San Francisco 49ers: Reviewing Their 2012 NFL Draft
The San Francisco 49ers’ first season under head coach Jim Harbaugh was a brilliant success. They improved from a 6-10 record to a 13-3 record and made it to the NFC Championship Game, all while having an NFL-best turnover differential of 28.
The 49ers went from being a struggling team in the NFL’s weakest division to one of the most complete teams in the National Football League, and they will go into the 2012 season as one of the league’s top contenders.
In order to take the next step by winning another championship, a strong draft was important for the 49ers. They made some unconventional decisions, but did they draft the right players? Read through the following slides to find out.
Evaluating the Picks
Round 1, Pick 30: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 108
Jenkins is a solid all-around receiver with good athletic ability. He has very good hands, is a good route-runner and was productive in his senior season. He has the skill set to be a very solid third or fourth receiver.
Round 2, Pick 61: LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 35
James is an explosive back with tremendous speed and agility. He is too small to run in between the tackles but will be very dangerous in space. He is a very quick back and a very good receiver out of the backfield. He is a potential offensive game-breaker but a situational runner who is very similar to last year’s fourth-round draft selection, Kendall Hunter.
Round 4, Pick 117: Joe Looney, G, Wake Forest
Overall Prospect Rank: Not in Top 400
Looney is a solid offensive lineman who could play either guard or center, but his game needs development and he does not stand out in any facet of his game. He suffered a foot injury at the Senior Bowl and performed poorly in his short time there prior to injury. He is a solid, physical run-blocker, but he is not overpowering and he needs to become a more consistent snapper and develop stronger footwork to succeed in the NFL.
Round 5, Pick 165: Darius Fleming, OLB, Notre Dame
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 313
Fleming was a solid, productive player at Notre Dame who is a good fit to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. That said, he does not stand out with his play. He is a solid athlete but does not have a particularly explosive burst. He is a solid tackler who moves well laterally, but he is unlikely to become a game-changer. He could provide solid depth and contribute on special teams.
Round 6, Pick 180: Trenton Robinson, FS, Michigan State
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 215
Robinson is a solid run-support safety who tackles well and is instinctive, but he is stiff-hipped and struggles in pass coverage. He is a decent athlete, but he is undersized and best suited to contribute as a special teams player.
Round 6, Pick 199: Jason Slowey, C, Western Oregon
Overall Prospect Rank: Not in Top 400
Admittedly, Slowey was off my draft radar before he was selected. He played left tackle at Western Oregon but is too small to play that position in the NFL and is making the transition to center.
From the limited tape I have seen of Slowey, he was a dominant blocker at the Division II level, but he will have to make a big transition to the NFL. He is a very good athlete for an offensive lineman but appears to play upright and will have to refine his techniques. Interesting developmental prospect at center.
Round 7, Pick 237: Cam Johnson, OLB, Virginia
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 112
Johnson does not stand out as a particularly explosive pass-rusher, and his productivity never lived up to his potential at Virginia, but he has a solid all-around game. He can bring pressure against the quarterback, and he is solid against the run and tackles well. He should be a solid rotational player as an outside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.
Evaluating the Trades
The 49ers traded Round 3, Pick 92 to the Indianapolis Colts for Round 4, Pick 97 and a 2013 fifth-round selection. The 49ers later traded Round 4, Pick 97 to the Miami Dolphins for Round 4, Pick 103 and Round 6, Pick 196 along with a 2013 sixth-round selection. The 49ers later traded Round 4, Pick 103 to the Carolina Panthers for Round 6, Pick 180 and a 2013 third-round selection.
The 49ers’ draft room pulled their best Bill Belichick impression by using their third-round pick to stockpile draft picks for the 2013 NFL draft. By trading down three times, the 49ers were able to acquire third-, fourth- and sixth-round selections in next year’s draft, along with two sixth-round draft picks.
For a draft pick that will likely be higher than No. 92 in next year’s draft, the 49ers also ended up with four additional selections. Brilliant work by 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and the rest of the team’s draft room to make that happen and truly maximize their value of that one pick to end up with five total picks.
The 49ers traded Round 4, Pick 125 and Round 6, Pick 196 to the Detroit Lions for Round 4, Pick 117.
The 49ers wasted one of the picks they acquired from trading down to make this trade up. The 49ers moved up only eight spots to select Joe Looney, who was a major reach as a fourth-round selection, and gave up a sixth-round draft pick to do so. That was an unnecessary trade to draft a player who would have been a reach at No. 125 overall, let alone No. 117.
For the most part, the 49ers got terrible value with their 2012 draft selections.
This started out with the team’s first-round selection of A.J. Jenkins, who rates as the 108th-best overall player and the 20th-best wide receiver, yet was the No. 30 overall pick and fourth receiver drafted. This selection did not make much sense. With two truly potential game-breakers in Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery still available, the 49ers passed them up for Jenkins, a solid but unspectacular receiver prospect.
The 49ers did get good value on LaMichael James near the end of Round 2, and got very good value with Cam Johnson in Round 7. However, the 49ers had another major reach in Joe Looney, who should not have selected over better interior line prospects, including Colorado guard Ryan Miller and Michigan center David Molk, both of whom went much later. None of their other picks were particularly good value.
The 49ers came into the draft with their only major need being to fill a void at right guard. The 49ers could have filled that need by selecting one of the draft’s top offensive line prospects, Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, at the No. 30 overall pick, but they surprisingly decided not to do so. When they finally got around to draft a right guard in Round 4, they ended up with Joe Looney, who is unlikely to be the starting-caliber player they need.
Drafting a wide receiver made sense, but selecting a vertical receiver like Hill to develop behind Randy Moss and then replace him in 2013 would have made much more sense than the selection of Jenkins. While James was great value, his selection was overkill as he is a very similar back to Kendall Hunter, who showed promise in his rookie season. With Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon and Brandon Jacobs all also under contract at running back, the 49ers are overloaded at that position and will end up releasing at least one quality back.
The 49ers did need depth at outside linebacker and center, which they addressed with their Day 3 selections. One area where the 49ers could have used more depth is on the defensive line, but that was not a pressing need.
The 49ers could have really started this draft off strongly by selecting Cordy Glenn with the No. 30 overall pick, which could have filled their need for a quality offensive lineman capable of starting at right guard while also getting great value on a player with great versatility to potentially play another positions on the offensive line if necessary.
Instead, the 49ers reached on A.J. Jenkins and continued a draft that may not have had any good picks until the sixth or seventh round.
A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James can both help the 49ers’ offense, but Jenkins was poor value in the first round, while James was an unnecessary addition. The 49ers drafted two offensive linemen to address that need but could have done better than Joe Looney and Jason Slowey.
The 49ers did add depth to the rotation at outside linebacker with Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson, which were solid picks on Day 3, along with a solid safety and special teams prospect in Trenton Robinson. The 49ers also did a great job of stockpiling picks for the 2013 NFL draft, which will put them in great position to add more talent next year.
Hopefully next year, the 49ers will take better advantage of the picks that they have and make better selections, because in terms of the actual selections they made, they had one of the worst drafts of any team. The 49ers have a roster loaded with talent that could take them to the Super Bowl, but this draft is unlikely to be the reason why.