NFC West Draft Grades: San Francisco 49ers
With the 2009 NFL draft nearly two weeks in the record books, this sports fan set out to do what every “passionate” (irrational) fan does and grade each team’s selections prior to playing a single snap in the National Football League. Having tirelessly studied “Film” (10 second YouTube clips) for months leading up to the draft and possessing extensive experience in sports management (fantasy football), I set out to evaluate the decision makers of the NFC West.
Round 1, Pick 10
Michael Crabtree- WR, Texas Tech
At least one half of the San Francisco Bay Area was grinning ear to ear with this pick. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t in or around the East Bay. Singletary must have been jumping out of his pants with glee (pun intended). The draft card runner dashed to the podium quicker than Darius Heyward-Bey, giving Al Davis immediate buyers remorse (not for Michael Crabtree, but the speedy card-carrier). The 49ers land themselves the only two-time Bilietnikof Award winner and one of the most productive wide receivers in the history of college football. Crabtree shattered records like a bull, on red bull, in a red-painted china shop. His statistics which included 231 receptions and 41 touchdowns over two seasons was impressive even for arena football, leaving little argument to him being the product of a pass-happy Texas Tech system.
Although a gift from the football gods, giving this pick a letter grade just didn’t seem appropriate. When you land the best offensive player in the draft (arguably THE best player), at a position of need, at pick number 10, you would have to utterly fail as a general manager and human being to acquire anything less than Michael Crabtree or a whole draft-load of picks with this selection. It is for this reason that I am grading this pick on a pass/fail basis.
Grade: Pass (A)
Round 2, Pick 63
This selection was paired with the 49ers' fourth round pick and traded to the Carolina Panther’s for the rights to their 2010 first round selection. Although a frustrating trade to most impatient 49er fans due to the fan-favorites Everette Brown and Connor Barwin still being available (great value picks at a position of need), the pick the 49ers acquired has the potential for greatness. First of all, going into the draft, there was a fairly unanimous sentiment that this was the weakest draft class in years and that next years draft would far exceed it in talent. Given this assumption alone, the trade was a terrific value. In addition, the Carolina Panther’s have the second toughest schedule (based on 2008 team winning percentages) in 2009, playing 15 teams who had a winning percentage above .500. Given their difficulty of schedule, possible departure of Julius Peppers, and their aging quarterback who gives out interceptions like candy at a Megan’s Law convention, the Panther’s would be lucky to finish .500, thus providing the 49ers a first round pick at 16 or higher.
In addition to the value of the first round pick they obtained, the delayed nature of next years selection created added value. Although future picks are generally discounted a round, the 49ers had too many question marks to make a well-informed decision in the second round. With the possible emergence of promising yet formerly injured Manny Lawson, an OLB could be a wasted pick. If Marvel Smith, who is still relatively young at 31, re-emerges to his former Pro-Bowl level, then an OT would be an unnecessary commodity (don't forget the 49ers already have a young on-the-cusp Pro Bowl LT in Joe Staley). If promising 2007 fourth round draft pick Dashon Goldson performs well in the spotlight at free safety, then the need for Mark Roman's replacement is self-fulfilling. Lastly, if Shaun Hill can maintain his performance throughout a season, or if Alex Smith finally reaches his potential, then an additional franchise quarterback would also be superfluous. Given that all these “needs”, have the potential to fulfill themselves, the 49ers are better off evaluating their roster for a season, then using a first rounder next year to acquire a true impact player at any need position that prevails. Overall a great move by McCloughan and company.
Round 3, Pick 74
Glen Coffee- RB, Alabama
When Frank Gore wears down in 2009 the 49ers run game will turn to Coffee for a little pick-me-up. Coffee is a frustrating selection to many fans as he isn’t big (209 lbs), elusive, or fast (4.58 sec. 40). To top it off, his upright running style is downright ugly. While primarily a backup during his collegiate career, Coffee was productive under the spotlight amassing 1,383 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on his way to a first-team all-SEC selection in 2008. If Frank Gore’s surgically repaired knees plan to make it another season, the 49ers need a 1-2 punch to share the load. While not great value, this pick fulfills a need, providing the 49ers a hard-nosed north-south runner who will pick up the yards that are given him. Given his work ethic, good character, and high level of competition (playing in the SEC), this pick has minimal bust potential.
