San Francisco 49ers' Best and Worst Draft Picks of Last 10 Classes
The draft nightmare.
I know you San Francisco 49ers fans have had it. The one when you're talking in your sleep, calling out "Woods, Balmer, Jenkins...I can't take another first-round bust!"
OK, maybe not all of you have had that dream. But I'm sure most of you have ranted about some of San Francisco's worst draft picks in the last 10 years.
Fortunately for the 49ers Faithful, the Red and Gold have offset some of those mistakes with absolute gems.
For this slideshow, I've chosen San Francisco's best and worst picks of the last 10 NFL draft classes.
Here is the criteria for how I made the following selections:
- Players chosen in the first few rounds were judged more harshly than those selected in the last few rounds. This means a player with similar stats taken later in the draft would get the nod as a "best" pick over a player drafted earlier. Players drafted in the first round, especially top-10 selections, who underachieved were often chosen as "worst" picks over late-round picks who did nothing at all.
- Career achievements and box-score stats were part of the equation, but I relied heavily on Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value. It's a counting stat (the more you play, the bigger the numbers gets) with an aim to fairly judge value from position to position.
- I slightly favored what players did as a 49er over what they accomplished elsewhere.
All stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Best pick: Andy Lee (sixth round, 188th pick)
Fourth-round pick Isaac Sopoaga was considered, but Lee was the choice for his 10 years of dominance in red and gold.
Lee is also a three-time Pro Bowler, whereas Sopoaga has never been chosen for the NFL's all-star game.
Worst pick: Rashaun Woods (first round, 31st pick)
Woods was arguably the worst pick in 49ers' draft history, though another receiver drafted in 2012 may have something to say about that.
The former Oklahoma State star caught seven balls for 160 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season. After missing all of 2005 with a thumb injury, he was traded to the San Diego Chargers.
He never saw the field after his rookie season.
Until Michael Crabtree broke out in 2012, the 49ers were missing a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver. They simply swung and missed on Woods, leaving a void in the wide receiver corps for years.
Best pick: Frank Gore (third round, pick No. 65)
Since 2006, Gore has been San Francisco's biggest—and sometimes only—offensive threat.
He has the franchise record for most rushing yards in a season (1,695 in 2006), rushing yards as a 49er (9,967) and rushing touchdowns in red and gold (60).
His approximate value of 88 is 18th all time in 49ers history. Though he may need two or three more 1,000-yard seasons to have a serious chance at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he's already one of the 49ers' top 10 draft picks in their history.
Worst pick: Alex Smith (first round, pick No. 1)
Second-round pick David Baas didn't exactly dominate in his time as a Niners guard, and fifth-round pick Rasheed Marshall literally finished his career with negative rushing and receiving yards, so I'll understand if you think this pick is unfair.
However, based on the expected value of a No. 1 overall pick, Smith is the correct choice.
Here's a look at the average AV for each top pick since 2005.
|Career AV||Draft AV||AV/season|
Based on AV per season, Smith is the second-worst pick of the bunch. In fairness, injuries have played a bigger role with him than others on this list, but still, he's not in the quarterback class of Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
Aaron Rodgers, the second quarterback drafted in 2005, has a career AV of 88. He has a Super Bowl, whereas the 49ers don't have one since he was drafted.
The Smith pick is a mistake that could haunt the 49ers down the road if they don't win a ring with their current core.
Best pick: Vernon Davis (first round, pick No. 6)
Davis' first three seasons were hindered by poor quarterback play. He had only nine touchdown catches in that time frame.
Since 2009, the two-time Pro Bowler has 44 TD receptions.
His speed from the tight end position has been one of the 49ers' biggest assets. He's double-teamed more than any San Francisco receiver, which opens up the field for Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
He's also an effective blocker. He is one of the top five tight ends in the NFL.
Worst pick: Brandon Williams (third round, pick No. 84)
This pick was a head-scratcher from the start.
Williams was never a dynamic wide receiver at Wisconsin. But he was a very good kick returner.
The 49ers were desperate for help at both positions, so they reached for the 5'10" pass-catcher.
Williams never caught a single pass in the NFL. He returned punts and kicks for two seasons before flaming out.
Best pick: Patrick Willis (first round, pick No. 11)
The 2007 draft class was instrumental in the 49ers becoming an NFL powerhouse in 2011.
Willis, Joe Staley (first round), Ray McDonald (third round), Dashon Goldson (fourth round) and Tarell Brown (fifth round) were all part of the draft class.
I went with Willis over Staley for several reasons, but the biggest one is the All-Pro linebacker holds a significant edge in career AV (89 to 52).
Willis is also a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro. He'll be enshrined in Canton when all is said and done.
Worst pick: Jay Moore (fourth round, pick No. 104)
I considered Jason Hill, a third-round pick, for this slot, but I ultimately went with Moore.
Hill was disappointing, catching just 40 passes in four years with the Niners. But Moore never played a snap in the NFL.
Naturally, injuries played a role. He was placed on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain before his rookie season started.
It's a shame considering at the time of the 2007 draft, I thought Moore was a steal. He had 26 tackles for loss in his two seasons at Nebraska.
Best pick: Josh Morgan (sixth round, pick No. 174)
The 49ers followed their stellar 2007 draft with a dud in 2008. The one positive was Morgan.
The former Virginia Tech star had 131 catches and nine touchdowns in his four years with the Niners. He led all Niners wide receivers in receptions and TDs in 2009.
