SANTA CLARA -- Prediction: This college draft will be different for the 49ers in one critical respect.

That would be in the war room. This year, no gray will be permitted. No gray clothing. No gray laptops. No gray furniture. They may even throw anyone with gray hair out of the room.

But mainly, there can be no gray area when considering a prospect with "character issues" on his index card.

After everything that has happened over the past year in terms of off-field issues with the 49ers, it's hard to believe they will take a chance on drafting a player with any such red flags. Instead of "character issues," I prefer a more direct-to-the-point term: "Knucklehead factor."

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (99) practices Thursday afternoon, Jan. 16, 2014, in Santa Clara, Calif., preparing for Sunday’s NFC
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (99) practices Thursday afternoon, Jan. 16, 2014, in Santa Clara, Calif., preparing for Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

As this newspaper recently reported, there have been nine arrests of 49ers players since 2012. That's more than any other NFL team during that time span. Four of those arrests came courtesy of Aldon Smith, the troubled linebacker.

Trent Baalke, the 49ers general manager, made thoughtful comments last month about the situation, saying he wanted to "support" Smith but not "defend" him. Baalke also stressed his belief that the team is not "lawless" and that integrity matters in the locker room.

There is no reason to doubt Baalke's sincerity. But now he needs to buttress that stance by avoiding any draftees with dubious or disreputable check marks against them. No gray areas.


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Another element at work: The last thing the 49ers want as they open up whiz-bang new Levi's Stadium during a carefully planned rollout with corporate sponsors is another player creating criminal news -- or even just dealing with stories about past transgressions.

Baalke has done an excellent job of maneuvering himself into a fine position for the NFL's annual ritual of choosing up sides. He has 11 total selections. He has six picks in the first three rounds.

With that bounty, Baalke has the capability of making deals to move up from the team's 30th overall first-round spot and potentially pick someone like ... hmmmm ... hey, how about Anthony Barr of UCLA? He is a 6-foot-5 outside linebacker who is projected to be selected in the 9-10-11-12 window of that first round.

Not saying that will happen. I have no clue what will happen. But if Barr is selected, he would be a triple bonus pick.

One, he is a really good football player.

Two, he is a good citizen who after the 2013 season was presented the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy (the capital letters stand for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity) for the nation's best defensive player who also represents his sport well off the field.

Three, Barr could fill Smith's lineup spot if necessary.

And that surely is going to be necessary, one way or the other.

Smith's legal status remains in limbo until the courts decide his fate later this year. But it's a given that after Smith was arrested for the fourth time in three years, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will punish him with a multigame suspension. It might be a multi-multi-multi game suspension.

When that happens, the 49ers can use someone to step in and be the edge pass rusher that Smith has been -- when he's playing. Last season, he missed five games while undergoing rehab, after a scary incident where he rammed his vehicle into a tree and was charged with suspicion of driving under the influence. Who knows how many games he will miss this season?

My belief, stated previously in this space, is that the 49ers should have found a way to lose Smith from their roster by now. In 35 years of covering the NFL, here is one thing that I have learned: Once a player has lost the complete trust of his teammates, it is very difficult for him to ever regain that trust.

Smith's teammates might all utter the correct and compassionate words about backing his efforts to straighten up and fly right. But the last thing any man in any NFL locker room wants is to stare across at a teammate's cubicle and wonder: Is this guy going to be with us on Sunday? Or is he going to screw up again by getting arrested or suspended or whatever?

So far, Baalke is sticking with Smith. The 49ers recently picked up his option for the 2015 season -- but not because they fully expect to pay and play Smith in 2015. His salary for that season isn't guaranteed unless he is seriously injured this season. The 49ers could cut him before then and owe him none of the 2015 money. There's little risk in keeping Smith around to see if he might finally clean up his act, or to see what might be out there on the trade market for him.

And if you're connecting the dots here, wouldn't it be easier to trade away Smith if you had someone on the roster who could step into that position on the field? Someone with no gray areas?

It is folly to try to outguess Baalke's game plan this weekend. But I would be stunned if he does not use the draft to address the Smith situation one way or another. If he doesn't choose my way, never mind. If he does ... well, remember where you read it first.

Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy. Contact him at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

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    UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr would be an excellent fit for the 49ers -- on and off the field.