Round 4, Pick 131
[See Round 2]
Round 5, Pick 146
Scott McKillop- LB, Pittsburgh
Mike Singletary could have drafted that overweight asthmatic kid from your middle school gym class to play linebacker and nobody would question him. It certainly wouldn’t be this amateur sports writer. McKillop who many criticize for his lack of athleticism, posted better numbers than highly-touted prospect James Laurinaitis in just about every fitness test including the 40 yard dash (4.8 sec. compared to 4.88 sec.), bench press (27 reps to 22 reps), Vertical Jump (33.5 in. to 33 in.), and Broad Jump (119 in. to 115 in.). In 2008, McKillop was the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American choice after leading the league with 137 tackles, and posting four sacks, 17.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, two interceptions, and a defensive touchdown. Although McKillop’s measurables do not immediately qualify him as an NFL linebacker, his phenomenal instincts, stout stature (6’1, 245 lbs), and tough-nosed demeanor make him a potential cornerstone at the Ted position alongside Patrick Willis. Given his work-ethic and willingness to play special teams, this pick is safe in addition to being good-value and addressing need.
Round 5, Pick 171
Nate Davis- QB, Ball State
As a comparable NFL player, some scouting websites compared Nate Davis to current 49er quarterback Alex Smith. Whoever made such an observation, hasn’t watched either of the two quarterbacks play. Alex Smith was drafted for his tangibles. These tangibles included his off-the-charts intelligence (as indicated by a record-breaking Wonderlic Score and his graduating with a 3.8 GPA and degree in Economics in just 2 years), his timed speed (which at 4.7 sec. in the 40 yard dash was the fastest of all quarterbacks at the combine), and his impressively high touchdowns to interceptions ratio. These two quarterback’s skill sets are about as contrasting as their skin tones.
Nate Davis, unlike Alex Smith was drafted for his intangibles, primarily his ability to improvise. This includes his awareness in the pocket, poise under pressure, demonstrated leadership, experience, and a general ability to make something out of nothing. Unlike Smith, Davis is short in stature at just over 6’1, slow (running a 40 in over 5 sec.), and academically impaired (with a documented case of dyslexia). Given that Smith’s tangibles have been rendered useless in the NFL, the 49ers grab a quarterback beaming with the intangibles that Smith lacks. It was these intangibles that lead Davis to not only start, but excel as a true freshman at Ball State.
Since then Davis has been a two time team MVP, Offensive MAC player of the year, and has eclipsed 3,000 yards passing in two consecutive seasons. Davis was considered a first or second round pick prior to his last two collegiate games, making him a value selection at this juncture. Coming off the board in the fifth round, Davis is free of the crippling pressure of a first overall pick and can sit and develop his raw talent while Smith and Hill compete for the starting job.
Round 6, Pick 184
Bear Pascoe- TE, Fresno State
Any football player named “Bear” is alright in my book. Better yet he’s hard-nosed and one of the best blocking tight-ends in the draft. Unlike the uninformed “know-it-all” draft experts, this pick was not intended to push or replace Vernon Davis. Pascoe was brought in to replace Billy Bajema the team’s former blocking tight-end who left via free agency. In making this selection, the 49ers fill a void, experience an offseason positional upgrade, and bring in a starter from day 1 (not an easy accomplishment in the sixth round). Being arguably the best situational blocking tight-end in the draft, Pascoe presents solid value, making this selection Bear-ific! (sorry I had to)
Round 7, Pick 219
Curtis Taylor- FS, LSU
Curtis Taylor faced the unfortunate predicament of playing behind and having to follow the act of All-Star free safety LaRon Landry (the sixth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft). At most any other Division 1 program, Taylor’s size, speed, and instincts would have landed him a starting job as a true freshman. While only starting for two collegiate seasons, Taylor made the most of his time by flashing a raw ability and potential to play in the NFL. Taylor’s loss is the 49ers gain as they land this high-potential, athletic safety in the seventh round. His strong frame and inexperience suggests he’ll likely be moved to strong safety where he will provide depth behind current starter Michael Lewis.
Round 7, Pick 244
Ricky Jean-Francois- DT, LSU
Ricky Jean-Francois is an enigma to talent evaluators. He went from being one of the nations best high school defensive prospects, to being an afterthought on draft day. This isn’t to say he didn’t produce in college. It’s consistency, consistency, consistency. He can out-right dominate games against the country’s top competition as evidenced by his 9 tackles, 1 sack, blocked field goal, and defensive MVP award in the 2008 BCS National Championship game against Ohio State. Despite fluctuations in performance, RJF only started 9 games in his collegiate career. Although inconsistent, his size at 6-3, 295 lbs, and proven physical ability, make him an intriguing prospect. This is the perfect spot in the draft to take a boom-bust prospect and let him develop. Fortunately for the 49ers they have the depth at DE to do so.
Overall Grade: A
While not addressing OLB or OT, the 49ers never truly reached on any one player and managed to address a need with every selection. To further improve their score, the 49ers had one of the best undrafted free agencies in the NFL bringing in players like running back Kory Sheets (who could’ve easily gone as high as the third round), Offensive tackle Alex Boone (who could’ve easily gone as high as the fourth round), and OLB Diyrall Briggs (who’s production compared favorably to first round pick Larry English).
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