When Jim Harbaugh took over the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, the team became an instant success. Under Harbaugh's tutelage, San Francisco transformed from a 6-10 team with Mike Singletary at the helm to a 13-3 team.
The core group of players remained the same despite a roster add here or there, but the biggest upgrade came from a coaching standpoint. Not only was there a change at the top, more than a few positional coaches were replaced as well.
Most teams try to turnover a roster when a new coach is brought in. Yet the 49ers didn't need to do that. They were loaded with talent, they just needed to find a way to maximize the talent they had. And maximizing talent didn't seem to be a problem as San Francisco has now appeared in back-to-back NFC Championship games.
Not to mention they will be appearing in their first Super Bowl since 1994 next week. A lot has changed in a short amount of time, which has given Jed York and the organization freedom in more ways than one. One of the biggest freedoms has been the team's patient teaching approach and ability to redshirt rookies.
The 2012 draft class saw more red shirts than the 2011 draft class. So let's take a look at each player's individual grade, based on their performance, from the 2012 season.
In 2011, return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams logged more snaps than the offensive coaching staff would have liked. Yet there wasn't a whole lot of other options heading into the season, so they made do and formed the offense around what they had.
During the offseason this past year, San Francisco decided to load up on talent at the wideout position so it didn't have to make do for a second season in a row. It brought in two veteran wide receivers, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
It also spent its first pick on a wide receiver who was not expected to go as high as he did. Some mock drafts had him going late first round as he did, but others had him pegged as an early second-round pick. Regardless, the 49ers liked his skill set and eventual upside.
His upside must mean 2013 and beyond because he has had a hard time sniffing the field in 2012. According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins has made an appearance in just four games if you include the playoffs. Despite season-ending injuries to Williams and Manningham, he still hasn't been able to find the field.
Harbaugh only plays players who are ready to play, so it is easy to see Jenkins just wasn't ready to contribute. On 44 snaps, quarterback Colin Kaepernick targeted him just once during the season.
Based on his low snap count and inability to get open in limited opportunities, I have to give him a close to failing grade, especially as a first-round pick.
2012 Grade: D-
Like Jenkins, fellow rookie LaMichael James had a hard time finding the field early on in the season, as well. Like the wide receiving corps, the 49ers backfield is stacked. At the beginning of the season, San Francisco touted a backfield with the likes of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon and James.
Since then, Jacobs has been released and Hunter landed on injured reserve, which eventually made way for James' Week 14 debut against the Miami Dolphins. Unlike Jenkins, he has made the most of every opportunity. In only 89 snaps, he has averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 35 carries.
Additionally, he has caught five of seven targets for 40 yards. His first touchdown run came last week against the Falcons, so don't be surprised if he sees an uptick in snaps during the Super Bowl against a slower Baltimore Ravens defense.
With Gore and a healthy Hunter in 2013, it will be interesting to see how the workload is distributed. But for now, James will continue to be as effective in a limited role. Yet I'm sure he could give more if San Francisco needed him to.
2012 Grade: A-
Based on the health and strong play of the 49ers' interior offensive line, it's probably a good thing Joe Looney didn't find the field in 2012. Going forward, Looney will be a swing player at both left and right guard. If San Francisco needed him to, he could probably play either tackle spot in a pinch as well.
He has the size and strength that Harbaugh likes in an offensive lineman. Right before the 2013 season he will turn 23, so he has plenty of time to sit and learn before he becomes a full-time player in the NFL. It also wouldn't be out of the question to see him log some special teams snaps next season.
2012 Grade: N/A, Not Enough Snaps
Linebacker Darius Fleming was the 165th pick in the 2012 draft and was seen as an immediate contributor on special teams and an occasional third-down pass-rusher. However, he wasn't ever able to get things going.
On the first day of rookie minicamp, he tore his ACL. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Fleming landed awkwardly on the knee during a non-contact drill. It was unfortunate that his season was over before it began, but who knows, he could be better than ever in 2013.
His rookie deal is valued at $2.264 million over four years.
2012 Grade: N/A, Injury
Coming out of college, Trenton Robinson was considered one of the top safety prospects in all of the draft. Some draft websites thought he could go as high as the third round and others believed he would settle more in that fifth-round range.
Nevertheless, he didn't land in either of those rounds. Robinson lasted until the sixth round, where the 49ers snagged him at No. 180 overall. In his first year, he solely played special teams and it was only for the first three games of the season.
Pro Football Focus had him down for one special teams tackle Week 2 against the Detroit Lions. Yet Robinson had a couple costly plays in addition to the one tackle. He was flagged once against Detroit and he missed a tackle the following week against Minnesota.
His season ended that Sunday in Minneapolis considering he hasn't seen the field since then.
2012 Grade: C
Offensive lineman Jason Slowey was a small school product out of Western Oregon, but he failed to make an impression during training camp. He was seemingly a part of the final roster cuts just before the season started. The 49ers didn't even deem him practice squad worthy, so they quickly cut their ties with the sixth-round pick.
2012 Grade: F
Seventh-round pick Cam Johnson spent the majority of his first season on the practice squad, yet was called up Dec.23, 2012. Backup outside linebacker, Clark Haggans, had been dealing with some shoulder soreness, so they figured they would rather be safe than sorry.
Since being called up in late December, Johnson has played 11 snaps on defense. He hasn't recorded any official defensive statistics yet, but the Super Bowl might be his week depending on the different game scenarios.
In all fairness, his 11 snaps came in Weeks 16 and 17, so I wouldn't hold your breath. Regardless, it's always good to see a late-round pick contribute in any way possible. Because we all know that those guys usually make their name as a special teamer or situational player.
2012 Grade: C-