2011 Round 1 Draft Pick Aldon Smith
The San Francisco 49ers went through a rough patch with their draft selections, which coincided with some down years. In recent history, with Trent Baalke managing the draft, the 49ers have fared much better and the team is on the upswing.
In today's NFL, good drafts are essential to the long-term success of any team. The extremely high price for top free agents, combined with the salary cap, make it tough for teams to stay in the upper echelon of the league without astute drafting.
The 49ers have had their positives and negatives when it comes to the draft. Let's take a close look at their draft results over the past 10 years. I will also assign a grade for each of these draft classes.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Mike Rumph in the first round of the 2002 draft. Rumpf was a safety in college and the 49ers hoped he could make the transition to the corner. It turned out he could neither play safety or cornerback effectively in the NFL.
The 49ers felt that Rumph would be able to come in and be a physical presence in their secondary, as he was a tall, physical defensive back. Unfortunately, Rumph couldn't cover anybody.
Rumph also missed a large portion of the 2004 and 2005 seasons because of injuries. The 49ers ultimately traded him prior to the 2006 season.
With no Round 2 selection, the 49ers selected Saleem Rasheed in the third round. Rasheed, a linebacker out of Alabama, stuck with the 49ers for four years, but hardly made an impact. He saw most of his action on special teams and never developed into the kind of player the 49ers had hoped for.
The rest of the draft was filled with similarly unspectacular names, such as Jeff Chandler, Kevin Curtis, Brandon Doman, Josh Shaw, Mark Anelli, Eric Heitmann, Kyle Kosier and Teddy Gaines.
Only Heitmann made an impact with the 49ers, as he played from 2002-2010. A center, Heitmann was a key member of the 49ers offensive line, but battled injuries throughout his career. Heitmann was a solid NFL player and only his presence saves this draft from being a complete "F."
The 49ers GM at the time was Terry Donahue, who acted in this role from 2001-2005. He was an incredibly bad GM and talent evaluator. The 49ers failures over the recent decade can be closely linked to Donahue's poor decisions.
2002 Grade: D-
Kwame Harris was from nearby Stanford University
I wonder if GM Terry Donahue's intention was to save on travel expenditures, but his first-round pick was offensive tackle Kwame Harris, out of Stanford. At 6'7" and 325 pounds, Harris had the size the 49ers coveted, but was not able to utilize his size to become a good football player.
Harris also seemed to lack the work ethic and intensity needed to hone his skills and become the type of dominant lineman the 49ers envisioned when they drafted him. He played for the 49ers from 2003-2007. After the 2007 season, Harris signed a three-year, $16 million contract with the Raiders, who released him after only one year.
The 49ers selected defensive linemen Anthony Adams and Andrew Williams with their second- and third-round picks. Adams was a serviceable defensive tackle who played for the 49ers from 2003-2006. Williams was on the 49ers roster for two seasons but made no real impact.
The 49ers remaining picks in 2003 were Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Walker, Arnaz Battle and Ken Dorsey. Lloyd made the biggest impact in his three seasons with the 49ers. He played in 45 games with the 49ers, making 105 receptions for 1,510 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Lloyd was often spectacular, but also very inconsistent. Lloyd was also difficult to deal with and a bit of a diva. He was ultimately traded to the Redskins prior to the 2004 season.
Battle was a 49er from 2003-2009. He was just an average receiver but conducted himself with professionalism and class. During his time with the 49ers, Battle caught 178 passes for 2,150 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also was a factor on special teams and returned punts for the 49ers.
Walker, a tight end, made the 49ers roster for four seasons but made little impact. He caught only 25 passes in his four years with San Francisco.
Dorsey actually started 10 games for the 49ers in 2003 and 2004. He compiled a record of 2-8 in those starts. Dorsey was well-respected for his intelligence and ability to learn the 49ers system and opposing defensive schemes quickly.
All seven of the 49ers 2003 draft picks made the roster but none of the picks made a significant impact during their tenure with the 49ers.
2003 Grade: D
Isaac Sopoaga has been a solid 49er defensive lineman
For the third consecutive year, the 49ers and GM Terry Donahue whiffed on their first-round draft pick. This time they selected wide receiver Rashaun Woods, who was a colossal bust. Woods had injury issues, was not a hard worker and did not have the speed to get open against man-to-man coverage.
Woods caught seven passes in his first year with the 49ers, then missed the entire 2005 season due to injury. He was traded to San Diego in 2006, where he was cut prior to the season.
The 49ers fared much better with their other picks. In all, they had 10 selections in the 2004 draft. Justin Smiley and Shawntae Spencer were taken in the second round and were both productive. Both players helped the 49ers, Smiley as a guard and Spencer a cornerback.
