San Francisco 49ers: Grading the 2009 NFL Draft 5 Years Later
It takes about five years to fully analyze a draft class. Sure, you can say that the 2011 class looks strong for the San Francisco 49ers, thanks to Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith, and the 2012 class looks weak. However, writing a class off after two years is foolish; sometimes, it takes players a few years to really adjust to NFL speed.
As the seasons go by, however, you start getting a clear picture as to how your draft actually went. Maybe that stud you picked in the first round doesn’t end up developing, or that seventh-round flyer becomes a regular contributor on defense. Maybe that player you cut in training camp latched on somewhere else and became a superstar.
After five seasons, it becomes fairly clear which picks are working and which flopped.
With that in mind, let’s go back five years to the 2009 NFL draft and grade how the 49ers did. Head coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan were coming off of a 7-9 season and were embroiled in a quarterback controversy between former first-round selection Alex Smith and career backup Shaun Hill. How would they do in their first draft together? Let’s go back and see.
First Round (No. 10 Overall): Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
Getting Michael Crabtree seemed impossible back in 2009. The top receiving prospect on the board, ESPN (subscription required) had Crabtree listed as the third-best player in the entire draft. It was almost a guarantee that Crabtree would be long gone before the 49ers got on the clock.
Instead, Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders called an audible, taking Darrius Heyward-Bey as the first receiver. The 49ers were thrilled—they had bigger needs on the offensive and defensive lines, but when a talent like that drops to No. 10, no one complains about grabbing him.
Crabtree’s missed some time in his NFL career, thanks to a holdout in his rookie season and an injury in 2013, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been a very solid receiver. He’s yet to make a Pro Bowl, but he’s been close a couple of times. It’s hard to complain too much about a player of Crabtree’s quality.
There were a few players behind Crabtree the 49ers could have gone with instead. Before Jim Harbaugh turned Alex Smith’s career around, the 49ers desperately needed a quarterback. Josh Freeman went to Tampa at No. 17 overall and had a very solid start to his career.
Still, no real complaints about grabbing Crabtree as a notable upgrade to Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson. Maybe it could have been at a position of better need, but you can’t argue with success.
Third Round (No. 74 Overall): Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama
The 49ers traded out of the second and fourth rounds in order to get an extra first-round selection in 2010, making Coffee their next highest draft choice.
The logic behind drafting Coffee holds up. The team needed a better change-of-pace running back behind Frank Gore, as DeShaun Foster wasn’t cutting it. Coffee was a powerful downhill running back, albeit one without a great burst of speed. He was going to come in and spell Gore from time to time.
Coffee may have gone a bit early, but it was a position of need. The plan was to give the 49ers a two-headed monster at running back for years to come.
It didn’t work out that way. Coffee played only 14 games in the NFL before abruptly retiring, noting that his heart was never really in the game.
It’s more disappointing because there were a number of great picks made just after Coffee in that year’s draft. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, taken by Pittsburgh with pick No. 84, might have been redundant due to drafting Crabtree, but he’s a Pro Bowl receiver. The Lions took LB DeAndre Levy just two spots after Coffee, and he’s been a starter since day one.
The best player sitting there, however, was guard Louis Vasquez, drafted four spots after Coffee by the San Diego Chargers. You may remember Vasquez from being named to the All-Pro team after protecting Peyton Manning this season. That might have helped Alex Smith and Shaun Hill stay upright as they struggled through 2009 and 2010.
Could the 49ers have known Coffee was going to retire after only one season? Probably not. It’s still one of the worst possible outcomes for any pick, especially a third-rounder.
Fifth Round (No. 146 Overall): Scott McKillop, LB, Pittsburgh
McKillop was a bit of an odd selection. He wasn’t the greatest athlete coming out of school, but he was an instinctive player with a great work ethic. The idea was for Mike Singletary to coach him up and see what he could develop into.
Still, the pick wasn’t a favorite—ESPN's Todd McShay (subscription required) called it the worst pick of the 49ers' draft. That’s obviously not true in retrospect, considering the Coffee flameout, but it was never clear what McKillop was intended to do.
McKillop appeared in all 16 games in 2009—mostly on special teams—as he backed up Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes and Jeff Ulbrich. He then proceeded to tear his ACL in training camp in 2010 and never got into another game in his NFL career.
In retrospect, the best pick in this situation might have been Chris Clemons, who went No. 165 overall to Miami. He’s started three seasons at safety for the Dolphins and signed with the Texans in free agency this offseason.
Getting only one season out of a player taken in the fifth round isn’t good at all. No, you’re not expecting a superstar, but you’re expecting at least a contributor on special teams. Due to injury, McKillop never had the chance to become a regular contributor.
Fifth Round (No. 171 Overall): Nate Davis, QB, Ball State
There was a time when 49ers fans were clamoring for Davis to start over Alex Smith. He was exciting and young with a powerful arm and good scrambling ability. He was very productive in college, and some thought he would be the quarterback of the future.
