Grading the San Francisco 49ers' Draft Picks in the Jim Harbaugh Era
While Jim Harbaugh has gotten acclaim for getting the most out of the San Francisco 49ers' roster he inherited, he hasn't gotten the most out of his own 49ers' draft picks. In grading the Niners' draft picks in the Harbaugh era, that much is clear.
Nonetheless, he's still managed to sprinkle in the occasional star among his lot of non-contributing draftees.
With that said, let's examine the specific grades attached to the 49ers' draft picks going back to the 2011 NFL draft.
Their grades are related to their production in correspondence to where they were selected. Also, with the most recent draftees only having six games under their belt, potential will factor into these grades as well.
Lastly, the quality of possible alternative picks will be weighed also.
Players are listed in the order in which they were drafted.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 7 in 2011.
Who said, "You should save the best for last"?
Certainly not Harbaugh. As it stands today, Smith is far and away the best player the 49ers have drafted under Harbaugh's direction.
With 38 sacks in 35 games, Smith is already among the pantheon of elite pass-rushers.
These numbers more than validate where Smith was selected.
As good as he's been, Smith still isn't this teacher's favorite pet—mainly because Smith has caused as much havoc off the field as he has on it.
Smith is currently on indefinite leave while undergoing substance abuse treatment. In addition to that, Smith has been charged with three felony gun charges.
Seeing how strictly enforced the NFL's personal conduct policy has been under commissioner Roger Goodell, Smith's playing status could be left in limbo for the foreseeable future.
For this reason, Smith falls short of being his class' valedictorian.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 4 in 2011.
Kaepernick already has a Super Bowl berth under his belt and is possibly the best quarterback of all time, according to ESPN's Ron Jaworski anyways.
Need I say more?
Maybe not, but I will anyways.
Kaepernick has thrown for 3,070 yards and 18 touchdowns in 22 career games played. Additionally, he's racked up 585 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
These impressive numbers were produced by a quarterback who the 49ers "reached" for, according to ESPN's NFL draft guru Mel Kiper.
Any way you slice it, franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by, and the Niners got theirs in the second round!
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 16 in 2011.
In Culliver, the Niners struck draft gold again. Rated as an average cornerback prospect in the draft, Culliver has more than outperformed his draft slot.
Detailed in the chart below, courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com, Culliver was the NFL's best cornerback per snap in 2012:
1st Downs & TDs
1st Downs and TDs by Snap
Unfortunately, Culliver hasn't had the opportunity to build off his productive 2012 campaign. He's currently sidelined with a torn ACL and will miss the entire 2013 season.
This doubt, and it alone, will keep Culliver from joining Smith and Kaepernick on the honor roll.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 18 in 2011.
Hunter was drafted to spell lead back Frank Gore, and he's done just that.
The diminutive back has registered 1,232 total yards and seven touchdowns in his career thus far.
Nonetheless, Hunter also has had his bout with injury. His season ended after 11 games in 2012 because of a torn left Achilles tendon.
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 32 in 2011.
What's there to say about Kilgore?
Well, he's still on the roster. Seeing that Kilgore has started zero games, there isn't much to go on besides that. His playing time has almost been exclusively on special teams.
Even with that said, he's met expectations. A player drafted this late shouldn't be expected to be anything more than a backup at this juncture in his career.
Still, the 49ers traded up for this guy. For that reason, I've got to knock down his grade a bit.
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 17 in 2011.
As weak San Francisco is at wide receiver, it speaks volumes that Johnson is no longer on the roster.
The former USC product only lasted one year with the Niners and didn't play in any games.
Considering that Harbaugh went up against Johnson in his time at Stanford, you have to wonder how much input he had on this selection.
With none of the receivers drafted after Johnson making any impact, it's not like the 49ers had many viable options though.
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 25 in 2011.
Jones has tallied a grand total of 21 tackles in his career.
A safety by trade, Jones has made his living on special teams. Unfortunately for San Francisco, that living is taking place in Carolina.
Only six of his tackles came in a 49ers uniform.
While I'd like to call this another wasted pick, San Francisco is again saved by the lack of viable options in the draft.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 8 in 2011.
A former defensive end in college, Miller is now the starting fullback for San Francisco.
He's also utilized his defensive background and become an effective special teams player.
You also have to add in the 33 career receptions under Miller's belt.
While his impact isn't great in any one area, his contributions have more than warranted his draft slot.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 36 in 2011.