Smiley played for the 49ers for four years, from 2004-2007. He started 49 games for the 49ers during that span.
Spencer has been a 49er from 2004-2011. He started 72 games over that eight-year period. Spencer, at one point in his career, was one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Spencer battled several nagging injuries in 2011 and rarely played.
Spencer has 11 career interceptions, but fell out of favor with new 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He has been given permission to pursue a trade, so do not expect Spencer back in 2012.
In addition to the whiff on Woods, the 49ers also whiffed on their third-round selection, wide receiver Derrick Hamilton. He caught no passes as a 49er.
One of the gems of the 2004 draft class was defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga. He started 15 games as the 49ers nose tackle in 2011 and has played in a total of 110 games in his eight-year NFL career.
Sopoaga is a strong interior presence against the run, usually occupying multiple blockers, which frees up linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to fly around the field
The other gem of this draft is punter Andy Lee. He is one of the best punters in the league and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All Pro.
Linebacker Richard Seigler, safety Keith Lewis, quarterback Cody Pickett and defensive tackle Christian Ferrara rounded out the 2004 draft class. None of these players made a significant impact for the 49ers.
2004 Grade: C-
Alex Smith was the first overall pick in the 2005 draft
The tenure of Terry Donahue as the 49ers GM thankfully came to an end prior to the 2005 draft. Scot McLoughan took over running the draft. His selection of quarterback Alex Smith with the first overall pick, looked like another terrible miss and for the first six years of Smith's career, it was.
In Smith's first six seasons, he played for defensive-minded head coaches and six different offensive coordinators. He struggled and looked like a major bust.
However, this all changed in 2011. Smith, under the guidance of Jim Harbaugh, improved dramatically and finally looked like he can be a solid NFL quarterback. He and Harbaugh built a close bond and Smith learned a tremendous amount from his new head coach and Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator.
Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and a playoff win against the Saints. If not for two miscues by punt return man Kyle Williams, Smith would have guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl this past year.
Smith had a career year working with Harbaugh and Roman. He completed 61.3 percent of his pass attempts, for 3,144 yards, both career highs. His 17 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions was also very impressive.
The 49ers are currently negotiating with Smith, who can become a free agent, on a contract extension. Both sides have indicated a strong desire to see Smith back in a 49er uniform.
With their second round pick, the 49ers took David Baas. He played for the Niners for six years from 2005-2010. Baas was used at multiple spots in his first four seasons, before settling in at center, as Eric Heitmann's replacement.
David Baas started all 16 games for the 49ers in both 2009 and 2010. He signed a free-agent deal with the New York Giants and was a member of their Super Bowl championship team this past season.
Baas was a decent player, but you should expect more from the 33rd overall pick.
Frank Gore was the 49ers Round 3 pick. He was coming off a knee injury and his draft stock fell, enabling the 49ers to draft Gore with the 65th overall selection. Gore has been the heart and soul of the 49ers offense over these past seven years.
Gore is the 49ers all-time leading rusher. He has 7,625 career yards rushing, which includes five 1,000-yard seasons. Gore is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and has had a tremendous career. I expect Gore's No. 21 will be retired at some point, after he's done playing.
Offensive lineman Adam Snyder was selected in the fourth round. This was another very good pick, as Snyder is an extremely valuable player, able to play any of the positions along the line. Snyder is an impending free agent and the 49ers would like to have him back.
Snyder took over the starting right guard spot this past year, replacing the ineffective Chilo Rachal. Once Snyder became a starter, the line immediately began to improve.
After the fourth round, the 49ers drafted no other players who made much of an impact. These picks included Ronald Fields, Rasheed Marshall, Derrick Johnson, Daven Holly, Marcus Maxwell, Patrick Estes and Billy Bajema.
2005 Grade: A-
Vernon Davis was the sixth overall pick in 2006
The San Francisco 49ers selected Maryland tight end Vernon Davis with their first-round pick. He was the sixth overall selection and has emerged as one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
Davis has become the favorite target of quarterback Alex Smith. In his six years with the 49ers, Davis has caught 304 passes for 3,803 yards and 35 touchdowns. Davis was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and is also an excellent blocker.
The 49ers had two first-round picks in 2006 and the second selection was used for Manny Lawson. He left the 49ers as a free agent, following the 2010 season. Lawson, the 22nd overall pick, was extremely athletic and had a world of talent.
Lawson made several big plays for the 49ers but also had a tendency to disappear during some games. He was a solid player but was a slight disappointment as a first-round pick.
The 49ers also made some solid selections with their fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks. Michael Robinson, Parys Haralson and Delanie Walker all made strong contributions to the 49ers.
Robinson made his impact felt most on special teams. He was an outstanding special teams player, who played for the Niners from 2006-2009.
