Grading Each of the San Francisco 49ers' Drafts over the Past Five Years
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The San Francisco 49ers have tried to build their team largely through the draft. Eschewing high-priced free agents, GM Trent Baalke has focused his energy on acquiring the bulk of his talent in the draft.
The strategy of building through the draft is essential for cost control, as the free-agent market is extremely expensive. With salary cap limitations facing every team, those who cannot find good, young talent in the draft are doomed to ultimate failure.
In 2013, Baalke selected 11 players. Although some may not make the roster, the 49ers have plenty of talent to mold into their system.
It is obviously far too early to give a grade to the 2013 class, but let's go back over the prior five drafts and rate each one.
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
49ers' 2008 Draft: First-Round Selection Kentwan Balmer
Kentwan Balmer never panned out with the 49ers.
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The San Francisco 49ers' 2008 draft was extremely weak. Defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer was the 49ers' first-round pick, out of North Carolina.
Balmer was a total bust, as injuries and a poor work ethic undermined his career. He spent two undistinguished seasons in San Francisco, playing in a total of 27 games, none as a starter.
Balmer was traded to the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2010 season. His career as a 49er ended with a whimper.
The 49ers had high hopes for guard Chilo Rachal, a second-round pick. He played four seasons with the 49ers and started 38 games. Rachal never became the dominant offensive lineman the 49ers hoped for and lost his starting job in 2011.
Rachal signed with the Chicago Bears prior to the 2012 season.
Only Josh Morgan, a sixth-round selection, made any real impact. In four seasons in San Francisco, Morgan caught 131 passes for 1,764 yards and nine touchdowns.
Morgan broke his leg in the fifth game of the 2011 season and never played another game for the 49ers. Morgan signed with the Redskins in 2012 as a free agent.
The 49ers' other picks in the 2008 draft were Reggie Smith, Cody Wallace and Larry Grant.
Smith, a defensive back, was mostly a special teams player, but he did start seven games in 2010. His career ended following the 2011 season.
Wallace made no impact, and Grant was released. Grant caught on with the Rams and played in St. Louis for three seasons. He eventually returned to the 49ers as a reserve linebacker in 2011.
The 49ers' GM, Scot McCloughan, clearly whiffed on the 2008 draft.
49ers' 2008 Draft Grade: D-
49ers 2009 Draft: First-Round Selection Michael Crabtree
The San Francisco 49ers did a much better job with their first-round draft pick in 2009. GM Scot McCloughan selected wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree held out and missed all of training camp. Once signed, however, Crabtree was inserted into the lineup right away. Crabtree has developed over his four seasons with the 49ers. He had a breakout year in 2012 and is one of the top-tier wide receivers in the NFL.
In 2012, Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs. Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles while practicing a few weeks ago. The 49ers are hopeful he will return toward the end of the season, but there is no guarantee.
Without Crabtree, the 49ers have only one proven wide receiver, Anquan Boldin. Crabtree's absence will definitely put more pressure on the younger 49ers receivers.
The only other player who made an impact from this draft was defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois, a seventh-round selection from LSU. After four seasons as a spot starter and rotational backup with the 49ers, Jean-Francois signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts.
The rest of McCloughan's picks did not turn out well. He selected Glen Coffee, Scot McKillop, Nate Davis, Bear Pascoe and Curtis Taylor, none of whom are still with the 49ers.
In his only season with the 49ers, Coffee looked like he could be a valuable contributor as a running back. However, he decided to quit the game following the 2009 season, citing a lack of desire.
2009 Draft Grade: C-
49ers 2010 Draft: First-Round Selection Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis has developed into one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
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The 2010 draft was an excellent piece of work. The 49ers came away with three outstanding starters and two role players who are still on the team.
The 49ers had two first-round selections and took tackle Anthony Davis with the 11th overall pick. Davis was thrust into the starting lineup by head coach Mike Singletary long before he was ready. He struggled and was arguably the worst starting right tackle in the league.
Davis was penalized more than any offensive lineman in the league and was routinely beaten by pass-rushers because of his poor footwork and technique.
Davis gradually improved, and he had a breakout season in 2012. Davis is a big man with a mean streak, and his run-blocking matured faster than his pass protection. Now, having improved his footwork, Davis has become a solid pass-blocker as well.
Davis has started every game over the past three years for the 49ers. Look for him to make the Pro Bowl in the 2013 season.
The 49ers' second first-round selection was left guard Mike Iupati. He was the 17th overall pick.
Unlike Davis, Iupati became a positive force on the offensive line right away. He is a devastating run-blocker and is also very good in pass protection.
He had a few mental lapses in 2012, but Iupati played well overall. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was also honored with a First-Team All-Pro selection.
The third star the 49ers selected is NaVorro Bowman, a linebacker out of Penn State. Bowman was picked in the third round, and he teams with Patrick Willis to form the best inside linebacker tandem in the NFL.
Bowman has outstanding speed and athleticism, which allows him to make plays all over the field. He is also used effectively in pass coverage because of his excellent speed.
Bowman was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and was a First-Team All-Pro in both 2011 and 2012.
The 49ers also did well in later rounds, selecting running back Anthony Dixon and wide receiver Kyle Williams in the sixth round. Both are role players, and Williams shows a lot of potential as a slot receiver.
Williams has had injury issues throughout his career and must convince head coach Jim Harbaugh he can stay healthy, as his spot on the roster this upcoming season is in jeopardy.
