That's the thing about mock drafts: Everyone’s an expert and they are all right because nothing has been proven on the field. Therefore they're all meaningless.
Trent Baalke, the general manager of the 49ers, Jerry Reese of the Giants and just about every other GM in the NFL have to have a knack of knowing not only talent, but how the talent can fit best into the team. It's not a size-and-speed thing. Now that it's over, every fan gets to assess their team's selections compared to the other teams.
I like last year’s NFL draft at Profootballtalk.com: Every team at this time in 2011 received a draft grade of Incomplete.
But there seems to be a lapse of memory of what the Niner general manager Trent Baalke did in 2011. He selected Aldon Smith with the seventh pick. Smith was not on anyone’s Top 10 list, was not considered a hot-shot prospect and needed lots of seasoning. For that, Baalke earned criticism from the mock draft experts.
Smith turned out to be runner-up as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and led the team in sacks. It worked out fine. Smith’s success in front of the 2011 draft (three starters and two key backups) only made Baalke NFL Executive of the Year.
Kiper and others are saying the Niners coulda, shoulda. I guess Baalke has to prove himself every year. In that aspect here’s a grade of the 49ers’ 2012 draft.
A.J. Jenkins out of Illinois isn’t big (6’, 190) but he is a blur (4.3 in the 40). According to Kiper, Baalke doesn’t know what he’s doing because there were other key players out there, and Jenkins isn’t big enough and didn’t post big enough numbers, namely yards per catch (never mind that the Illinois QB position was hardly a strong point). And then there was this:
Baalke, according to Matt Barrows in the Sacramento Bee, wrote down the pick on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope Wednesday night. He was that confident.
That suggests Jenkins checked off all the boxes on Baalke’s list: Speed, hands, smarts, moves, character. In light of 2011, then, who do we believe? Mr. Hairspray or the 2011 Exec of the Year? Hairspray gave it so-so reviews. Baalke raved about Jenkins.
I’m going with Baalke: Grade A.
The call was for right guard. Baalke had stated prior to the draft that right guard wasn’t that big a priority. I sensed that running back was, and with the 61st pick they got a LaMichael James out of Oregon.
He’s 5’8” and 194. He’s also the Niners’ fifth halfback/tailback that includes Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. And in a transcript sent to myself and other media members, Harbaugh raved about James’ inside-the-10 ferocity.
When asked if he had particular recollections of the Oregon tailback, Harbaugh, as quoted in a Matt Barrows’ story in the Sacramento Bee, said “Just the unstoppable nature of him at the goal line. You could not stop that team once they got inside the 5 yard line.”
I think this says a lot about the Niners’ assessment of Frank Gore more than anything. Baalke also mentioned that James could be a backup as a kick returner. That suggests this will be the last year for Ted Ginn Jr., who did most of the Niners return duties last year.
The 49ers traded back three straight times from the 92nd pick before moving up to land Looney in the fourth round and 117th overall. San Francisco sent its original fourth-round pick (125th) and a sixth-rounder (196th) to Detroit.
This is where a general manager and the scouting department make their money. There were all kinds of interesting players still on the board like Chase Minnifield and Dwight Jones. After dropping down the Niners traded up to get Joe Looney out of Wake Forest.
He’s 6’3” and 315 with good hands and likes to mix it up. In other words, he’s got the Harbaugh tenacity. He’s in the running for right guard.
Darius Fleming of Notre Dame comes in as a strong candidate to fill out special teams as well as play outside linebacker. At 6’2” and 248, he looks like another edge rusher to back up Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson.
Two picks came in the sixth round.
Trenton Robinson of Michigan State comes in at 5’9” and 193 pounds. That’s a lot of weight for that size, but in the NFL the middle of the field means taking on big running backs as they break through the line as well as tight ends.
Against Jimmy Graham, the New Orleans tight end, Robinson will be giving up nine inches. Baalke said Robinson plays fast and likes to hit (via Sacramento Bee). He also knows that starter Dashon Goldson so far hasn’t agreed to a long-term contract. Baalke is at least getting a body back there as well as adding depth on special teams.
Jason Slowey of Western Oregon appears to be a scout’s dream. Small school (only 12 football scholarships), big guy who dominated. So is it possible to assess his ability to adjust to the NFL?
Baalke thinks so.
Cam Johnson of Virginia is another outside linebacker (the Niners went through the 2011 season with three, so they added to that position). At 6’2” and 268, he seems big enough to drop down to a three-point stance and play an end when the Niners go to the 4-3 look. Again, he’s another size-and-speed graduate who appeals to Baalke.
Note: Each grade is subject to change due to the draftee’s ability to make the team, make plays and help the Niners get to the Super Bowl.