San Francisco 49ers' "Steely-Eyed Missile Man" Trent Baalke Aims for Gold Stars

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IMay 1, 2011

Is it too late to go back to Stanford?
Is it too late to go back to Stanford?Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Would you describe yourself as a football player?

Are you a four-down guy who brings extra value on special teams?

Are you versatile enough to play multiple positions, up to and including those you played the last time in high school or, in one particular case, never before in your life?

Is your heart pure, your rap sheet clean and your chin scruffy?

And finally—and this is the big one—did the announcement of your name on the third day of the draft cause Mel Kiper to first search frantically through the last few pages of his draft guide to find his writeup on you and then stifle a small chuckle upon doing so?

Well then, chances are you're a pleasant young fellow whom I had the pleasure of speaking to on a conference call on Saturday shortly after the 49ers drafted you.

There are many adjectives we can assign to the maiden draft voyage of general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, but most of them wouldn't be fair because none of these guys have played a down in the red and gold yet.

However, it's perfectly reasonable to describe it both vexing and thematic all at once.

It was the former, because over the course of 10 picks, the 49ers reached, often wildly so, if you go by the prospect rating charts of ESPN Scouts Inc., or

In all three cases, the 49ers took eight of their 10 picks higher than their value suggested they should take them, with fourth-round running back Kendall Hunter out of Oklahoma State being the common link on all three scouting services.

The 49ers took him with the 115th pick overall, whereas he was the 83rd highest guy on the board for ESPN Scouts Inc., the 75th on and the 74th on

For two of the three websites, the other 49ers "steal" was sixth-round pick Bruce Miller out of the University of Central Florida, whom the locals picks 211th overall. However, both ESPN Scouts Inc. and ranked him as a defensive end (as well they should since that's the position he played, and quite capably, all four years at UCF). ranked him as an outside linebacker, the position he projected to play in the pros because of his size, docking him about a hundred places or so in their rankings because of that expected conversion to an unfamiliar position.

Our plucky 49ers see Miller as neither an end nor a linebacker but rather as a fullback, where he has as much experience on the organized level as you or me, and possibly less if we're talking about just you. It's safe to assume that as a fullback, Miller would be off the rankings board entirely for all of these scouts, and would, therefore qualify as the ninth reach out of 10. did rate sixth-round receiver Ronald Johnson out of USC as slightly better value than than the 182nd slot where he was chosen, while the other two services had him a bit worse.

Even the Miller experiment aside, there were four other cases from the fifth-round on where Baalke took a chance on a complete random. Granted, this far down in the draft everyone is just grasping at straws, but none of these guys generated any compliments from the TV gurus paid to have a working knowledge on people we've never heard of and likely won't ever hear from again.

Take Daniel Kilgore, an offensive lineman from Appalachian State whom the Niners traded up to select in the tail end of the fifth round with the 163rd pick. He wasn't among the 316 rated fellows at ESPN Scouts Inc., tied for 284th at and 300th on the nose at

Safety Colin Jones from TCU, drafted with the first of two sixth round picks at 190th overall, wasn't ranked by the first two places ('s list went on for 334 prospects) and was 294th-best according to

Seventh-round pick Michael Person, 239th overall out of Montana State, was unranked, tied for 284th or 359th, depending on your scouting service of choice.

Finally, Curtis Holcomb, a corner out of Florida A&M whom the 49ers plucked with their final pick (250th overall), was unranked by all three services, which is a neat trick considering that's list goes 750 prospects deep. They did list him as their 76th-favorite corner of this draft class.

The 49ers took him as the 34th and final corner of the draft.

However, the reaching is just the first part of it of this enigma. We haven't even begun to discuss the delightful game of musical chairs the team will conduct with all of its position shuffling. Baalke and Harbaugh are planning on having five of their 10 picks play positions in the pros where they have little or no experience.

Aldon Smith, the seventh overall pick out of Missouri will be moving from defensive end to standup outside linebacker in the 3-4, and he'll be expected to learn all kinds of new things like dropping back into zone coverage, shedding pesky lead blockers in the running game and manning up opposing tight ends and running backs.

Sure, guys like Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks or Travis LaBoy never figured out how to do any of those things throughout their pro careers, but I'm sure Smith will take to it like a duck to water.

Chris Culliver, the third-round pick from South Carolina only played cornerback for seven games during his senior season before suffering a season-ending injury and hasn't had an interception in two years, but now he'll be expected to play on an island full-time.

Kilgore and Person, both tackles in college, will be moving inside to guard, or perhaps even insider to center, according to Baalke. Kilgore last snapped the ball at high school, while Person never has.

And Miller, the defensive end who had three more sacks last season than Smith and one more interception than Culliver and Jones combined, will be making the most dramatic switch of all to fullback. Of course he will.

Although both Harbaugh and Baalke stressed that his official position is "football player."

The most troubling aspect of this draft was that neither of the gentlemen in charge seem to have learned the lessons of hubris and arrogance that plagued previous 49ers management regimes.

Sure, Harbaugh has earned the right to have some ego, considering all his success at Stanford, but this is uncharted waters for him. He readily admitted that the draft was Harbaugh's show and that he was an interested observer, more or less.

"Trent Baalke was a steely-eyed missile man in this draft," Harbaugh gushed. "It was impressive. Some of the things that happened in this draft, a lot of people would have buckled. It was a real educational draft for me to see how he operated."

But what has Baalke accomplished to earn the brazen and carefree approach to the draft he's shown?

Taking the guys at the spots he took them, and for the reasons he stated, was a thumb-in-the-eye to a lot of experienced people.

Both Baalke and Harbaugh said they placed a huge emphasis on a prospect's character and being "a football player," whatever that means. Baalke revealed that the prospects with the proper frames of mind and the right moral compass—40-45 in all according to his count—were given a gold helmet, and in a stunning coincidence the 49ers had taken more gold helmet guys than any other team in the league.

Harbaugh concurred, saying, "We, by far, got the most gold helmets of anybody in the draft, and it wasn’t even close. It was at least double when I was making my random count."

Always comforting when your general manager and coach use the same rating system on draft prospects that Mrs. Higgins the kindergartner teacher uses on your 5-year-old, no?

Right now, the view from this corner, some four hours after the last pick was made is that the 49ers had a disappointing draft, although I'll be the first admit if anyone is less qualified than Baalke to judge talent, it's me.

The good news for the 49ers, Harbaugh announced, is that the team won't need too much help from the rookie class because he fully expects Alex Smith to re-sign, so at least you have that to look forward to.

Oops, I guess I buried the lede there.

There goes my gold helmet.


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