San Francisco 49ers Draft Grades: Final Grade for the Class of 2012
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And so here we are, Niner Nation, the conclusion of the 2012 San Francisco 49ers draft is upon us.
After countless hours of scouting, projecting, analyzing and debating, not a single mock draft created by any one of the roughly seven billion people on planet earth predicted this particular draft class for the 49ers.
But that’s beside the point.
Allow me to recap each round (draftee and trades included) by providing a brief evaluation and letter grade.
You will find the final grade for this draft class in the last slide.
Round 1 (No. 30 Overall): A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
49ers fans hope for more of this in 2012.
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As I stated earlier, this pick was Trent Baalke’s Operation Mock Draft Destruction. Many predicted him to draft a pass-catcher in this round, but not A.J. Jenkins. All the talk surrounded Stephen Hill and Coby Fleener, or perhaps Kendall Wright if he fell to No. 30.
Others pointed to the overstated need for a right guard. Cordy Glenn, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Amini Silatolu were the prominent names.
But Baalke and Harbaugh knew exactly who they wanted and got their guy with the requisite skills when the time came.
Speed, toughness, versatility, reliable hands, high football IQ and commendable intangibles. Or as Harbaugh put it, “Talent, character, smarts.”
As it turned out, the decision was sealed in an envelope the night before. This type of confidence should indicate that they expect great things from this receiver, whether in Year 1 or in the future with Colin Kaepernick.
Their due diligence outweighs our skepticism.
Round 2 (No. 61 Overall): LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
James (No. 21) looks to take it the distance.
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No other pick among the 49ers draft class better epitomized “best player available” as the selection of LaMichael James did in the second round.
He brings incredible explosiveness, agility, speed and bona fide home-run hitting abilities every time he touches the football. He’ll complement Frank Gore perfectly as a dynamic weapon on third downs and in the red zone alongside Kendall Hunter.
Alex Smith will consistently enjoy his productive services in the passing game.
The 49ers playbook just expanded by 150 pages.
Round 3 (No. 92 Overall): Traded
Savvy orchestrator of trades, that Trent Baalke is.
Traded No. 92 Overall for Colts’ No. 97 Overall and 2013 Fifth-Round Pick
Baalke essentially moved out of the bottom of the third round five spots into the top of the fourth and begun a process of stockpiling picks for 2013. The value simply wasn’t there at No. 92 and he felt comfortable with the players on his board at No. 97.
It also enabled him to engage in further potential draft-day dealings and secure quality trade-back value.
Grade: A- (for acquiring additional 2013 fifth-round pick and trade leverage in Round 4)
Round 4 (No. 97 and No. 125 Overall): Trade Bonanza
Looney (No. 78) is a formidable specimen.
Traded No. 97 Overall for Dolphins’ Fourth-Round Pick (No. 103 Overall), Sixth-Round Pick (No. 196 Overall) and 2013 Sixth-Round Pick
The downward maneuvering continued upon selection time at No. 103 overall.
Traded No. 103 Overall for Panthers’ Sixth-Round Pick (No. 180 Overall) and 2013 Third-Round Pick
Per CSN Bay Area, the Baltimore Ravens, coached by Jim Harbaugh’s brother John, drafted Delaware guard Gino Gradkowski with the No. 98 pick. It’s presumed that Baalke intended on drafting that same guard with the 49ers’ No. 103 pick, but obviously could not due to the Ravens move.
So, that is the reasoning behind trading their No. 103 selection.
The 49ers still owned a fourth-round selection at No. 125 overall. Not wanting to wait until so late in the round, Baalke did the following:
Traded No. 125 Overall and Sixth-Round Pick (No. 196 Overall, previously acquired from Dolphins) for Lions’ Fourth-Round Pick (No. 117 Overall)
Wow—did your head just explode too?
After all the seemingly convoluted draft-day maneuvering, Baalke acquired a quality offensive guard in Wake Forest’s Joe Looney.
The former senior-year captain of the Demon Deacon football squad excels as an athletic run-blocker in space and when getting into the second level of defenders. He effectively neutralizes the bull-rush, but is susceptible to speed-rushers. He’ll need coaching and strength training for a successful transition into the NFL.
Relying on his powerful hands, noteworthy football IQ, intangibles and athleticism, he’ll make that transition and fit in relatively seamlessly with the 49ers’ team-first mentality, and dynamic and active run-scheme.
Most importantly, the 49ers acquired depth and competition at the right guard spot with incumbents Daniel Kilgore and Alex Boone.
Grade: B+ (for the player); A (for acquiring additional 2013 Third- and Sixth-Round Picks)
Round 5 (No. 165 Overall): Darius Fleming, OLB, Notre Dame
Fleming is none too shy at wrapping up opposing ball carriers.
