San Francisco 49ers: Recent Draft History at Positions of Need

Bryan Knowles@BryknoContributor IIIApril 29, 2014

San Francisco 49ers: Recent Draft History at Positions of Need

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    As the 2014 NFL draft approaches ever so slowly, the San Francisco 49ers needs have become fairly clear. 

    The team needs another cornerback to replace the departed Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers and another wide receiver to kick-start the offense.  They could also spend picks adding depth to center, defensive end, outside linebacker and backup quarterback.

    There is a pattern of thought out there, however, that suggests the 49ers should not draft to fill some of their bigger needs.  Noting a history of draft shortcomings at the wide receiver position, some fans have begun to suggest that the 49ers should specifically avoid drafting a receiver.  After all, if the team is going to just draft busts at that position, why not use the pick and try to hit on a different position?

    Is it true that the 49ers are particularly bad at taking players at any specific position?  To try to answer that question, I’ve gone back to find the last ten players drafted at each of the 49ers’ positions of need, to see if there’s a trend of particularly good or bad picks.

    I’m doing ten picks, rather than just the players drafted by either Jim Harbaugh or Trent Baalke, to provide a bit of a control to the list.  The skill of the Harbaugh/Baalke team at picking players is probably not closely related to the skill of the Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan team, so if they’re equally good or bad at picking players, we can chalk that up to normal difficulties in drafting, rather than an inability of this particular front office to pick players.


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    Last 10 picks:

    • Marcus Cooper, 2013 (seventh round, pick No. 252)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Chris Culliver, 2011 (third round, pick No. 80)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Curtis Holcomb, 2011 (seventh round, pick No. 250)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Philip Adams, 2010 (seventh round, pick No. 224)—Mike Singletary/Trent Baalke
    • Tarell Brown, 2007 (fifth round, pick No. 147)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Marcus Hudson, 2006 (sixth round, pick No. 192)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Derrick Johnson, 2005 (sixth round, pick No. 205)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Daven Holly, 2005 (seventh round, pick No. 215)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Shawntae Spencer, 2004 (second round, pick No. 58)—Dennis Erickson/Terry Donahue
    • Mike Rumph, 2002 (first round, pick No. 27)—Steve Mariucci/Terry Donahue

    Chris Culliver is at least expected to start this season, but he’s the only one of the three players drafted by the Harbaugh/Baalke regime to make an impact in the NFL so far.  With Cooper and Holcomb only being seventh-round selections, however, it’s not stunning that they haven’t exactly made an impact in the NFL yet.  Neither of them made the 49ers, though Cooper is continuing his career in Kansas City.

    The best corner drafted?  That’s either Shawntae Spencer, who started 72 games over the course of his 49er career, or Tarell Brown, a steal in the fifth round.  Brown’s departure is essentially the entire reason the 49ers are looking into drafting a cornerback in the first place.

    Sadly, the last time they tried to grab a first-round cornerback, it ended up being a bit of a disaster.  Mike Rumph was supposed to hold the cornerback position down for years, but he only started one season, in 2003, before it became apparent he was not fit to play man-to-man coverages.  They squeezed a little more value out of him as a backup safety, but it ended up being a very poor pick.

    At cornerback, the Baalke era hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but with their only pick taken before the seventh round penciled in to start in 2014, that’s satisfactory.  That’s better than the 49ers recent history at the position, which is, frankly, disappointing.

Wide Receivers

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    Last 10 picks:

    • Quinton Patton, 2013 (fourth round, pick No. 128)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • A.J. Jenkins, 2012 (first round, pick No. 30)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Ronald Johnson, 2011 (sixth round, pick No. 182)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Kyle Williams, 2010 (sixth round, pick No. 206)—Mike Singletary/Trent Baalke
    • Michael Crabtree, 2009 (first round, pick No. 10)—Mike Singletary/Scot McCloughan
    • Josh Morgan, 2008 (sixth round, pick No. 174)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Jason Hill, 2007 (third round, pick No. 76)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Brandon Williams, 2006 (third round, pick No. 84)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Rasheed Marshall, 2005 (fifth round, pick No. 174)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Marcus Maxwell, 2005 (seventh round, pick No. 215)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan

    The 49ers have been trying to solve their wide receiver position ever since Terrell Owens left in 2003.  They’ve used three first-round picks in the last ten years trying to find an answer at the position.

    It’s too early to give a solid grade on Quinton Patton, who missed a large chunk of last season with injuries, but there’s really nothing in the plus column for Baalke here.

