Last April, I wrote an article titled The San Francisco 49ers and the “Potentials."
It chronicled several 49ers players whom I believed had not yet realized their potential.
With the upcoming NFL draft, I thought it appropriate to take a look back and see which of these guys realized their potential last season, and how they will impact what the 49ers do in this year’s draft.
To recap, I placed these players into three categories—the first of which consisted of a group of guys who may have been put at an unfair advantage by not being used by then-head coach Mike Nolan.
Ashlie Lelie was a prime example. Lelie, of course, was not retained, and the 49ers signed Brandon Jones as a free agent. They then got lucky in the draft when Michael Crabtree fell to them. Although Jones was injured and seldom saw action, Crabtree made an immediate impact—after his infamous holdout, that is.
With Isaac Bruce retired and Arnaz Battle’s future with the team uncertain, I look for Josh Morgan to have a breakout season in 2010. This, coupled with the arrival of Crabtree, makes the urgency of grabbing a receiver early in the draft very low.
I could see the 49ers taking someone like Clemson’s Jacoby Ford in the middle rounds; however, if the team did grab him, it would be to shore up its woeful return game.
Sorry Golden Tate fan's, but just because his name fits, dosn't mean we should spend a No. 1 pick on a wide-out two years in a row.
A season-ending injury prevented Thomas Clayton from yet again seeing the field—making his tenure with the team uncertain. The 49ers selected Glenn Coffee in the draft last year, and he performed admirably in the absence of Frank Gore.
Many writers, analysts, and fans—including myself—have made the case for the 49ers grabbing C.J. Spiller with one of their two first-round picks.
He would be a great complement to Gore’s running style, and it would give the 49ers an instant return threat.
However, with GM Scot McCloughan’s recent remarks at the NFL combine about sticking with the philosophy of taking bigger and stronger backs, that possibility seems to be fading. The need for a running back is low, and I could see the 49ers not taking one in this draft.
Tarell Brown saw significant playing time in 2009 and even bumped Nate Clements to the bench for a few games. Head coach Mike Singletary eventually benched Brown for Dre’ Bly (Clements had suffered an injury); however, Brown still shows promise.
If Joe Haden doesn’t fall to the 49ers, then I see them taking a corner, possibly as late as the fourth round. Clements isn’t earning his money, Shawntae Spencer is good but not spectacular, and Brown will probably be manning the nickel position this season.
Possibilities include Oklahoma State’s Perrish Cox, Alabama’s Kareem Jackson or Javier Arenas, and Cal’s Syd’Quan Thompson.
OK, on to the players who have battled the injury bug.
Alex Smith was given a pass last time, and he is now starting to show some promise of developing into the quarterback that the 49ers had hoped they received when they used the No. 1 overall selection on him in 2005.
Smith may not ever become the Hall of Fame quarterback that so many fans are demanding of him. But with a full camp as the starter, a second year with the same offensive coordinator, and Singletary’s confidence, the 49ers will not be selecting a quarterback in the upcoming draft.
Vernon Davis finally had the breakthrough season many have been expecting of him since the team drafted him with the No. 6 selection in the first round of the 2006 draft. Thirteen touchdowns and breaking a 35-year-old team record for touchdown catches by a tight end (shared by Ted Kwalick and Brent Jones), are just two of the highlights of Davis’ season. Now if the man can just reduce those dropped balls.
Obviously, tight end is not a huge need for the 49ers, but they could draft a blocking tight end in the late rounds to compete with the recently signed Tony Curtis.
After a full season removed from his knee injury, I was expecting Manny Lawson to have a breakout season last year. He showed flashes of brilliance, as he was all over the field in certain games. He did manage 6.5 sacks, but he was subsequently benched for
Ahmed Brooks? Is this the same Ahmed Brooks who I classified as a “flat-out underperformer?” Is this the same guy that showed up to camp overweight and out of shape?
Did I say Singletary would have his hands full with him?
Well, no one is perfect.
After converting to an outside pass-rushing linebacker, Brooks shined. In only a handful of games, he recorded six sacks and became the team’s third-down pass rusher.
Brooks could be the 49ers pass rusher of the future—or not. The team will give him one more year to prove himself before they reward him with a fat contract.
I would expect that if a pass rusher were there in the first round who the 49ers are high on, they will grab him.
Names to consider: Sergio Kindle, Brandon Graham, Derrick Morgan, and Jason Pierre-Paul.
OK, had to digress a moment with Brooks, but let’s get back to our injury-plagued players now.
Dashon Goldson finally sent Mark Roman to the bench in 2009, and the hard-hitting safety has firmly entrenched himself as the starter for the foreseeable future.
However, the team is still looking for an upgrade over Michael Lewis.
Do we draft someone like Texas’ ball-hawking safety Earl Thomas?
We could take fan favorite Taylor Mays, who ran a blazing 4.24 (unofficial) in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Mays’ football skills have been questioned, but as he states, he can get to the ball anywhere on the field.
Both of these guys would require the use of a first-round pick. If that doesn’t happen, don’t be surprised if the 49ers take LSU’s Chad Jones in the second round.
Jay Moore and Jason Hill were the last two guys in the injured category. Moore has since been released from the team, and Hill has done nothing to distinguish himself.
Having already covered these positions, let’s move on to the rest of the “flat out underperformers.”
They are David Baas, Isaac Sopoaga, Michael Robinson, Kentwan Balmer, and the enigma that is Cody Wallace.
Sopoaga has played respectably, but after a great 2007 season, he has yet to duplicate that effort. With the one-year franchise tag placed on Aubrayo Franklin, and Sopoaga’s desire to play end rather than nose tackle, as well as Balmer’s lack of development, the team may be looking at someone who can come in and man the nose.
Could we see a surprise pick at No. 17? The 49ers have shown some interest in Tennessee’s Dan Williams.
Note to team: Please stay away from Alabama’s “Mt. Cody."
Baas, just when he seems to be playing well, gets injured. Couple that with Chilo Rachal’s regression, and guard becomes a likely target in this draft. Mississippi’s John Jerry would be an absolute steal in the fourth round.
Robinson is a decent third-string back, but his return skills are non-existent and are a direct reflection of the team’s need to find a return specialist in this draft. If the team goes after a pure return man, they should take a shot at LSU’s fleet-footed Trindon Holiday in Round Four or Five.
I can’t say we saw much from Cody Wallace this past season. The team seems to be content in bringing him along slowly. That said, I don’t believe the team will be looking at centers in this year’s draft.
Well that’s it for another installment of the "Potentials." Hopefully, this upcoming draft crop for the 49ers will realize theirs—sooner, rather than later.