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San Francisco 49ers: Jon Baldwin's Release and the Disastrous 2012 Draft Class

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San Francisco 49ers: Jon Baldwin's Release and the Disastrous 2012 Draft Class
Dave Martin/Associated Press

On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers made a roster move that, in and of itself, isn’t a huge deal.  They cut former Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick Jon Baldwin and picked up undrafted free agent L’Damian Washington.  Other than the embarrassment of a former first-round pick being exchanged for an injured undrafted player who looks destined for the practice squad, this isn’t a surprise. 

Many of the beat writers had noted that Baldwin was looking pretty bad in training camp, including Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee:

What the move symbolizes in the larger picture, however, is the continued failure of San Francisco’s 2012 draft class.  Baldwin came to San Francisco in a trade for A.J. Jenkins, the No. 30 overall pick in 2012.  Both the 49ers and Chiefs were exasperated with their former first-round receivers and ended up exchanging headaches in the hopes that the players would have a fresh start in a new location.  That clearly did not end up being the case for Baldwin and the 49ers.

Every team occasionally makes a bad draft pick.  Had Jenkins been the only disappointing pick from the 2012 draft, it could be written off as poor luck.  However, the 2012 draft is looming to go down as one of the most disappointing in team history.

Look at the fate of San Francisco’s draft picks from 2012:

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
A.J. Jenkins, here seen in one of his rare times on the field

First round: A.J. Jenkins, WR , Illinois: Jenkins appeared in three games for the 49ers in 2012 without catching a single pass.  He was traded for Baldwin in 2013, who caught three passes for the 49ers before being released on Sunday.

Second round: LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James has put together 39 rush attempts for 184 yards over the last two years.  He’s been unable to pass the likes of Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon, must less Frank Gore, for carries.  He’s currently suffering from a dislocated elbow and will miss the preseason.  Hunter’s torn ACL makes James a likely bid to make the 2014 roster.

Third Round: The 49ers made no pick in the third round, trading down with the Colts, who picked T.Y. Hilton.  Hilton has caught 132 passes for 1,944 yards in two seasons, dwarfing 49ers’ first-round pick Jenkins.

Fourth Round: Joe Looney, OL, Wake Forest: The closest thing to a success story in the 2012 draft so far.  Joe Looney appeared in four games last season, seeing significant time against the St. Louis Rams in Week 13.  With Alex Boone holding out, Looney is getting the starting reps as right guard in training camp.

Fifth Round: Darius Fleming, LB, Notre Dame: Darius Fleming has torn ACLs in each of his knees in his first two seasons and has yet to see the field in an NFL game.  He was waived by the team in May to make room for the undrafted free-agent class and currently is working with the New England Patriots.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
LaMichael James has yet to make an impact on the team.

Sixth Round: Trent Robinson, FS, Michigan State: Trent Robinson played 25 special teams snaps for the 49ers in 2012, according to Football Outsiders, and didn’t record a single stat.  Despite the lack of depth in the defensive backfield, Robinson couldn’t stick on the team and is currently buried deep on Washington’s depth chart.

Sixth Round: Jason Slowey, OL, Western Oregon: Jason Slowey was cut in his first training camp, and is currently playing for the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League.

Seventh Round: Cam Johnson, LB, Virginia: Cam Johnson missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury, and then he was traded to the Colts for a 2015 seventh-round draft pick.

All in all, and including Baldwin as part of the class, the entire 2012 draft class has combined to play 373 non-special teams snaps, according to Pro Football Focus’ snap counts (subscription required).  That’s being generous and including Baldwin’s 107 snaps last year; counting only players actually drafted by San Francisco, James’ 101 snaps in 2012 leads his class.

It’s a strange outlier for Trent Baalke’s draft classes.  Going back to 2010, when he was the vice president of player personnel, Baalke’s overseen five draft classes.  His work in 2012 is, by far, an outlier; his draft classes have brought in nine expected starters for 2014.  No other class has been as unproductive as 2012’s class:

Snap Counts on Offense and Defense, by Draft Class
Draft 2010 2011 2012 2013 Average Top Players
2010 3,031 3,980 3,934 3,740 3,671 A. Davis, M. Iupati, N. Bowman
2011 N/A 1,867 3,591 2,782 2,747 Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick
2012 N/A N/A 159 214 187 None
2013 N/A N/A N/A 2,224 2,224 Eric Reid

Pro Football Focus

Even the players from the other three draft classes who haven’t been omnipresent on the field still have a chance to make significant impacts in 2014.

When the 49ers open their preseason slate against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, you’ll see Daniel Kilgore and Chris Culliver try to lock down starting roles for 2014.  You’ll see Bruce Miller working his way back from his ankle injury as the starting fullback.  You’ll see significant playing time from Vance McDonald, Corey Lemonier, Quinton Patton, Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial as they try to define their roles for this upcoming season.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Joe Looney is 2012's last great hope.

The only remnant of the 2012 draft class you’ll see is Looney, serving as a placeholder in the starting lineup until Boone returns.  Looney is really 2012’s last chance to make a significant impact on the franchise and turn a disastrous class into just a very poor one.

Every general manager has bad luck, and the other three drafts we’ve seen so far have been successful enough to indicate that Baalke knows what he’s doing.  That leaves 2012 as a strange outlier, where everything that could have gone wrong did.

Bryan Knowles is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.

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