San Francisco 49ers: Expectations for Each Rookie Draft Pick in 2012
The 2012 San Francisco 49ers draft class is nowhere near the incredible class of 1986, but these crop of rookies aren't just a bunch of scrubs with no expectations, either. On the contrary, even though the Niners didn't need immediate help going into the NFL draft, each pick will have a purpose next season.
The 1986 draft is highly regarded as one of the top classes in NFL history because eight of the team's picks were key starters in the franchise's back-to-back Super Bowl wins. This current class isn't anywhere near that level since many of the 2012 picks won't start next season.
However, that doesn't mean they'll just be sitting on their hands.
A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James will lead the pack of rookies that are going to contribute to this year's Super Bowl run.
A.J. Jenkins, WR 1st Round
The first-round talent will be plugged in sporadically and won't be counted on to be the main catalyst on offense. This will allow the rookie to play more freely and without concern.
For the first time in many years, the 49ers actually have a deep receiving corps.
On paper, the team boasted an impressive list of wide receivers last season. However, as the season progressed, it was clear that they had some gaping holes to fill. Due in large part to Braylon Edwards' inconsistency and the loss of Joshua Morgan, the Niners were forced to reload this year.
LaMichael James, RB 2nd Round
James finds himself in a similar situation to Jenkins, since his position is also stacked with talent. Frank Gore is the undisputed starter, while Kendall Hunter has shown glimpses of being a worthy heir apparent. The addition of Brandon Jacobs makes things even more interesting.
There's no question James will beat out Anthony Dixon for playing time. His haircut will be missed.
The speedy rookie from Oregon will also challenge Hunter for the right to back up Gore. Don't be surprised if James comes out on top as the No. 2 running back in the rotation.
Darius Fleming, LB 5th Round
I know I'm beating a dead horse, but Fleming also entered training camp at the bottom of the depth chart. However, after tearing his ACL in the first practice of minicamp James finds himself battling to get healthy instead of fighting for playing time.
The hard-hitting outside linebacker won't be a main cog on defense this season. An injury as severe as this normally takes a player a whole season to recover.
Joe Looney, G 4th Round and Jason Slowey, G 6th Round
A team can never have too many guards. With the loss of Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal, these two draftees will compete to fill that void.
It's difficult to tell how good an offensive linemen can get, going by at a stat line, which is why both rookies shouldn't be overlooked just because of their draft place.
Expect Looney and Slowey to compete for substantial playing time on the O-line.
Trenton Robinson, S 6th Round
Weighing under 200 pounds and standing just 5'10", Robinson isn't the prototypical safety.
His biggest contribution to the 49ers will be on special teams. That isn't a place for castoffs who can't crack the rotation on defense—it's a third of the game and shouldn't be taken lightly.
Expect Robinson to embrace his role on kickoff and return coverage in 2012.
Cam Johnson, DE 7th Round
Seventh-round picks aren't expected to do much. Simply having the ability to chew bubble gum and walk at the same time suffices as a good job.
The greatest impact Johnson can have at this point is subbing in for Justin Smith when he needs a quick breather.
A simple task?
Yes, but important nonetheless.