10 Biggest Draft Mistakes in San Francisco 49ers History
The San Francisco 49ers have made some of the best draft picks in the history of the NFL. Hall of Fame players such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott were all drafted by the legendary Bill Walsh.
Current 49er stars Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Patrick Willis were also acquired through the draft.
With free-agent salaries going through the roof, it is imperative for the ongoing success of a franchise to draft well. Free agents can fill holes and supplement a team, but due to the expense, you simply cannot build a team through free agency.
Successful teams are adept at selecting impact talent and quality role players, essential to build and fortify a winning team. Failure to draft well is the first step towards an extended downturn for any franchise.
In order to qualify for our list, a player must have been selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Players selected in these two rounds are expected to be mainstays on the team for several years.
The 49ers have had their share of draft busts. Let's take a look at some of the worst draft choices in franchise history.
Dishonorable Mention: Todd Kelly
The San Francisco 49ers selected Todd Kelly with the 27th pick in the 1993 NFL draft. Kelly was a standout defensive end in college at Tennessee.
The 49ers switched him to an outside linebacker spot. The fact that the 49ers felt they needed to change the position of their first-round pick was a calculated risk, and a risk that would ultimately backfire.
Kelly never seemed to fulfill the promise and potential he showed in college. He was a classic "tweener," a bit too small to be a defensive end, but not fast enough to be an outside linebacker. Unfortunately for Kelly and the 49ers, the transformation never quite materialized.
Kelly played only two seasons in San Francisco and never made the impact the 49ers envisioned. In 25 games for the 49ers, Kelly made only 22 tackles, with 4.5 sacks.
By 1995, Kelly was off the team and on to Cincinnati. He also made little or no impact with the Bengals.
10. J.J. Stokes
The San Francisco 49ers traded up in the 1995 draft to select wide receiver J.J. Stokes with the 10th overall pick.
When the 49ers made the trade and chose Stokes, I was against it from the start. As a Cal Bear fan and Pac-10 follower, I had seen plenty of Stokes' games at UCLA.
Stokes was a tall, lanky receiver without much speed or elusiveness. At 6' 4", Stokes was able to go up high to snare passes, but he always had trouble getting open against tight man-to-man coverage.
As a pro, Stokes' limitations made him an average receiver, but not a star. In eight years with the 49ers, Stokes averaged 41 receptions for 517 yards per season.
To further underscore my point about Stokes' inability to get away from defenders, as a 49er, he averaged less than four touchdowns per year and only 12.7 yards-per-catch.
Stokes can best be described as an average possession receiver, certainly not worthy of a trade to acquire him so high in the draft.
9. Chilo Rachal
When the San Francisco 49ers drafted Chilo Rachal with their second-round pick in 2008, they thought they had found their starting right guard for the next decade.
Rachal started 15 games in 2009 and 14 games in 2010. The 49ers were also breaking in young rookie Anthony Davis at right tackle in 2010. Davis' struggles kept much of the scrutiny off Rachal, but the reality is, he was not improving.
Rachal opened the season as the starter in 2011, but was replaced in the third game of the season by Adam Snyder. The 49ers' offensive line began to gel and there was significant improvement with Snyder at the right-guard position.
Snyder left via free agency to join the Arizona Cardinals. Even with his departure, the 49ers have not made any effort to re-sign Rachal. Head coach Jim Harbaugh seems perfectly intent on letting Rachal depart.
Rachal simply was not getting the job done. His once-promising career with the 49ers appears to be over.
8) Kwame Harris
Kwame Harris was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. Harris had the ideal size the 49ers were looking for at the offensive tackle position, as he stood 6' 7" tall and weighed 310 pounds.
Harris played five seasons with the 49ers, starting 44 games over that span. He never became the standout tackle the 49ers envisioned when they drafted him. On the contrary, Harris was a major disappointment during his years as a 49er.
Questions surrounding Harris' intensity and desire surfaced, which is one of the worst things a football player can be criticized for. The 49ers ultimately tired of the under-performing tackle, and he was off the team following the 2007 season.
Harris joined the Raiders for 2008, but similar concerns about his heart and desire persisted and his career was over after his one poor season in Oakland.
7. Reggie McGrew
Reggie McGrew came to the 49ers as a highly-touted defensive tackle out of the University of Florida. He was a first-round pick in 1999, the 24th overall selection.
McGrew had an outstanding collegiate career, but had battled some knee troubles. Many teams passed on McGrew because of his injury history. The 49ers, unfortunately, gambled and lost.
McGrew did not play at all in 1999. He did play in 22 out of a possible 32 games in 2000 and 2001, but rarely saw any meaningful action.
After accumulating only nine solo tackles, including one sack, during his time with the 49ers, he finished out his career with the Falcons, where he played only two games in 2002.
6. Kentwan Balmer
The San Francisco 49ers selected Kentwan Balmer with the 29th pick in the 2008 draft. Balmer was a standout defensive tackle at North Carolina and the 49ers were expecting him to develop into a force on the defensive line.
Balmer was in San Francisco for only two years, then was unceremoniously traded prior to the 2010 season. During his time with the 49ers, Balmer never started a game and was often criticized for his poor work ethic.
Balmer was 6' 5" and 298 pounds, a good size for a defensive lineman. His questionable work ethic and bad attitude led the 49ers to simply release their round-one pick from just two years earlier.