Haralson has been a steady performer over the past six seasons and started all 16 games for the 49ers in 2011. His starting spot may be targeted for Aldon Smith in the upcoming 2012 season.
Walker is a good pass-catching tight end and along with Davis gives the 49ers two fine tight ends that can hurt the opposition in the passing game. Walker is also an outstanding athlete and a strong special teams player.
The remainder of the 49ers picks made little impact. These included Brandon Williams, Marcus Hudson, Melvin Oliver and Vickiel Vaughn.
2006 Grade: B-
Patrick Willis is the leader of the 49ers defense
The 2007 draft was the best one over the past decade for the 49ers. The 49ers struck gold with their two first-round picks as they selected Patrick Willis and Joe Staley.
In his five years in San Francisco, Willis has made the Pro Bowl every season and is also four-time first-team All-Pro. He is one of the top linebackers in football and the leader of the 49ers' outstanding defense.
Willis has started 76 out of the possible 80 games the 49ers have played during this five-year span. He has made over 100 tackles in each season, except for 2011, when he missed three games due to injury.
Staley is one of the stalwarts of the 49ers offensive line. He plays the very important position of left tackle, which protects Alex Smith's blind side. Staley started and played in all 16 games in his first two seasons.
Injuries plagued Staley in 2009 and 2010, as he was only able to play in nine games. He rebounded in 2011, playing in all 16 games and earning his first Pro Bowl selection.
The 49ers also have three additional starters from the 2007 draft. Defensive end Ray McDonald, who was selected in the third round, was a mainstay for the 49ers' excellent defense in 2011.
Safety Dashon Goldson was a fourth-round pick and played his best football this past season. He had a career high of six interceptions and the 49ers just placed the franchise tag on him, helping to ensure his return to the Niners secondary. Goldson was also a Pro Bowl selection in 2011.
Cornerback Tarell Brown improved greatly this past season. He started all 16 games for the 49ers and had four interceptions.
The 49ers had four key starters emerge out of the 2007 draft, including three 2011 Pro Bowlers. The other four picks, Jason Hill, Jay Moore, Joe Cohen and Thomas Clayton did not pan out.
2007 Grade: A
Josh Morgan sustained a broken leg in the fifth game of the season
In January of 2008, Scot McLoughan was promoted to the position of 49ers GM. Although McLoughan presided over the drafts beginning in 2005, it was in 2008 when he assumed the main control over the entire process.
McLoughan worked closely with head coach Mike Nolan as they orchestrated the 2008 draft. Unfortunately, the music they played was not sweet.
The 49ers had six draft picks in 2008 and only one player, Josh Morgan, became am integral member of the team. Morgan was a sixth-round selection, but has emerged as a solid, though unspectacular receiver. He has 131 career receptions for 1,764 yards and nine touchdowns, in his four seasons.
The 49ers selected defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer in the first round. Balmer played sparingly and there were questions about his desire and work ethic. In two seasons with the 49ers, Balmer started no games, had only 11 tackles and no sacks. The 49ers traded Balmer to the Seahawks prior to the 2010 season.
Chilo Rachal was the 49ers second-round pick. The big offensive guard out of USC looked like he would become a mainstay along the 49ers line for several years. However, Rachal's play has declined dramatically.
After starting 35 out of 39 games in his first three seasons, Rachal began the 2011 season as the starter once again. Rachal has been plagued by inconsistency and poor technique. He was very ineffective and was replaced by Adam Snyder after only three games.
Once Snyder was inserted into the starting lineup, the line seemed to gel and improve throughout the rest of the season.
Rachal is an impending free agent and it's highly unlikely he will be back with the 49ers.
The 49ers third-round pick was safety Raggie Smith. He has been used mostly as a dime back and special teams player. The 49ers have some good, young talent vying for backup safety spots and special teams roles. This is likely to make Smith expendable, after four undistinguished seasons.
Offensive lineman Cody Wallace, a fourth-round pick, never made an impact.
Linebacker Larry Grant was on the practice squad of the 49ers in 2008, when he was signed by the St. Louis Rams. Grant played two games with the Rams in 2008 and 16 in 2009 and 2010.
Grant signed with the 49ers again in 2011, where he started three games, when Patrick Willis was injured. Grant also was an excellent special teams contributor.
The 49ers also lost their fifth-round pick to the Chicago Bears as a penalty for the alleged tampering of linebacker Lance Briggs.
2008 Grade: F
Michael Crabtree has not developed into a No. 1 receiver
The San Francisco 49ers had seven picks in the 2009 draft. Only first-round pick Michael Crabtree became a starter. The 49ers hoped Crabtree would become a dynamic No. 1 receiver but he does not seem to have the elusiveness to be that guy.
