After examining the impact of last year's draft class, it's safe to assume the San Francisco 49ers have a niche when it comes to evaluating talent. In 2011, the 49ers saw production from their rookies from Rounds 1 to 7.
The 49ers have even found talent in undrafted free agents like Demarcus Dobbs.
In 2012, it's Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke's second go-round in the offseason, building this football team in their vision. San Francisco's head coach and general manager appear to be on the same page, constantly making each other look good.
The verdict on this year's crop of rookies is still undetermined.
|Rd 1, Pick 30 (30)||Jenkins, A.J. WR|
|Rd 2, Pick 29 (61)||James, LaMichael RB|
|Rd 4, Pick 22 (117)||Looney, Joe G|
|Rd 5, Pick 30 (165)||Fleming, Darius OLB|
|Rd 6, Pick 10 (180)||Robinson, Trent FS|
|Rd 6, Pick 29 (199)||Slowey, Jason C|
|Rd 7, Pick 30 (237)||Johnson, Cam DE|
Courtesy of NFL.com
In this piece, we'll breakdown and grade San Francisco's 2012 rookie draft class one by one. There will also be three bonus players who have made themselves relevant as UDFA's. Proceed through the following slides for the 49ers' rookie report card.
San Francisco's first-round pick (30th overall) has taken a slow and steady approach to his NFL career. As a high draft pick, Jenkins has been afforded the luxury of not having to perform right away. The most recent reports surrounding the rookie are that he might not be an active game day player come Week 1.
And while he's received a lot of negative media attention in regard to where he should be at, the scrutiny is standard and often overblown. And however unfair, it is routine for first-rounders—particularly skill players—to receive a lot of early criticism.
Jenkins' career has barely begun but he has the physical tools and potential to make it a great one.
The coaches have all said positive things about their first-round pick, and rest assured that Jenkins is up to speed and exactly where he should be. However, they do acknowledge that he is a work-in-progress and good things take time.
49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman recently spoke to the media in a presser from Santa Clara. On the topic of A.J. Jenkins, Roman had this to say:
There's a lot swirling through his mind right now. He's trying to do everything perfectly. In that process, there's going to be a drop here, a drop there. I've seen it with a lot of players over the years where they just work through that and they start relaxing and playing as opposed to thinking and playing. A.J.'s doing a really good job all around. Would we like to see him catch every football? There's no question. I think we'll see more of that as we go.
I think there's a process guys go through where there's just so much coming at them, mentally, physically, emotionally, the change of scenery, the change of the level of competition. You're trying to learn everything and when you think you got that, here comes another boatload of information, new plays, new formations, new rules. Now the soreness sets in and here comes some more plays, more formations, more this, more that. You just have to grind through it and have mental toughness. Lock your jaw and just continue to push through it. Then you start to play faster. Instead of catching four out of six, now it's five out of six. You keep grinding and it's just that process.
While there has been inconsistency with Jenkins, he has composed quite the highlight reel at training camp. He has become notorious for making tough, body-bending catches that display a high level of concentration.
Whether or not he is a first-rounder, Jenkins is in the same situation as all rookies: he's still learning. Once he's caught up mentally and he can just go out there and play, Jenkins may be a dominant player. He has the speed, big-play ability and high ceiling to be a factor in the 49ers passing game going forward.
A.J. Jenkins is a great pickup and someone to look forward to in the not-too-distant future.
Considering San Francisco's needs going into the NFL draft, it was surprising to see them select a running back as early as the second round.
However, for anyone who's watched at least one weekend of college football in the past three years, the LaMichael James pick makes sense. He was one of the most dynamic players in the NCAA during his tenure, consistently amongst the top backs in the nation.
Coach Harbaugh got a good look at James when the two faced off in the Pac-12.
In 2009, James had 18 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal. As a rusher, receiver and returner that day, he accumulated 233 total yards for Oregon.
In 2010, No. 4 ranked Oregon took on No. 9 Stanford, resulting in a huge day for the Ducks running back. James ran wild for 257 yards and three scores in a 52-31 win.
In 2011, Oregon and Stanford went at it again. James racked up 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 53-30 victory. Harbaugh was with the 49ers when this recent defeat took place, but the coach has maintained ties with the program, watching from afar.
Harbaugh was thoroughly impressed with James, discussing the "unstoppable nature" of him post-draft. James brings consistency, productivity and an added dimension to any pro-style offense.
The 49ers have successfully kept James under wraps during the exhibition. While James has seen time on the field, San Francisco has not tipped their hand regarding their plans for the rookie speedster.
What we do know of James is that he has had time to learn the playbook and soak up a lot of material before being thrown into the fire. This could be a major advantage for James.
Joe Looney was the first offensive lineman added to the 49ers roster this offseason. The Wake Forest product projects as an interior lineman in the NFL, as he has been working primarily with second- and third-team offensive units in training camp.
Looney is coming back from a foot injury which limited him early in the offseason. He sustained a Linsfranc fracture during the Senior Bowl, which required surgery. Looney has had a successful return, now competing with hopes for future starter consideration.
Looney recently blogged about his preseason debut on 49ers.com:
The first preseason game was great for me. Just the experience of being with the team and being in the garnet and gold out there with all your friends. Being in your first NFL game is just exciting. Everything is rushing and you are just eager to get out there and play and compete....
