San Francisco 49ers: Regrading 2012 Rookies at the End of the Regular Season
Even with an onslaught of injuries, the San Francisco 49ers rookie class saw very little of the field in the 2012 regular season.
Regrading said class will certainly prove trying with such limited statistical data.
Only three of the seven total draft picks logged any offensive or defensive snaps. Among those three, just one registered any meaningful action.
The corps of undrafted rookies was as infrequently used as their drafted brethren. A lone member of this group appeared on an official box score for San Francisco.
All told, nine first-year 49ers accumulated 220 total plays. Fourteen more came via returns on special teams.
“Incompletes” will likely dominate the grading because San Francisco already had a relatively complete roster. All 11 starters on defense returned from 2011. An overwhelming majority of the offense came back as well.
General manager Trent Baalke drafted for the depth and for the future. Selecting players for immediate assimilation into NFL life on Sundays wasn’t necessarily part of the plan.
Chalk it up as boring, conservative and unimaginative if you’d like. But it really was a prudent approach by a team with so few holes to fill.
(And one that would be devastated by injuries as it turns out).
On that note, let’s dole out grades for the 2012 rookies as the 49ers are busy preparing for their first game of the postseason.
Note: All play totals were derived from Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Undrafted Free Agents
TE Garrett Celek—B+
San Francisco brought in Garrett Celek with the intent of using him primarily as a blocking tight end.
The 6’5’’, 252-pounder out of Michigan State clearly possesses the physical measurables for such a role.
Celek appeared in 12 games and totaled 105 plays on the season. He logged 65 as a run-blocker, 31 as a receiver and nine as a pass-blocker.
His receiving totals amounted to four catches (seven targets) for 51 yards. He averaged 12.8 per catch and hauled in a long of 35 yards.
The former Spartan enjoyed his best statistical production against Seattle in Week 16, albeit in mop-up time. He had two receptions for 41 yards, including his season-long on a beautiful catch away from his body while running downfield on a seam route.
As a run-blocker, Celek adequately fulfilled his assignments. He helped spring Frank Gore for a couple runs of 10-plus yards and was called for only one penalty all year.
Celek deserves a high grade for beating out numerous roster hopefuls in training camp and earning the role as the 49ers’ No. 3 tight end. This is a run-first team that places high value on that position.
DE Tony Jerod-Eddie—INC
San Francisco used him as a pass-rusher on nine of those defensive snaps. He did not collect any tackles or quarterback pressures.
Apart from that, the former Texas A&M Aggie held a spot on the practice squad for most of the year.
RB Jewel Hampton—INC
Hampton did not see the field in 2012. The team currently lists him as the No. 3 running back.
WR A.J. Jenkins—INC
Even as a relative unknown, many fans held high expectations for A.J. Jenkins when the 49ers selected him at No. 30 overall.
It was only natural that he would contribute on an immediate basis as a first-round pick.
Unfortunately, quite the opposite occurred.
The 49ers already had five wide receivers on the roster after bringing in two free agents before the draft. Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams were the incumbent No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, while Randy Moss and Mario Manningham filled the middle two slots.
And Ted Ginn, despite being a rather useless WR, occupied the fifth spot on the depth chart because of his value on special teams and on fly-sweeps in rushing sub-packages.
As such, there wasn’t any space for Jenkins on the active 45-man roster on game days.
The Illinois product addressed his situation back in early December (via CSN Bay Area).
It's the first time in my life I've ever red-shirted…Right now, I'm going to use this time to learn my craft and everything, and learn from the vets. When my number is called, I'll be ready to go.
It wasn’t until both Kyle Williams and Manningham suffered season-ending injuries that Jenkins received a legitimate opportunity in Week 17.
He logged 21 plays against the Cardinals after having 16 total in Weeks 14 and 15.
It was a regrettable afternoon unfortunately, as Jenkins dropped a would-be first-down pass on 3rd-and-5. He let the ball bounce right off his hands after running a simple crossing route underneath.
One opportunity, one play and one drop—there you have it.
By no means will we grade Jenkins solely on that one play. We will also take into account the fact that he wouldn’t even be playing if not for injuries to two wide receivers.
But most of all, there just isn’t sufficient data from live on-field action to garner any sort of a letter grade. We love his attitude, work ethic and skill set, but we simply need more than just a handful of quality blocks in the run game.
While highly unlikely, now it’s just time to wait and see if he’ll produce in the playoffs if given the opportunity.
