The 49ers are at a crossroads.
They're coming off a season where they finished 8-8, and while that doesn't seem all h that impressive, it was their first year without a losing record since 2002.
Obviously a winning record and a playoff birth are the goal for 2010, and now that Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner announced his retirement, the 49ers have to be considered favorites in the watered-down NFC West.
At the very least they'll go into the season with some experience at the top of the organizational depth chart. Not only did coach Mike Singletary finish his first full season in charge, but general manager Scot McCloughan ran his first draft last year as well.
The results of McCloughan's maiden voyage in the draft room were similar to Singletary's on the sidelines -- mixed.
Receiver Michael Crabtree fell to him at the tenth pick, and while it seemed like a no-brainer pick at the time, the 49ers only got 11 games of service out of Crabtree thanks to a well-publicized contract impasse.
Crabtree was fairly productive once he got on the field -- 48 receptions for 625 yards and a couple of a touchdowns -- but the unquestioned premier receiver of the 2009 draft didn't distinguish himself from other first round wideouts such as Percy Harvin of the Vikings, Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles, or Hakeem Nicks of the Giants.
To make matters worse, the 49ers got next to nothing from the rest of their draft class.
Running back Glen Coffee, a third round pick out of Alabama, looked a step slow in the NFL and couldn't make anyone miss, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry on his 83 attempts.
Quarterback Nate Davis was taken out of Ball State in the fifth round and he remains a long term project. Linebacker Scott McKillop from Pittsburgh was selected in the sixth, but he seems to have more of a future as a special teams ace than as a top line defender. Neither safety Curtis Taylor nor defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois, both seventh rounders out of LSU, hardly ever saw the field.
Ultimately, how history judges McCloughan's first draft will be decided by two things and two things alone.
First, did Crabtree develop into a superstar? Not just a run-of-the-mill number one receiver but a perennial Pro Bowler, like a Randy Moss or a Marvin Harrison?
Secondly, what did McCloughan do with the latter of two first round picks he had at his disposal in 2010, which he got by swapping second and fourth round picks in 2009 for the Panthers first rounder the next season?
McCloughan must absolutely nail both of those picks in April and find himself two immediate starters. It would be ideal if he could find some contributors in the second, third, and fourth rounds as well.
The 49ers have a well-deserved reputation of being masters of the draft during the Bill Walsh era, but Walsh and his successors had their share of flubs as well, so without further ado, let's have a look at the five best and worst 49ers draft picks since they started winning Lombardi trophies.
One caveat though -- the best draft picks will be based on value related to round they were picked. Obviously Ronnie Lott (eighth overall pick in 1981 out of USC) and Bryant Young (seventh overall in 1994 out of Notre Dame) were awesome players, but where they were picked in the draft, they were expected to be.
The Five Best:
Running back Roger Craig (2nd rounder, Nebraska) may be the star of the 49ers 1983 draft, but Sapolu was plucked out of Hawaii in the 11th round with the 289th overall pick and wound up being the anchor of three Super Bowl-winning offensive lines in '88, '89 and '94. The undersized Sapolu only made two Pro Bowls, but those who watched him play game in and game out knew how good he was.
A scouting trip to Clemson in 1979 proved most useful for Walsh. Not only did he discover that he had no need for Steve Fuller, the Tigers' much-heralded quarterback, but the visit helped him discover Fuller's roommate, Clark, whom Walsh plucked with a 10th round pick and the 249th selection overall in 1979.
Clark paid back Walsh for his faith by making the most important play in the history of the 49ers franchise, catching the winning touchdown pass in the 1981 NFC title game against the hated Cowboys, which just happened to be thrown by the quarterback Walsh wound up picking over Fuller...
Clark played for nine seasons and finished 506 receptions and 48 touchdowns. He was also on two Super Bowl winners and was an All-Pro in 1982.
A fourth rounder in 1986 out of that well-known football factory James Madison University, Haley was almost as much of a terror to opposing quarterbacks as he was to his own coaches and teammates.
While those who had to share a locker room with him wondered if Haley was just disgusting and misguided or truly deranged and mentally ill, they put up with his antics Monday through Saturday so that they could suit him up on Sundays.
Haley contributed mightily to two Super Bowl runs, but eventually his off-the-field indiscretions were too much for Walsh's successor, George Seifert, to handle and he got rid of the perpetual nuisance.
Unfortunately, Seifert would come to regret the move as Haley immediately hooked up with the Cowboys and won three more Super Bowls in the next four years, becoming the only player in NFL history with five rings.
I knew I said I wouldn't take any first rounders here, but I have to make an exception for perhaps the greatest player in league history.
Despite playing at a tiny, unknown school, Rice certainly wasn't anonymous. The Cowboys (them again) were all ready to nab Rice with their first round pick when Walsh deftly traded up to the 16th spot to steal him from under Tom Landry's fedora.
What else is there to say about Rice? His football card reads like the NFL record book. He totaled 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards, and 208 touchdowns in his unparalleled 20-year career, he was an 11-time All-Pro, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXIV.
And to think, some scouts in 1985 thought Rice was too slow. "Flash 80" never got caught from behind and it's hard to imagine any of his records being caught up to either.
As if there could be anyone else in the top spot besides Joe Cool.
Like Rice, Montana had his share of critics coming out of college. The scouts said he was too thin, too frail, and that his arm wasn't strong enough. They pointed to his inconsistent play at Notre Dame and indeed Montana was demoted to third string during a rough patch of his collegiate career.