At this juncture in the draft, the players selected are lucky if they make the team that drafted them.
Person, an offensive tackle out of Montana State, falls in this category. He appeared in zero games with San Francisco and is currently on the St. Louis Rams.
Like I said, this isn't a big shocker. But the 49ers drafting him in the first place is.
CollegeFootballNews.com's scouting report states that Person isn't a mauler and is suited to play in a zone blocking scheme.
Considering that the Niners rely on a power running scheme, I don't see the fit.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 47 in 2011.
Like Person, Holcomb never saw the field in San Francisco.
A cornerback from Florida A&M, CFN.com projected that Holcomb could find a role in the 49ers' dime package.
With the secondary still a weak spot for the 49ers, one can understand why San Francisco would take a flyer on Holcomb.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 30 in 2012.
Two seasons, one catch and six yards. Just looking at Jenkins' stat line, you'd think he was San Francisco's last pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Unfortunately for the Niners, the opposite is the case.
In drafting Jenkins, the 49ers missed the opportunity to select receivers like Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle or T.Y. Hilton.
The only saving grace is that the Niners were actually able to to get something for Jenkins, in the form of receiver Jon Baldwin in a trade with Kansas City.
Nonetheless, Jenkins' selection has to rank as the 49ers' worst draft pick in the Harbaugh era.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 29 in 2012.
When the 49ers utilized the read-option late last season, James appeared to be the perfect back to pair with Colin Kaepernick.
I mean, this was an offense he once thrived in at Oregon. Including the postseason, James totaled 190 rushing yards in his rookie season.
James seemed primed for an increased role in 2013, especially with Kendall Hunter recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
Then, James got hurt. By spraining his MCL in the preseason, James lost his chance at becoming Frank Gore's backup.
With the 49ers all but abandoning the read-option and Hunter playing well, it's hard to see where James fits in.
Seeing that this quandary is a result of San Francisco's depth at running back and not James' ability, James' draft grade won't suffer too much.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 22 in 2012.
While Looney hasn't logged any playing time in San Francisco, it's not due to his lack of talent.
As Nolan Nawrocki of ProFootballWeekly.com notes, if Looney hadn't suffered a foot injury during the draft process, he would've been selected in the second or third round. So netting him in the fourth round is a steal in itself.
The 49ers simply don't have a need for Looney to play at the moment. With arguably the best offensive line in football, there certainly isn't any shame in that.
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 30 in 2012.
Just like Looney, Fleming hasn't been afforded the chance the play. But this is because of injury.
Fleming tore his ACL prior to the season. This is the second consecutive season that Fleming will miss due this injury.
Considering that Fleming was a player that Nolan Naworski of ProFootballWeekly.com said would contribute immediately, such injuries are disheartening.
For this reason, I'll withhold judgment on the 49ers' selection of Fleming.
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 10 in 2012.
Continuing the theme of this draft, Robinson also hasn't played for the 49ers. In fact, he is no longer on the roster.
While he was projected to at least be a backup safety and special teams contributor, Robinson's performance clearly wasn't up to snuff for the 49ers' brass.
Nonetheless, in looking at the defensive backs selected after Robinson, there weren't many viable alternatives.
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 29 in 2012.
Call it deja vu. Another 2012 49ers' draft pick no longer on the team.
Out of Western Oregon, Slowey was simply a project that didn't work out. An offensive tackle in college, Slowey tried his hand at center and guard in his brief stint with the 49ers.
Considering San Francisco's depth chart along the offensive line, and where Slowey was selected, you can't fault the 49ers too much for this pick.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 30 in 2012.
Johnson, a pass-rusher from Virginia, was a player whose production warranted a higher draft slot, as Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller notes:
#Colts new OLB Cam Johnson had a 2nd RD grade, but sickle-cell trait scared teams. He has good 1st step quicks and power. Smart, vision plus— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 2, 2013
So even though he didn't contribute anything to the 49ers, you can't fault them for drafting him.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 18 in 2013.
With the Niners saying goodbye to Dashon Goldson, Reid had big shoes to fill. After just five games, you can consider those shoes filled.
Reid has shown excellent ball skills en route to tallying three interceptions. ESPN.com is currently projecting Reid to finish the season with eight picks and 72 tackles.
While he's had his bouts with missed tackles, Reid already has a pair of bone-crushing hits on his resume.
Reid's startling play could give the 49ers their second Defensive Rookie of the Year under Harbaugh.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 8 in 2013.
Consider 2013 as Carradine's redshirt year.
