SANTA CLARA -- Tom Gamble rattled off praise and insight in such quick succession that it sounded like one of his scouting reports.

This subject was Trent Baalke, the 49ers general manager. Eight years since Gamble and Baalke arrived in the 49ers front office, they're now on opposite coasts, preparing for this week's draft.

"It's tough not to be with him, to be honest with you," Gamble said by phone Monday night from Philadelphia. "I've got a ton of respect for him."

Gamble left shortly after the 49ers' Super Bowl loss to return to his NFL roots, becoming vice president of player personnel for the Eagles, where his personnel career started 25 years ago and where his father once was team president.

Baalke's growing legacy might take on another layer this week. He has 13 draft picks to use or barter, with few holes on a talent-laden roster.

"Trent Baalke has to be on his 'A' game. This could make (him)," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told CSN Bay Area at last month's owners meetings.

Baalke and his staff helped turn the 49ers roster into a contender the past two seasons. What can't be overstated, insiders say, is Baalke's behind-the-scenes work.

"To sit as a 49ers fan, you can't be in better hands," Gamble said. "He's constantly looking at reports, background information, getting to know these guys off the field. Nobody works like he does."

Baalke's draft philosophy appears to thus: He'll take whom he wants when he wants, regardless of that pick's popularity or pedigree.


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For example, take the Southeastern Conference, a proverbial football factory that's produced the most first-round picks each of the past six years. Of the 17 players drafted by the 49ers since 2010, only two played in the SEC: running back Anthony Dixon (2010 sixth round, Mississippi State) and cornerback Chris Culliver (2011 third round, South Carolina).

"We don't go into a draft saying, 'We're not going to draft from the SEC or Pac-10,' " Baalke said. "You have the draft board and you play the board. If he happens to be from the SEC when you pick, so be it. If he's not, so be it."

Baalke eschewed media interviews during Super Bowl week, opting to stick to what he prefers: studying film and scouting. He even traveled to a college all-star game in Texas.

Perhaps Baalke's biggest find came two years ago, when he lured Harbaugh from Stanford. Their team-first, ultracompetitive approach has worked in ideal synchronicity, but they're not clones.

"Jim is a gut-feeling kind of guy," 49ers CEO Jed York said. "Trent is analytical, like everything sort of needs to fit, and 'I'm going to make sure that everything is perfect and I'm going to go through all the analysis and process.' "

Because the 49ers' season ran long, Baalke didn't attend any college's pro-day workouts for the first time in his tenure. He chose to work in-house, balancing another busy free agency period with putting finishing touches on the team's draft board.

Gamble downplayed his insight into the 49ers' draft desires, stating how things can change through medical reviews and personal interviews over the past two months.

But Gamble knows Baalke's tendencies, perhaps better than anyone. "In the end, he's got to pull the trigger," Gamble said, "and he knows what he's looking for."

49ers picks
First round (No. 31 overall); second round (Nos. 34, 61); third round (Nos. 74, 93); fourth round (Nos. 128, 131); fifth round (No. 157); sixth round (Nos. 173, 180); seventh round (Nos. 237, 246, 252)