...It was also great to get out there and have my teammates supporting me throughout the game. The offensive line with Jonathan Goodwin, Joe Staley, Alex Boone and all those guys were mentoring me on the sidelines, telling me what to do. I have really clicked with the whole offensive line.
San Francisco has locked down the majority of the offensive line when it comes to starters. But the situation should work out for Looney, as the center and right guard positions could be wide open in the next one or two seasons.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Darius Fleming sustained an ACL tear in his rookie minicamp. As the first defender selected by the Niners in the 2012 draft, Fleming will be unavailable for his rookie campaign.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected safety Trenton Robinson of Michigan State. Robinson was a defensive leader for the Spartans as a quick-moving, hawking safety.
Robinson had a pretty good stat-line as a collegian:
|2008||Michigan State||Big Ten||FR||DB||2||4||6||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|2009||Michigan State||Big Ten||SO||DB||37||30||67||0.0||0.0||1||0||0.0||0||3||0||0||0||0|
|2010||Michigan State||Big Ten||JR||DB||35||41||76||0.0||0.0||4||19||4.8||0||12||0||0||0||0|
|2011||Michigan State||Big Ten||SR||DB||48||32||80||2.0||0.0||4||40||10.0||0||6||0||0||0||0|
Courtesy of Sports Reference
The important thing to look at is the development in his game. With Robinson, it's clear that there's been a maturation process and a desire to get better. In his junior and senior years, the Spartan safety finished second in the Big Ten in pass deflections and interceptions.
The former first-team All-Big Ten selection is learning the position from Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson. A bit undersized at 5'9", Robinson still packs a punch, but more importantly, he has the instincts to play the position.
Learning from a tandem like the 49ers have is terrific, but this rookie could really reach his potential playing for secondary coach Ed Donatell.
Robinson has been keeping up, asking a lot of questions and learning on the fly. As a late rounder, Trenton Robinson projects to make the team, providing immediate depth at safety.
Jason Slowey was the second offensive line pick by San Francisco in the 2012 draft as it was an apparent need going in. The 6'4", 305-pound lineman out of Western Oregon projects as an interior lineman.
He has been taking reps behind Jonathan Goodwin and many foresee him as the future center for the 49ers.
Pro Football Weekly had this analysis of Slowey:
Good-sized, long-armed, athletic Division II left tackle who engages quickly, works his hips and can slide and mirror. Shows foot speed, balance and body control to project to center in the pros, though he will have to answer questions about anchor strength and sustain ability. Is smart, plays aggressively and flashes some nastiness. Has moldable physical ability as a developmental conversion project.
Cam Johnson was the last pick the 49ers made in this past draft. Johnson was a defensive end at the University of Virginia now transitioning to be a standup linebacker for San Francisco.
Johnson has not done anything to stand out and is in fact in danger of losing his potential roster spot to Eric Bakhtiari.
Granted, he has not been 100 percent healthy this offseason. Johnson had minor knee surgery that was described as a "clean-out procedure" by head coach Jim Harbaugh. After missing OTA's and minicamp, Johnson reported for full-duty at the end of July.
The 49ers linebacker is taking it day by day. It's hard to downgrade him for an injury, but the fact remains that the football team moves ahead with or without him. Cam Johnson may be a solid developmental player for San Francisco but he may be limited to the practice squad as a rookie.
The 49ers front office signed two undrafted free agent wide receivers who have displayed pro potential.
Nathan Palmer (NIU) and Chris Owusu (Stanford) have shown promise, despite competing at a loaded position group.
While Palmer has been the one making waves at training camp, Owusu has looked better in the exhibition.
The 5'11" Palmer has consistently impressed at camp, becoming one of the rookie standouts. During his time at Northern Illinois, Palmer racked up 93 receptions for 1,575 yards and 16 touchdowns.
49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman spoke about Palmer:
I like his demeanor, athleticism, quickness, balance and ball skills, attention to detail, knowing what to do, making instinctive adjustments that you can't coach -- or you can talk about coaching but not everybody gets. He's gone a great job. Day-in and day-out his stock is going up.
Meanwhile, Owusu is more of a traditional pro-style receiver that poses a deep threat. At 6'2", 200 pounds, the former Cardinal has the size and speed to transition to the NFL level. He has the game day ability that would dictate defenses having to account for him.
Before the NFL draft even took place, it was rumored that at some point in the offseason, the 49ers would acquire Owusu. The Stanford connection gives him an edge having worked with Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman in the NCAA.
Both of these receivers have proved to be impressive pickups, but given the depth of the position group, neither one may make the final 53-man roster.
Safety Michel Thomas is another Stanford product looking to make a statement in training camp.
Thomas, 5'11", has the versatility and knowledge to play both the nickel and safety for San Francisco.
The undrafted safety is a smart, athletic player who has a chance to make this team. Thomas has an advantage in that he can play fast, instinctual football in this defensive system. He understands the Vic Fangio defense as well as the Jim Harbaugh mentality.
The rookie safety had this to say this offseason:
It was definitely easier for me to transition here than probably going somewhere else where the rookies have to learn so much terminology. The schemes are similar to Stanford. But this also is 2.0 because Coach Fangio has changed up some things. So I still have a lot to learn.
In a passing league, Thomas is a run-and-cover defensive back. If Michael Thomas does not make the final 53-man roster, he is a sure-fire practice squad player.