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Niners' first-round picks all struggling

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ The San Francisco 49ers insist their salvation will arrive through the draft.

They hope years of bad contracts, unlucky injuries and salary-cap woes can be erased through solid choices in April.

The trouble is, the 49ers' record in restocking their roster isn't much more impressive than their 1-5 mark this season _ particularly when it matters most.

San Francisco has made 10 first-round draft picks in the last 10 years. Only six are still with the team, and not one has played a significant role for the 49ers this season.

Linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Mike Rumph are out for the year with serious injuries, while cornerback Ahmed Plummer, defensive end Andre Carter and left tackle Kwame Harris have been limited by less-serious injuries.

Receiver Rashaun Woods, the top pick in last April's draft, is stuck as the 49ers' No. 5 receiver, still playing catch-up after injuries during training camp.

And except for Peterson, who became an All-Pro linebacker last season before his contract holdout and subsequent heel injury, none of the 10 first-round picks has been as good as the 49ers hoped.

There are no classes in college that you can take to prepare you for being a first-round draft pick in the NFL,'' said Harris, who has struggled to meet the league's required grit and speed.There are always more expectations in that position, and there's nothing you can do about it.''

The 49ers love to tout the exploits of a roster stocked with more of their own draft choices than nearly any other team _ but those choices haven't added up to a competitive team this season.

San Francisco is off to its worst start since 1979 heading to Chicago on Sunday.

Sure, there have been several stellar picks by the 49ers in recent years. In fact, you could argue that the 49ers have more success in the seventh round of the draft than the first.

Quarterbacks Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey, starting offensive linemen Kyle Kosier and Eric Heitmann, tight end Eric Johnson and even long-snapper Brian Jennings were final-round gems.

But the team's first-round picks the ones who command the most money and scrutiny haven't been much help in keeping the 49ers out of the NFL cellar.

San Francisco had two total busts in the late 1990s quarterback Jim Druckenmiller and defensive tackle Reggie McGrew and a near-bust in receiver J.J. Stokes, who hung around for eight years on the strength of his unrealized potential.

They drafted cornerback R.W. McQuarters in 1998, but traded him to the Bears before he developed into a dependable defensive back. Since then, San Francisco has picked six players who are works in progress _ though there's no common theme to their various struggles and setbacks.

Nobody has more work to do than Woods, quietly expected to be a major contributor to the 49ers' offense this season after being chosen with the 31st overall pick. Instead, he has struggled to adjust to the speed and precision of the pro game, and now finds himself far down the bench.

I know they expect me to eventually come out and do well and justify where they picked me,'' Woods said.It's tough, but the other things that happen in your life keep you working hard.''

Harris' struggles have been among the most dismaying to the 49ers, who hoped the 6-foot-7 tackle would be entrenched as the offensive line's anchor by now. Last winter, they even got rid of Derrick Deese to pave the way for his ascension.

But Harris has been hurt for much of the season, and he still shows up on far too many highlight films failing to block a pass-rusher steamrolling Rattay or Dorsey. His teammates have remained supportive on this long, steep learning curve.

``Kwame works hard, he studies a lot, so I think he's doing a great job,'' Rattay said of the man entrusted to watch his blind side.

Plummer and Carter have been good, but not great. Plummer has been a dependable starter until being sidelined by a bulging disc in his neck this season, but hasn't developed into the topflight, shutdown corner the 49ers need.

The 49ers gave up two high picks to move up to draft Carter in 2001. The Cal grad was thought to be the NFL's next great pass-rusher _ and though he has 25{ sacks in his first three seasons, he's far from a household name.

Carter isn't expect to return until next week's home game against Seattle at the earliest.

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