The injury to Michael Crabtree probably helps secure a spot for Williams, but he is being pressed by Ricardo Lockette, A.J. Jenkins, Chad Hall, Marlon Moore and 2013 draftee Quinton Patton.
Dixon has not had much of an opportunity to carry the ball from the line of scrimmage, rushing only 21 times for 78 yards last year. Dixon's primary value is on special teams, where he is one of the 49ers' top performers.
The only major disappointment in the 2010 draft was safety Taylor Mays. He was selected in the second round and came to San Francisco as a heralded safety out of USC.
It was simply a mistake and a wasted pick to draft Mays that high. He struggled in pass coverage, as his skills and understanding of the defense were both lacking. He lasted only one season with the 49ers and then was traded to the Bengals for a seventh-round draft pick.
The 49ers' other picks in 2010 were tight end Nate Byham and defensive back Phillip Adams. Byham spent two undistinguished years in San Francisco, and Adams spent just one.
49ers' 2010 Draft Grade: A-
49ers 2011 Draft: First-Round Selection Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith is one of the best pass-rushers in the league.
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The 49ers suffered through a poor 2010 season with a record of 6-10. This resulted in the firing of head coach Mike Singletary. The silver lining was that the 49ers had the seventh overall selection in the 2011 draft.
GM Trent Baalke selected Aldon Smith, an outside linebacker out of Missouri. Smith burst on the scene and quickly became an outstanding pass-rusher. Splitting time with Parys Haralson and playing only on passing downs, Smith generated 14.5 sacks in his rookie season.
Smith won the starting job in 2012 and amassed 19.5 sacks, even though he suffered through a painful shoulder injury that made him less effective in the 49ers' final three games and into the postseason.
Smith garnered Pro Bowl honors and was a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2012. He is a star, and his ability to rush the passer has elevated the 49ers' defense into one of the best in the league.
The 49ers traded up in the second round to grab quarterback Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada. In his first season-and-a-half, Kaepernick watched Alex Smith from the sidelines, learning and waiting for his opportunity.
When Smith went down with a concussion in the ninth game of the season, Kaepernick stepped in and played admirably. He started the final seven games of the season and helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Kaepernick steadily improved over the second half of the year. He became a more disciplined quarterback, not running at the slightest bit of trouble.
Kaepernick's strong arm and outstanding running ability gave the 49ers a big-play dimension they did not have with Smith at the helm. The 49ers believe they have found their franchise quarterback in Kaepernick.
Perhaps the most intriguing selection in the 2011 draft was Bruce Miller in round seven. Miller was a defensive end at Central Florida but was converted to a fullback by the 49ers.
As a fullback, Miller did extremely well. He eventually beat out incumbent Moran Norris and started the final eight games of the 2011 season. He did so well that the 49ers jettisoned Norris completely in 2012.
The 2011 draft also produced some solid depth for the 49ers. Cornerback Chris Culliver, a third-round selection, was the 49ers' nickel back this past season.
Running back Kendall Hunter was getting carries and producing as Frank Gore's backup last year until a torn Achilles knocked him out in the 11th game of the year. Hunter will be competing with LaMichael James for the coveted backup role behind Gore this year.
Offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore provides depth at both the guard and center positions.
No longer on the team are Ronald Johnson, Colin Jones, Mike Person and Curtis Holcomb. None of these players were selected above the sixth round.
49ers' 2011 Draft Grade: A
49ers 2012 Draft: First-Round Selection A.J. Jenkins
A.J. Jenkins did not have a reception in 2012.
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Although it is a bit premature to give a final grade to this draft after one season things do not look good. This is easily Trent Baalke's worst draft as the 49ers' GM.
The 49ers' first-round selection, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, produced nothing in 2012. He did not make a catch all season. When receivers Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams went down with injuries, Jenkins still could not get playing time.
Jenkins was generally listed as inactive for the games, as unheralded players like Chad Hall and Joe Hastings, who has been cut already this year, beat him out for active duty.
Jenkins was not mentally or physically ready for the NFL. With the injury to Michael Crabtree and the fact that Mario Manningham is not expected back for several games into the season, the 49ers are hoping to see Jenkins emerge as a starter or at least the third wide receiver.
It is too early to call Jenkins a bust, but he is definitely on that path. He has an opportunity to get plenty of playing time this year, but he needs to produce. The 49ers are hoping Jenkins can display some of the skills that made him their top pick in 2012.
The 49ers' second-round selection, LaMichael James, was a pleasant surprise. The speedster from Oregon was not seeing any action until Kendall Hunter was injured. James stepped in and did an admirable job.
James played in the 49ers' final four games and rushed 27 times for 125 yards. James also did a credible job returning kickoffs, averaging 29.8 yards per return on 14 opportunities. James will be fighting Kendall Hunter for the job as the main backup to Frank Gore.
The remainder of the 49ers' draft did not produce a single player who made any impact last season. The 49ers had no third-round pick, so Joe Looney was their next selection in the fourth round
Looney had a foot injury coming into training camp that prohibited him from practicing. He never played any meaningful downs in his rookie season.
Outside linebacker Darius Fleming tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Safety Trenton Robinson was active for only three games and did not make a tackle.
Jason Slowey, an offensive lineman, was cut. The 49ers' final pick, Cam Johnson, another linebacker, spent most of the season on the practice squad and was active for only two games. Johnson saw no meaningful action all year.
The 2012 draft has the potential to be mediocre at best. At worst, it will prove to be a colossal failure. GM Trent Baalke had his worst draft, as not one selection looks like a starting-caliber NFL player.
49ers' 2012 Draft Grade: F