Crabtree is really a No. 2 receiver at this point of his career. In 2011, he had 72 receptions for 872 yards, both career highs. However, Crabtree largely disappeared in the playoffs and was unable to get open against tight man-to-man coverage.
Besides Crabtree, only Ricky Jean-Francois is even still with the 49ers. He is a reserve defensive lineman and has started two games in his career.
The other draft picks from 2009 never made it with the 49ers. These picks included Glen Coffee, Nate Davis, Bear Pascoe and Curtis Taylor.
2009 Grade: D-
Mike Iupati is a powerful run-blocker
The San Francisco 49ers dismissed GM Scot McLoughan just a few weeks before the 2010 draft. Trent Baalke took over and ran the draft, doing a decent job.
The 49ers had two first-round selections and took offensive linemen with each of the selections. Right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati are both starters in their two NFL seasons.
Davis was not ready to start in his first year. He was the most penalized lineman in the league and was routinely beaten on the pass rush.
Davis showed significant improvement in 2011. He is a strong run-blocker and got a lot better in pass protection over the second half of the season.
Iupati has always been a devastating run-blocker and was arguably the 49ers' best offensive lineman in 2010. He was a bit inconsistent with his pass protection in 2011. Nevertheless, Iupati looks like he could be a solid NFL player for the next decade.
Safety Taylor Mays was a huge disappointment and seemed to have attitude issues that head coach Jim Harbaugh would not tolerate. Mays was traded after only one season in San Francisco.
The 49ers found a true gem in the third round, when they selected linebacker NaVorro Bowman. He led the 49ers in tackles this past season with 113.
Bowman started all 16 games for the 49ers in 2011 and was named to the Pro Bowl. Bowman teamed with Patrick Willis to form the top inside linebacker duo in the NFL.
The 49ers had three selections in the sixth round and one in Round 7. With these picks, the Niners drafted running back Anthony Dixon, who has made an impact as a special teams player.
Tight end Nate Byham was the third tight end in 2010, but an injury forced him to miss the 2011 season. He is on the bubble for a roster spot in 2012.
After not playing much in 2010, receiver Kyle Williams showed promise in 2011. He caught 20 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Williams will be best remembered for his two gaffes in the NFC title game against the Giants. Had it not been for Williams' two turnovers, the 49ers very likely would have been in the Super Bowl.
Defensive back Phillip Adams made the team in 2010, but was released in 2011.
2010 Grade: A-
Aldon Smith emerged as a top pass-rusher
The 49ers had 10 picks in the 2011 draft and nine of the players are still with the team. The star of this draft crop was Aldon Smith. He emerged as one of the top pass-rushers in the league, with 14 sacks.
Smith was not a starter and played primarily on passing downs. Look for him to replace Parys Haralson as the starter in 2012.
The 49ers traded up to get quarterback Colin Kaepernick with their second-round selection. Kaepernick is an excellent athlete, but still has a lot to learn about being a successful NFL quarterback.
Chris Culliver was a backup cornerback and played in the nickel defense. He showed improvement in 2011, but still has a ways to go before he can be considered a full-time starter.
The 49ers fourth-round pick was running back Kendall Hunter. He showed some excellent big-play ability running the ball and as a receiver out of the backfield. Hunter looks like a very productive situational back. At only 5'9" and 199 pounds, there are questions about his ability to be an every-down running back.
Daniel Kilgore played primarily on special teams, but is well-liked by Harbaugh. It appears as though Kilgore has a future with the 49ers.
Safety Colin Jones was one of the 49ers' top special teams players. He excelled on the coverage teams and was an excellent tackler.
Bruce Miller may be the most intriguing pick of the draft. He was a defensive end in college but was moved to the 49ers offense as a fullback. Miller became a starter when Moran Norris was hurt and played very well. The veteran Norris is unlikely to be re-signed, so Miller will be the starter in 2012.
Mike Person, an offensive lineman, made the team but didn't play. In addition, the 49ers are excited about safety Curtis Holcomb, their final pick in Round 7. Holcomb suffered an injury in the preseason and was put on injured reserve.
2011 Grade: B+
Jim Harbaugh turned the 49ers around in 2011
The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a brilliant 13-3 season. So much went right for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers that expectations are sky high heading into 2012.
The 49ers have made it a priority to sign their own key free agents and it will be imperative for them to draft well, also. GM Trent Baalke has stated on numerous occasions that he strongly prefers building through the draft. He can then supplement the roster through free agency.
Productive drafts are vital for the 49ers, as it helps them to keep salary costs down. Free-agent contracts tend to be very expensive, so even though the 49ers have cap space available, don't look for them to break the bank for expensive free agents.
2012 will be an exciting year for the 49ers. It's fun to be a 49er fan again.