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Rest assured, my patient readers, the trading madness has concluded. Baalke simply makes selections at the assigned numbers for the 49ers from here on out.
Fleming is a capable outside linebacker in sealing the edge and generating adequate pressure on the quarterback. He is a bit of a tweener (6’2’’, 245 pounds), but has above-average arm length (33 inches) and started all four years as a 3-4 OLB in college. That starting experience, along with mentoring by Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, should facilitate his transition onto the playing field with the 49ers.
Once there, he’ll be utilized as a situational pass-rusher on third downs.
The Notre Dame product does have his limitations (lacks athleticism/agility; liability in man coverage), but will provide solid depth for the outside backers and on special teams.
Many will contend that other purportedly higher-ranking players remained on the board, particularly at safety (see: Boise State’s George Iloka).
Personally, I’ll defer to Baalke and the rest of the organization’s scouting. The pick in the next round doesn’t hurt, either.
Round 6 (No. 180 Overall and No. 199 Overall)
Robinson's unafraid to mix it up—especially with a QB.
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Round 6 (No. 180 Overall): Trent Robinson, FS, Michigan State
With the No. 180 overall pick acquired from the Panthers, the 49ers nabbed the tough and versatile Trent Robinson.
This selection brought excellent value in the sixth round. Some draft outlets assigned as high as a late-third to early-fourth round grade on Robinson. Fitting with the 49ers M.O., this safety with a corner’s body (5’10’’, 195 pounds) is a natural team leader who brings maximum effort on every play.
While lacking well-rounded coverage skills, he has a knack for the interception. He is a sure tackler and willing contributor in run support.
The 49ers wanted a reliable backup at the safety position in the later rounds. Robinson’s skill set and mid-round value makes this a perfect fit.
Round 6 (No. 199 Overall): Jason Slowey, C, Western Oregon
Slowey had visited the 49ers’ facility before the start of the draft. This selection indicates that he passed that interview process.
The 6-3’’, 303-pound prospect will arrive in camp as a potential backup for the aging Jonathan Goodwin, as well as competition for the right guard position. He possesses great upper-body strength and looks the part of a mauling interior lineman.
It should be noted that more accomplished centers from D-I schools were available, such as Michigan’s David Molk and Michael Brewster from Ohio State. It also seems that Slowey could have been signed as an undrafted free agent.
In any case, Baalke and Harbaugh identified their man long ago. Now it’s time to see how he pans out.
Round 7 (No. 237 Overall): Cam Johnson, DE, Virginia
When he exerts max effort, opposing QBs usually go down.
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Here is a prospect that fell precipitously since Day 1 of the draft. As with Robinson in the previous round, Cam Johnson had third-round potential written all over him.
The reason for his deflated draft-stock has nothing to do with talent but everything to do with effort. At 6’3’’, 268 pounds with 33.5-inch arms, Johnson is sufficiently athletic, explosive and capable as a pass rusher and run stuffer. He also tackles extremely well in confined spaces and can play multiple positions.
However, he’s been seen throwing in the towel at the sight of multiple blockers and removing himself from the play. In my view, that screams red flag.
I would only surmise that Baalke abandoned his better inclinations and took a chance on talent over intangibles. He must believe that Johnson’s innate abilities will prevail with proper coaching from his no-nonsense, blue-collar staff.
If they do, the 49ers will receive a huge and necessary boost to their rotational capabilities along the defensive line. They could also convert him to a 3-4 OLB due to his versatility.
Due in part to my scouting of Johnson in the weeks leading up to the draft, I’ll agree with the venerable 49ers’ general manager.
Especially since the 49ers acquired him in the final round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Trent Baalke deserves the trust of draft experts and fans alike.
Let’s underscore the prevailing theme of the 2012 San Francisco 49ers draft strategy since the end of their free-agent signings.
This was never a need-based draft. The tenets of “best player available” would always predominate.
And true to the spoken words of the 49ers’ head coach, it did.
"I don't think going into this draft there was a glaring need that [we] had to address. Therefore, we were going to take the best player on our board in that situation would be the way to go and how it would ultimately end up going."
Ultimately indeed, Trent Baalke, Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers’ organization selected prospects on the basis of “best player available”; on compatibility with the 49ers’ system and identity as a team; on insider scouting and evaluating unbeknownst to the general public or any reputable talking head.
So whether if you’d prefer to qualify Harbaugh’s explanation as coach speak, understand that if the supposed “needs” uttered by those talking heads actually was the driving force of this draft strategy, this draft class would resemble something else entirely.
As it stands, this class looks pretty damn good.