Morgan spent the last two seasons with the Washington Redskins. He recorded 68 receptions and two TDs. He's currently a free agent.
Worst pick: Kentwan Balmer (first round, pick No. 29)
Balmer played two seasons in San Francisco before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks. The defensive tackle did not have one sack in his five-year career.
Best pick: Michael Crabtree (first round, pick No. 10)
Crabtree is the obvious choice for 2009 anyway, but the fact that the 49ers exorcised their demons on getting an impact wide receiver makes this pick seem even better than it was.
The former Texas Tech star was productive in his first three NFL seasons, but he didn't light the world on fire.
But in 2012, he came into his own.
Crabtree had 1,105 receiving yards and nine touchdowns that year, and he carried over that success into 285 yards and three touchdowns in three playoff games.
After missing 11 games with an injured Achilles in 2013, Crabtree is healthy and primed for a big season in his contract year in 2014.
Worst pick: Glen Coffee (third round, pick No. 74)
The speed of the NFL got to Coffee in his rookie season. The former Alabama star averaged just 2.7 yards per carry as Frank Gore's backup.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, Coffee retired before the 2010 season began.
Shortly after his announcement, Coffee explained himself on The Dan Patrick Show (via SI.com).
"My heart wasn't in the right place," Coffee said. "The only thing in my head is I should be in some place else."
Best pick: NaVorro Bowman (third round, pick No. 91)
Over the last three seasons, Bowman has been arguably the best linebacker in the NFL.
His AV for 2011-2013 is 51. To compare, Willis' is 41, and Karlos Dansby's is 35.
Bowman has been named first-team All-Pro in his last three seasons. As good as Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis have been on the offensive line (both taken in the first round of the 2010 draft), choosing Bowman for this list was a slam dunk.
Worst pick: Taylor Mays (second round, pick No. 49)
Mays' measurables were incredible, but his technique at USC wasn't refined. The 49ers thought they could coach him into a starting safety, but they quickly discovered that old habits die hard—or never die at all.
After one unproductive season, the 49ers traded Mays to the Cincinnati Bengals for a seventh-round pick.
Michael Lombardi, then working for NFL.com, reported that Mike Singletary was the only 49ers decision-maker who wanted to draft Mays. After Singletary was fired in December 2010, Trent Baalke decided to get what he could for the athletic safety.
Mays hasn't made much of an impact in his three years in Cincinnati.
Best pick: Colin Kaepernick (second round, pick No. 36)
I went with Kaepernick over Aldon Smith for two main reasons.
First, Kap was taken 29 picks after Smith. It's harder to find a stud in the second round than it is with the No. 7 pick.
Second, despite appearing in fewer games, Kap has a higher career AV than Smith.
The argument for Smith is he's an elite outside linebacker, whereas Kap is not an elite quarterback.
However, over the last two playoffs, it's been Kaepernick who's played like an elite player (fourth quarter in Seattle notwithstanding) and Smith who's played like a good, but not great, player.
This was the toughest decision on the list, but for now I'm giving the slight edge to the dual-threat quarterback.
Worst pick: Ronald Johnson, (sixth round, pick No. 182)
The fact that I had to go all the way to a sixth-round pick to find a bust shows how good San Francisco's 2011 draft was.
The former USC Trojan wide receiver was released just before the season began. He's not currently on an NFL roster.
Best pick: LaMichael James (second round, pick No. 61)
The correct answer really is "there is no best pick." However, James is the best of San Francisco's worst recent draft class, so I'm basically stuck with him.
The former Oregon star has had his moments. He's had a few key kickoff returns, and he scored a touchdown in the 2012 NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons.
That being said, 184 rushing yards in two seasons out of a second-round pick is not what the 49ers are looking for. And he also lost a fumble in Super Bowl XLVII.
Like I said before, he's the best of the worst.
Worst pick: A.J. Jenkins (first round, pick No. 30)
Jenkins did not record a catch in his rookie season with the 49ers. After the local media pondered aloud about Jenkins' make-or-break second season during the 2013 offseason, the Niners traded him for fellow first-round bust Jon Baldwin.
Jenkins did have eight catches for 130 yards for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. It's not exactly a breakout season, but I'll call it progress.
Though it's early in Jenkins' career, I think it's safe to say he should have never been picked in the first round.
What makes it hurt even more is Alshon Jeffery and Rueben Randle were selected in the second round of the 2012 draft.
Best pick: Eric Reid (first round, pick No. 18)
I considered putting "to be determined" for both picks on this slide. After all, it seems shortsighted to evaluate a player as a bust or a gem after one season.
However, I'm confident enough in Reid to place him on this list without worry.
The stud safety was easily San Francisco's best rookie in 2013. He recorded four interceptions and 12 pass breakups. His steady play earned him a Pro Bowl selection.
The question is will Tank Carradine or Marcus Lattimore, who both missed all of 2013 with injuries, steal Reid's thunder and take the best-49ers-pick-of-2013 mantle down the road.
For now, it's Reid's mantle to keep.
Worst pick: TBD
If I had to pick one player for this spot right now, I'd have to go with tight end Vance McDonald. The second-round pick had just eight catches for 119 yards in his rookie season.
However, considering Carradine, who was picked before McDonald, hasn't played a snap yet, McDonald is off the hook for now.
Plus, I expect McDonald to be much more effective in his second season. Adjusting to the physicality of the NFL can't be easy for a young tight end. This offseason should do him wonders.