The San Francisco 49ers have been a long way away from greatness over most of the last decade, with the performance of the team dying off hard after 2003. Many may point the finger in various places, lack of continuity of team, coaching, level of talent recruited, free agent market performance, etc. I think one of the biggest of these is our performance in the draft from 2000-2009.
When I say draft performance, I would guess that the first name through your head is Alex Smith. While his performance has fell short of what you would expect from a first overall pick, his selection is not part of the core of my reasoning.
It is understood that teams will have some misses, some players will fool all of the scouts, some players will draw excessive hype and then never live up to it, and some players take time to develop. However, each team employs people to sort through all of this and weed out their best bets.
What degree fortification should a team receive from 10 years worth of first round picks? Here are some examples:
|Categorizing First Round Draft Picks from 2000-2009 from a few teams.|
|Team||Proved Legitimate Picks||Have not lived up to expectations of first round pick|
|Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, Percy Harvin, Kevin Williams, Bryant McKinnie, Chris Hovan, Michael Bennett||Troy Williamson, Kenechi Udeze|
|Carolina Panthers||Jonathan Stewart, Jeff Otah, Jon Beason, DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble, Jordan Gross, Julius Peppers, Dan Morgan||Rashard Anderson|
|New England Patriots||Jerod Mayo, Brandon Meriweather, Laurence Maroney, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Ben Watson, Ty Warren, Daniel Graham, Richard Seymour||none|
|San Francisco 49ers||Patrick Willis, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Andre Carter, Julian Peterson, Joe Staley||Kentwan Balmer, Rashaun Woods, Kwame Harris, Mike Rumph, Ahmed Plummer, Manny Lawson, Alex Smith|
While the amount of first round busts we've had is absurd, I wish I could tell you it stopped there. The 49ers have had equally as many players in the second and third rounds combined in this time frame who just didn't hack it.
Between the departure of Terrell Owens and the arrival of Michael Crabtree, the 49ers panned for gold in the wide receiver department unsuccessfully. Five receivers drafted between 2004 and 2006 with overall pick numbers 31, 77, 84, 174, and 223 combined for less than 175 receiving yards, and 3 of them never recorded a regular season reception.
While San Francisco has also had questionable performance in the free agent market over the last decade, they left themselves too many holes to fill via this method by poor draft performance.
If you look at the Panthers first round performance, the cornerstones of their offense and defense have been first round, home grown draft picks. The same is somewhat true for the 49ers picks that did pan out, however there aren't nearly as many.
How bad have we done? With the exception of Josh Morgan, Reggie Smith, and Eric Heitmann, the 2008, 2002, and 2003 drafts may as well not even have existed!
Bottom line, the holes left by draft misses Balmer, Woods, Harris, Rumph, Lawson, and Plummer have left us lacking home grown veterans capable of performing at a first round level, while leaving us with players against the salary cap.
Perhaps the worst of all of these picks was DE Kentwan Balmer. In spite of coming off of a 2007 season in which the 49ers were dead last in the league in both total and scoring offense, the team decided to make first round pick an attempted replacement for retiring 4 time Pro Bowl DT Bryant Young.
In retrospect, the well-known fact among 49er fans that DeSean Jackson was still on the board adds insult to injury. Balmer recently departed for Seattle in exchange for a sixth round pick after failing to post a single sack in 2 seasons.
A close second would be Rashaun Woods. After the departure of Terrell Owens, the team was looking to add some firepower to the passing game. Woods left the NFL after the 2004 season with 7 catches for 160 yards and 1 touchdown for his career.
Luckily, the 49ers seem to be on a positive trend lately in the draft. In 2009, TE Bear Pascoe was the only player not to make the roster. This year, it wouldn't come as a surprise to me if all drafted players make the roster with the exception of 7th round selection Phillip Adams, who should be a lock for the practice squad.
The good news is we appear to be on a positive trend in the draft department starting with 2009. Hopefully we stay on track with the improvement that we have had over the last 2 years.