RB LaMichael James—A-
No. 61 overall selection LaMichael James faced a similar uphill climb as his first-round predecessor.
Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter were firmly entrenched as the top-two running backs for the 49ers. Gore was a franchise all-timer, while Hunter quickly established himself as a productive No. 2.
Also filling out the depth chart were Anthony Dixon and free-agent pickup Brandon Jacobs.
Dixon found his niche as a standout special teams player and remained active. Jacobs, for his part, had a role in short-yardage and goal-line situations when healthy (or so we thought at the time).
Taken all together, you quickly see that James faced the challenge of either beating out Dixon and Jacobs or serving as a versatile player on special teams to earn playing time.
As it turns out, James understood that implicitly (via CSN Bay Area).
I'm a competitor. I want to go out and play and compete…But I'm smart enough to know that I still have a lot to learn. This is the NFL. This is a complex offense. There are a lot of things I don't know.
Indeed, the former Oregon Duck—and one of the most prolific running backs in NCAA history we might add—studied the playbook, played on the scout team and learned the art of returning kicks.
(It must have worked since Sproles had just one return for all of three yards).
Hunter then ruptured his Achilles in that game, subsequently opening the door for James. Combine that injury with Jacobs’ Twitter fiasco and James made his debut two weeks later at Miami.
He played 16 offensive snaps, totaling eight carries for 30 yards and one reception for 15 yards. He also showcased his value on special teams by returning three kickoffs for 74 yards, with a long of 34.
What helped facilitate James’ emergence on the field was his fluidity with the zone-read offense from his days at Oregon. Once Kaepernick solidified himself as the starting quarterback, James operated in that capacity behind Gore for the rest of the season.
He collected 125 yards rushing on 27 carries (4.6 average) and 29 through the air by the end of the year. He also generated a 29.8-yard average on 14 kickoffs returns.
Arizona witnessed him amass a season-high 49 yards, including an awesome 26-yarder that harked back to his college years. He deftly weaved through traffic behind a pulling 49er O-line, bouncing off would-be tacklers and knocking defenders on their backs as he gained the first down.
James’ most impactful contributions, though, came against the Patriots in the 49ers' epic 41-34 win. He provided Gore with invaluable time off by tallying eight carries and giving a different look to the New England defense.
Then, just after the Patriots completed their raging comeback with under seven minutes left in the fourth, James produced an MVP-type moment. He returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards down the left sideline. Using his patented speed and elusiveness, James set up the de facto winning touchdown for San Francisco.
The 49ers often won with special teams in 2011. James clearly showed that he could impact the game in such a way.
Overall, James filled the vital role of Gore’s backup when Hunter suffered his season-ending injury. The 49ers absolutely needed a healthy and rested Gore down the stretch before they would begin their playoff run. James did an admirable job of facilitating that.
He ran with youthful vitality, caught passes out of the backfield, limited his mistakes and offered dynamic returns on special teams.
Not too shabby for a guy coming from Oregon’s spread offense and being thrust into a high-pressure role long before he ever anticipated.
The Barely Qualified
SS Trenton Robinson—D
Robinson (Round 6, No. 180) played the first three games on special teams before coordinator Brad Seely finalized the coverage units.
The Michigan State product deserves a low grade for not earning a spot on special teams, a role he excelled at in college. He currently finds himself as the No. 5 safety.
OLB Cam Johnson—INC
The defensive end/linebacker hybrid out of Virginia set up shop on the practice squad for most of the season. San Francisco signed him to a two-year contract on December 22 and promoted him to the active roster because of injuries at outside linebacker.
Johnson (Round 7, No. 237) made his debut in Week 16 against the Seahawks and played four snaps. He added seven more the following week, all as a pass-rusher.
He did not amass any defensive statistics.
G Joe Looney—INC
The fourth-round pick at No. 117 overall made the team as a backup guard. San Francisco lists him behind Mike Iupati and Leonard Davis on the depth chart.
Looney did not play in 2012.
OLB Darius Fleming—IR
Fleming (No. 165 overall) tore his ACL during 49ers’ minicamp in May. The injury to the fifth-round linebacker dealt a serious blow to the team’s depth on defense.
He currently resides on injured reserve.
Or in a deep, dark hole after watching his Fighting Irish on Monday night.
C Jason Slowey—N/A
The offensive lineman out of Western Oregon did not survive the final cuts. He was a sixth-round selection at No. 199 overall.
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