Walsh saw something in the shy kid from Pennsylvania though, an inner calm when everyone else was at their tightest. He observed that Montana had the ability to improvise when things were breaking down all around him and the innate sense of knowing where everyone on the field was at all times. Most of all he understood that his third round draft pick (82nd overall) was a winner who wouldn't be denied, as Montana authored several memorable fourth quarter comebacks at Notre Dame.
A four-time Super Bowl champion and a three-time MVP of the game, Montana finished his 15-year career with 40,551 yards passing, 273 touchdown passes, and a 92.3 QB rating. He was also an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro, and won two MVP awards.
Guy McIntyre, G Georgia (73rd overall in 1984).
Michael Carter, DT SMU (121st overall in 1984).
John Taylor, WR Delaware State (76th overall in 1986).
Steve Wallace, T Auburn (101st overall in 1986).
Merton Hanks, S Iowa (122nd overall in 1991).
Terrell Owens, WR Chattanooga (86th overall in 1996).
Eric Heitmann, G/C Stanford (239th overall in 2002).
The Five Worst:
While the head coach gets credit for unearthing two gems (guard Guy McIntyre, third round, 73rd pick overall out of Georgia, and defensive tackle Michael Carter, fifth round, 121st pick overall out of SMU) out of one the weakest draft classes in NFL history, Shell has to go down as the first legitimate draft bust of the Walsh era.
Picked 20th overall out of BYU, Shell's injury-plagued career lasted all of four seasons and just 38 games, of which he started just 15. He did finish with seven sacks and five interceptions in his brief time on the field, but he was done by the time he was 25 years old.
The 49ers had two first round picks in 1987, and while they got the first one right, selecting guard/tackle Harris Barton 22nd overall out of North Carolina, they whiffed badly with Flagler three spots later.
Sure, the team was set at running back with Craig, but it's uncharacteristic for someone as smart as Walsh to waste such a high pick on a one-dimensional return specialist (and not a particularly good one at that), which is what Flagler wound up becoming.
Flagler played just 21 games, with one measly start, in his three seasons with the 49ers, never returned a kick or a punt for a score, and totaled 42 carries and 12 receptions in that time, with one rushing touchdown. He hung around for a couple more unspectacular seasons with the then Phoenix Cardinals, but he was done by 27.
Two running backs Walsh could've picked that year instead: Christian Okoye and Bo Jackson.
Tabbed to be the heir to Lott, Hall, who was picked 18th out of Washington, had an almost impossible standard to live up to.
Sadly both for him and 49ers fans, he showed quickly that he had little range and even less instincts to play safety at the pro level and he lasted only three seasons with the 49ers, starting 15 games as a rookie but only 11 more the next two years.
He finished with four interceptions during those three campaigns but obviously gave up many more plays than he made. Hall bounced around for three more seasons with Cleveland and Jacksonville before his disappointing NFL career ended at 28.
It wasn't all bad news at the safety spot for San Francisco. They did find Merton Hanks in the fifth round out of Iowa a year earlier, after all, but my guess is if they had to do it all over again, they'd probably choose Darren Woodson out of Arizona State (taken 37th by -- you guessed it -- the Cowboys) instead of Hall.
Speaking of impossible standards to live up to, ex-49ers general manager Terry Donahue chose Woods 31st overall out of Oklahoma State to replace the notorious Terrell Owens.
They even gave Woods TO's number -- 81.
While Woods had good size and ability, he didn't have a speck of Owens' ambition. In fact, beat writers who covered the team quickly surmised that Woods didn't like football very much at all and were flabbergasted when the rookie told them in interviews that a perfect life for him would be one spent fishing.
He played 14 games during his rookie year with the 49ers, catching seven passes, for 160 yards and a touchdown. He was on injured reserve with a thumb injury all of next season and that was that.
Like most of his personnel moves, Donahue cast his pole into the water and reeled in the proverbial flat tire in Woods.
Michael Vick may be the Hokie who will forever be known for having an unfortunate association with dogs, but Druckenmiller, taken 26th overall in 1997, is the real mutt of Virginia Tech quarterbacks.
Picked to be the successor to Steve Young, it didn't take the 49ers long to discover that they'd made a grave mistake in choosing Druckenmiller instead of Arizona State's Jake Plummer (taken in the 2nd round, 42nd overall by the Cardinals).
Years later Young shared during a radio interview that he knew after his first practice with Druckenmiller that he would be a bust and that the brash rookie who bragged about his "Howitzer" (locker room scuttlebutt revealed that he wasn't necessarily referring to his arm) didn't have nearly the work ethic to match his bravado.
It's true that Druckenmiller won his only start with the 49ers, but in four games during his rookie season he completed just 40.4 percent of his passes, with one touchdown and four interceptions.
He got mop up duty for a couple games the next season, and just like that he was gone. The Dolphins traded for him and promptly cut him, and Druckenmiller finished his career with a couple of short-lived stints in the Arena League.
Dishonorable Bust Mentions:
Dexter Carter, RB Florida State (28th overall in 1990).
Todd Kelly, DE Tennessee (27th overall in 1993).
J.J. Stokes, WR UCLA (10th overall in 1995).
Reggie McGrew, DT Florida (24th overall in 1999).
Mike Rumph, CB Miami (27th overall in 2002).
Kwame Harris, T Stanford (26th overall in 2003).