He also was a poor decision-maker with concerns regarding ball security. Davis spent two preseasons with the 49ers, putting up decent numbers against fourth- and fifth-stringers, and then bounced around the league for a few years, being cut by both the Seahawks and Colts before he could make another NFL roster.
The best player taken between Davis and the 49ers’ next selection was DB Don Carey out of Norfolk State, taken by Cleveland with pick No. 177. Carey’s still active, having played for both the Jaguars and Lions, and he’s actually started 19 games in the league. He’s a solid special teams player, which is more than Davis ever contributed.
I hate to give the team so many low grades, but if you never see the field, you never contributed to the team.
Sixth Round (No. 184 Overall): Bear Pascoe, TE, Fresno State
This is more like it.
All you’re really asking out of sixth-round picks is to make a roster. Any roster. Pascoe is still in the league, having started 31 games for the New York Giants. He’s a blocking specialist, so he isn’t going to blow anyone away, but he provides a valuable role in a league where the fullback is a dying position.
The idea was for Pascoe to be the blocking back in two-tight end formations, but Pascoe couldn’t beat out Delanie Walker for the second tight end spot. The 49ers were happy with Walker, and the Giants have been happy with Pascoe.
Of course, the 49ers would have been happier with someone who would have actually made their lineup. Guard Matt Slauson went No. 193 to the Jets, and he’s been a four-year starter in New York and Chicago. He’s the most experienced player left in the draft at this point and would have been a better selection.
You have to dock the 49ers a few points for not giving Pascoe a spot on the team, but they identified a solid player and picked him. Pascoe’s been pretty darn good for a sixth-rounder.
Seventh Round (No. 219 Overall): Curtis Taylor, DB, LSU
Taylor was a pure upside selection—an athletic player with great instincts who could deliver crushing hits. He wasn’t very fluid in his breaks and wasn’t supposed to be very good at actual coverage ability. He was drafted more as a special teams player than as a potential starter.
Taylor hung around for four years in San Francisco and still has a job, appearing in a game for Arizona last season after Tyrann Mathieu’s injury. He has hung around the very bottom of 53-man rosters, bouncing from one practice squad to another with stints in the UFL as well.
Normally, that sounds pretty good, but the top of the seventh round had several notable players in 2009.
Julian Edelman was picked at No. 232 by New England and has had a very good career up to this point with 1,770 yards on 174 receptions. Linebacker Moise Fokou (No. 230 to Philadelphia) and defensive back Jamarca Sanford (No. 231 to Minnesota) were still around at this point in the draft as well, and they’ve each appeared in 70 or more games with multiple starting seasons under their belts.
Taylor at least made the roster, but there were a lot of could-haves with this pick.
Seventh Round (No. 244 Overall): Ricky Jean-Francois, DT, LSU
Jean-Francois had concerns over his toughness, and his 6’2”, 295-pound frame brought questions about whether or not he could pack on enough pounds to play nose tackle. His long arms and speed were worth taking a flyer on.
Other than Crabtree, Jean-Francois is the one pick the 49ers could say really worked out for them in this draft. No, Jean-Francois never became a starter in San Francisco, but he appeared in every game between 2010 and 2012. He started this past season in Indianapolis as well—a pretty impressive pedigree for someone taken nearly at the end of the draft.
There were some better players out there. Rashad Jennings went No. 250 to Jacksonville and could have been the counterpart to Frank Gore that Glen Coffee never was. Ryan Succop was taken with the last pick of the draft and has been a solid—if unspectacular—kicker. Lance Louis went to the Bears, where he’s started two seasons at right tackle and right guard.
Still, in a draft that went as poorly for the 49ers as this one, Jean-Francois was a great selection. When you get a regular contributor in the last 20 picks, that’s worth lots of points.
Two good picks do not make a draft, sadly.
Crabtree and Jean-Francois are both good players with the potential to become very good or excellent ones down the line, but that’s not enough to make up for the rest of the wasted potential here.
It’s hard to call a third-round pick a bust, so let’s just leave Coffee as being one of the poorest picks in recent memory, considering the expected value of a third-round selection.
McKillop and Davis were disappointing as well—you’d hope picks of their caliber would at least still be in the NFL five years later, but both are long gone.
Is this the 49ers' worst draft ever? No. Crabtree alone probably pushes it past the 2012 edition, and when you add in the poor drafts of the ‘70s, it probably doesn’t even hit the bottom 10. It’s definitely a wasted opportunity with most of the picks, however.
Finally, it’s not fair to judge a team for not being clairvoyant, but let’s take a crack at it, anyway. Missing two picks, you can’t create a fantastic draft for the 49ers, but you can create a pretty good one. With perfect knowledge of the last five years, the 49ers could have had the following draft:
1.10: LB Clay Matthews, USC
3.74: G Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech
5.146: G Matt Slauson, Nebraska
5.171: DB Jason McCourty, Rutgers
6.184: DB Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina
7.219: WR Julian Edelman, Kent State
7.244: RB Rashad Jennings, Liberty