5 Reasons Harbaugh and the Niners Staff Aren't Playing Their Top Draft Picks
Jim Harbaugh has not played any of his top rookies this season, but it's for good reason. Whether that reason is health—both good or bad—or the emergence of other young players, the rookies remain back on the depth chart.
At first glance, you'd think with such good results from last season's crop of new talent, Harbaugh would be chomping at the bit to play this season's group.
But when you do some digging, you find that isn't the case.
A.J. Jenkins: Michael Crabtree Has Stepped Up
Drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, A.J. Jenkins probably didn't expect to ride the bench his first season as a pro. Especially for a Niners team that had obvious passing issues.
Unfortunate for Jenkins, another former first-round wideout has stepped up in San Francisco this season.
With 44 catches for 510 yards and four touchdowns, Michael Crabtree is finally enjoying a breakout season. He's on pace for career highs in all major stat categories and could even break 1,000 yards receiving.
With Crabtree's emergence, the wide receiver position becomes a lot less thin for Harbaugh. He can be comfortable relying on Randy Moss and Mario Manningham as backups.
As long as he works hard and builds up his strength, Jenkins could be enjoying the same kind of breakout this time next season.
But for now, he remains a student of the game.
LaMichael James: The Rushing Game Is Alive and Well
San Francisco leads the NFL in rush yards per game, with an average of 170.2 per contest. It's done it all on the backs of two men: Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Obviously, Gore and his 753 yards are the stars of this show. But Hunter (5.0 yards per carry) has been a great option when needed, and he's helped take on some of the heavy rushing load.
So if these two have been so successful, why introduce any other factors? That's where the unfortunate case of LaMichael James comes in.
James, taken in the second round of last season's draft, was only a junior when he left college. Like many before him, he chose to forgo his final year of eligibility to chase dreams of the NFL.
Now, the Ducks are making a serious run for their second National Championship bid in three years, and James has yet to touch the ball for the Niners.
Sometimes, that's just the luck of the draw.
And until something disastrous happens in that San Francisco backfield—Brandon Jacobs is also ahead of James on the depth chart, and he too has yet to touch the ball—James will have to learn to enjoy his view from the bench.
Joe Looney: Everyone's Been Healthy
In terms of sacks, the San Francisco line ranks 30th in the NFL with 29 allowed. But let's look at the facts here.
Ranking 30th means also being tied with three other teams. Being 30th means the difference between you and the 24th-ranked Carolina Panthers is five sacks. And without that horrendous game against the New York Giants (six sacks in that one), it'd look a lot better.
Even with 176 yards lost on sacks, the 49ers rank first in the NFL in rushing. So they have to be doing something right.
For the most part, it's been being healthy. Coach Harbaugh's been able to achieve that by rolling with four starters and a two-man backup rotation.
As a result, unseasoned players such as fourth-round draft pick Joe Looney haven't had a chance to play.
It seems as long as everyone stays healthy and keeps playing the way they have, Looney will just have to wait his turn.
Darius Fleming: If It 'aint Broke, Don't Fix It... Unless It's an ACL
OK, this one's easy. Here are the only two points you need to know:
1. San Francisco's defense is very very good. It's third in yards allowed per game (292.1) and first in points allowed per game (14.1).
The squad is very well-anchored in the linebacker position by Patrick Willis (72 tackles, one interception) and Aldon Smith (9.5 sacks).
2. Darius Fleming is an outside linebacker drafted in the fifth round of last year's draft out of Notre Dame. He was very solid there, recording 157 tackles (32 for loss) and 14.5 sacks over four seasons.
Of all their 2012 draft picks, he could have had the biggest impact in terms of depth.
But after tearing his ACL in minicamp, the Niners have decided to keep him on the PUP list. Better to let him recover and return for next season than risk an early return.
Jim Harbaugh Knows What He's Doing
In the end, the bottom line is Jim Harbaugh knows what he's doing.
Maybe he is running his NFL team a little bit like a college program—letting younger players sit out a year to learn from veterans and get stronger, much like redshirting.
But he was also pretty darn successful at the college level—29-6 in three seasons with San Diego and 29-21 in four seasons with Stanford.
And you know who also redshirted under Jim Harbaugh? Andrew Luck.
So even though he's got some solid rookies, I trust Harbaugh to do his thing. He brought San Francisco back from the brink last year, and there's no one I'd rather have at the helm for the foreseeable future.