5. Mike Rumph
The San Francisco 49ers envisioned a player like Ronnie Lott when they selected Mike Rumph with the 27th overall pick in the 2002 draft. Like Lott, Rumph had good size at 6' 2" and 205 pounds.
The difference, however, is that Lott was a Hall of Fame player, while Rumph lacked football instincts and couldn't cover anyone. Rumph was drafted as a cornerback, but the 49ers soon realized that his coverage skills were lacking.
The Niners ultimately moved Rumph to safety, but injuries derailed his career. Rumph played a total of only 19 out of a possible 64 games for the 49ers. He collected three interceptions for his career, all in 2003.
As a first-round draft pick, Rumph can definitely be classified as a colossal bust.
4. Israel Ifeanyi
Israel Ifeanyi was the 49ers' second-round draft pick in 1996. He showed tremendous athleticism during his collegiate career at USC.
The 49ers envisioned Ifeanyi as a pass rushing linebacker, resembling Lawrence Taylor. Sadly, Ifeany played more like Lawrence Welk.
Ifeanyi played only one season, 1996, with the 49ers. His total NFL career covered a whopping three games. Ifeanyi had poor football instincts and simply did not know how to play the game.
The 49ers were not inclined to take the time to teach him and instead moved on, accepting their mistake.
3. Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson was a standout at Ohio State from 1968-1970. He was a first-team All-American in 1970 and was drafted by the 49ers in the first round of the 1971 draft, No. 23 overall.
The 49ers expected Anderson to step in and be an impact player in their defensive backfield. He was to team up with Hall of Fame cornerback Jimmy Johnson and another solid defensive back, Bruce Taylor, in the San Francisco secondary.
Anderson opted to play in Canada from 1971-74. When he returned to the NFL in 1975, he was not the player the 49ers envisioned when they drafted him. Anderson lasted only one season in San Francisco and started only two games.
Anderson moved on to Buffalo in 1976 and was out of football one year later.
2. Rashaun Woods
The 49ers made Rashaun Woods a first-round draft selection, No. 31 overall, in the 2004 draft. The 49ers expected Woods to step in for the recently departed Terrell Owens.
Woods was a member of the 49ers for two seasons, 2004-2005. He was often injured and did not produce when he did see the field.
In 2004, Woods played in 14 games, with 7 receptions for 160 yards. He was criticized for his poor work ethic and inability to play through injuries. Woods was a constant disappointment for the 49ers and did not play at all in 2005.
The selection of Woods was one of the biggest draft blunders in 49ers' history.
1. Jim Druckenmiller
Jim Druckenmiller was a collegiate star at Virginia Tech. He was drafted by the 49ers in the first round of the 1997 draft, the 26th overall selection.
Druckenmiller was a big stud of a player, standing 6' 4" and weighing 241 pounds. He had an arm like a cannon, but the brain of a cannonball.
49er legend Bill Walsh, acting as an adviser to the team, strongly suggested the 49ers draft Jake Plummer, but going against the recommendation of Walsh, the 49ers took Druckenmiller anyway.
Plummer was a mobile, savvy quarterback, who enjoyed a very fine NFL career. Druckenmiller was a big stiff who never panned out.
Druckenmiller was not at all mobile, but had an incredibly strong arm. I recall an interview he gave in training camp where he bragged, "Druck's got a howitzer."
The problem with him, however, was not his arm, but his lack of mobility and his inability to learn the nuances of the plays.
Druckenmiller had trouble learning the plays, as well as the reads and options on each of those plays. He was the exact opposite of what Bill Walsh wanted in a quarterback, which was mobility, intelligence and accuracy.
Druckenmiller played in just six games over two years in San Francisco. His career numbers were atrocious, probably because he couldn't learn the plays.
He completed 21 of 52 pass attempts, a percentage of 40.4. He threw four interceptions with one touchdown and had a QB rating of 29.2.
The 49ers were trying to move away from the large shadow that Walsh cast over the franchise. For this reason, I believe, they wanted to prove they could make their own decisions without Walsh, so Druckenmiller was chosen.
As history showed, they should have listened to Bill Walsh.
Recent 49er Draft Picks Have Avoided Our List
Stockpiling quality talent in the draft is a key to the success of any NFL franchise. During the years the 49ers struggled, a lot of their problems had to do with poor draft selections.
In recent years, the 49ers have found gems in the draft, including stars Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Their success in the draft and the ability to secure impact players has vaulted the 49ers back into the upper echelon of the league.
Some recent draftees narrowly avoided our list, based on their play in 2011. Quarterback Alex Smith would have been a member of this infamous list, had we completed it prior to last season. However, Smith, under the guidance of Jim Harbaugh, had a fine year and can no longer be included.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree was accused of being a prima donna and many, including his own teammates, questioned his work ethic. This changed in 2011, as Harbaugh had Crabtree more focused on being a productive, team player.
Right tackle Anthony Davis was also headed for our ignominious list. However, he showed improvement over the second half of this past season. There is now some promise that Davis will turn out to be a quality offensive lineman.
With the 2012 draft right around the corner, it will be very interesting to see who the 49ers select. We could see some wheeling and dealing from the 49ers, as well. Stay tuned, the draft promises to be exciting.