s their first pick. Pride and Poise can’t be so lucky to have Williams fall into their laps, can they? Then again, it could opt for someone like raw wide receiver Kevin White (West Virginia), at which point coach-USC alum Jack Del Rio may up and leave before his first game.

OUR NATIONAL ADDICTION: If there’s a better reality television than the NFL Draft, then Balls hasn’t seen it. Last year, 45.7 million people watched the three-day event, which surpassed the previous record of four years earlier. This took place in the midst of the Major League Baseball season and the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs, mind you.

It’s easy to dislike the NFL for its arrogance and utter lack of character, but for the next three days at least, none of that will seem to matter.

MARIOTA MANIA: The drama will begin at the second overall pick, which the Tennessee Titans may still own by the time you read this.

The Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams are said to have interest in the No. 2 selection, which would put them in position to reel in Marcus Mariota, the safest QB pick on the board. That so many teams have interest in the Heisman Trophy winner is all you need to know about the scarcity at the position right now. The Titans also need a quarterback and won’t rule out Mariota, either, although that may be so much smoke to increase the value of the pick.

The Browns reportedly have offered the 12th and 19th overall picks in their annual search for a franchise quarterback, a package that the Titans can’t ignore. The Chargers may or may not have veteran quarterback Philip Rivers on the table. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles become serious bidders soon. They have made a trade on draft day in six of the last seven years, and head coach Chip Kelly seems intent to sign every former Oregon player available.

NEW-LOOK NINERS? The 49ers will unveil the first alternate uniform in franchise history at a party before the draft tonight.

You know, just in the case the first pick didn’t go well and the fans used them for a bonfire.

THE LIST: There is about a one in seven chance that the either the 49ers or the Raiders will come away with a Hall of Famer in the first round. Since the AFL-NFL merger, they drafted six such players there, and another in Charles Woodson may be on the way.

— 1967: Gene Upshaw, guard

— 1973: Ray Guy, punter

— 1981: Ronnie Lott, safety

— 1982: Marcus Allen, running back

— 1985: Jerry Rice, wide receiver

— 1988: Tim Brown, wide receiver

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE ... Robert Gallery?

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