Since Carradine tore his ACL in his final season at Florida State, San Francisco has elected to be cautious with him.
This explains why he was placed on the non-football injury list prior to the start of this season.
After witnessing how the defense collapsed in Justin Smith's abscence, it's no shocker to see the 49ers invest in a defensive lineman with Carradine's talent.
But it's questionable of the Niners to select a player this high who, in all likelihood, won't play for them this season.
Even with the Justin Tuck comparisons, players like Carradine shouldn't be picked prior to the third round.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 23 in 2013.
After allowing Delanie Walker to depart in free agency, the 49ers tabbed McDonald as his successor at tight end.
With only five catches in six games, McDonald hasn't come close to replacing him thus far.
Considering that Vernon Davis has missed time because of a hamstring injury, McDonald can't blame his lackluster start on a lack of an opportunity.
With Charean Williams of The Star Telegram calling the 2013 tight end class the "deepest" in years, I'd like to think that the 49ers had viable alternatives to the unknown McDonald.
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 26 in 2013.
Lemonier has seen an increase in playing time in Aldon Smith's absence. And he's made the most of it.
A forced fumble, one sack and nine tackles aren't bad for a player who's only being used as a situational pass-rusher.
With Smith's return in question, Lemonier will continue to garner playing time going forward.
Solid pick by the 49ers here.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 31 in 2013.
Cursed by a receiver again. Patton, like every 49ers receiver before him not named Michael Crabtree, hasn't lived up to his billing.
This is partially due to injury, as he's currently sidelined with a fractured foot.
While Patton was projected by NFL.com to be a future starter and even compared to Reggie Wayne, I can't help but think that the 49ers erred in selecting Patton instead of Kenny Stills.
I know that Stills' 10 receptions isn't a significant upgrade over Patton, who has one reception. Still, I think that Stills would fit in nicely as a slot receiver for the 49ers.
All in all, I don't think that San Francisco drafted the best available receiver here.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 34 in 2013.
Whereas the other redshirt player of this draft class, Carradine, was picked too high, this is the right spot to take a chance on Lattimore.
When he was healthy, Lattimore flashed the ability of an NFL starting running back at South Carolina.
Two ghastly knee injuries later and it's unknown if he'll ever be the same. To me, though, a fourth-round pick is worth it to find out.
If he fails, the 49ers still have Hunter and James backing up Gore. In the event he returns to his old form, the 49ers have a potential replacement for Gore.
Not much of a downside with this pick.
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 24 in 2013.
Recently activated from the 49ers' reserve/NFL list, according to San Francisco's official website, we should soon see what the Niners have in Dial.
If his career at Alabama is any indicator, it won't be much. Dial served as a space-eater at Alabama, and as NFL.com notes, he didn't do much else.
With a need on the defensive line and a surplus of draft picks, I have no qualms with the Niners gambling on an athlete like Dial.
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 12 in 2013.
I'll come out and say it: Why did the 49ers draft Moody?
At Florida State, he was injury prone and a safety lacking ball skills. In his final year, Moody transitioned over to linebacker and, get this, registered only 20 tackles in 14 games.
I rest my case.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 31 in 2013.
After trading Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs, quarterback became a need for San Francisco.
Daniels was always a long shot to fill that void, but Harbaugh let it be known how he felt about Daniels upon the Seattle Seahawks claiming him off waivers.
"We would have liked to have B.J. back on the practice squad," Harbaugh said, via the Press Democrat.
While Harbaugh's affection for Daniels is now moot, it's worth noting that Daniels was San Francisco's best quarterback during the preseason, as the following chart shows:
These numbers alone validate Daniels' draft slot.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 40 in 2013.
If you're a receiver or offensive lineman, you don't want to be drafted by the 49ers. Bykowski serves as credence to this cautionary tale.
Bykowski didn't make the team's active roster.
Seeing where he was drafted, it's no loss to the 49ers. A former tight end in college, Bykowski was a project player for the Niners.
This late in the draft, the 49ers didn't risk a lot in drafting him.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 46 in 2013.
Cooper has two interceptions and 12 tackles thus far.
Oh, and he put up those numbers on the Chiefs.
To put those numbers into perspective, the 49ers' cornerbacks have three interceptions combined. Furthermore, Cooper only allowed one catch and nine yards in his first career start against the New York Giants.
First-round picks don't have games that good, let alone a seventh-round pick.
It's safe to say that Cooper has more than warranted his draft slot.