    A.J. Jenkins is obviously the largest swing and miss for Baalke here, though it’s still conceivable he could revitalize his career in Kansas City.   Ronald Johnson is also disappointing, as he didn’t make the 49ers’ squad and has never appeared in an NFL game.

    The history of draft picks here isn’t all bad, however.  The best player taken is undoubtedly Michael Crabtree, but he was the tenth player taken in his draft; it’s no hard to find great talent at that level.  The best selection, then, might be Josh Morgan in the sixth round the year before.  Now in Washington, Morgan’s just shy of 200 receptions in his career, which is a great value in round six.

    Those two picks do seem like outliers, however.  The drafting duo of Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan swung and missed on every other player they tried to draft.  The worst was Brandon Williams, who never caught a pass in his NFL career, but all of the picks were at least disappointing.

    It’s probably accurate to say that Baalke’s been disappointing at taking receivers in the draft; none of the four players have yet developed into anything to write home about.  A single hit like a Crabtree or a Morgan could change the perspective here, but it’s easy to see why fans might be hesitant about using another pick on a highly-touted receiver, given San Francisco’s recent history.


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    Last 10 picks:

    • Jason Slowey, 2012 (sixth round, pick No. 199)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Daniel Kilgore, 2011 (fifth round, pick No. 163)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Cody Wallace, 2008 (fourth round, pick No. 107)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Davis Baas, 2005 (second round, pick No. 33)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Eric Heitmann, 2002 (seventh round, pick No. 239)—Steve Mariucci/Terry Donahue
    • Jeremy Newberry, 1998 (second round, pick No. 58)—Steve Mariucci/John McVay
    • Chris Dalman, 1993 (sixth round, pick No. 166)—George Seifert/Carmen Policy
    • Dean Caliguire, 1990 (fourth round, pick No. 92)—George Seifert/John McVay
    • Andy Sinclair, 1989 (tenth round, pick No. 279)—George Seifert/John McVay
    • Jesse Sapolu, 1983 (eleventh round, pick No. 289)—Bill Walsh/John McVay

    The 49ers just don’t draft centers.  To even get ten, I had to add in some players taken at guard and later moved to center.  It’s not a position the team has spent a lot of draft capital on, in part because they’ve been so good at finding talent late in the draft.

    There are four legitimate great value picks here.  Bill Walsh’s selection of Jesse Sapolu dwarfs the others, but Dalman, Newberry and Heitmann were great picks, as well.  They combined to hold down the starting center position for over 20 years.

    The Baalke/Harbaugh era is sort of one-for-two at the moment.  Daniel Kilgore is the presumptive starter now that Jonathan Goodwin’s gone; it’s his first extended opportunity to show how good he is.   The other pick, Jason Slowey, never made the team.

    That’s decently solid, although it doesn’t yet show a better-than-average ability at picking talented centers.  Perhaps Kilgore will develop into the next Sapolu, Dalman, Newberry or Heitmann—you can find value at center deep in a draft.

Outside Linebackers

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    Last 10 picks:

    • Corey Lemonier, 2013 (third round, pick No. 88)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Nick Moody, 2013 (sixth round, pick No. 180)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Darius Fleming, 2012 (fifth round, pick No. 165)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Aldon Smith, 2011 (first round, pick No. 7)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Larry Grant, 2008 (seventh round, pick No. 214)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Manny Lawson, 2006 (first round, pick No. 22)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Saleem Rasheed, 2005 (third round, pick No. 69)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Jamie Winborn, 2001 (second round, pick No. 47)—Steve Mariucci/Terry Donahue
    • Julian Peterson, 2000 (first round, pick No. 16)—Steve Mariucci/Bill Walsh 
    • Jeff Ulbrich, 2000 (third round, pick No. 86)—Steve Mariucci/Bill Walsh

    I’m quite happy with the Baalke/Harbaugh selections at outside linebacker.  Aldon Smith, when he’s keeping his head on straight, is one of the most feared pass rushers in the game today.  I’m also though Corey Lemonier had a very good rookie season last year; he may get more time to show his skill if Smith faces a long suspension this year.

    The best player here, however, is probably Julian Peterson, taken all the way back in the 2000 draft.  Peterson’s a five-time pro bowler who started for nine seasons in the NFL for San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit.  There was a point there, in 2002-2003, where it looked like Peterson was going to develop into an all-time great.  He slowed down from there some, but had a really solid career throughout.

    The argument for using an early pick at outside linebacker needs to point at the success of Smith, Peterson, and Manny Lawson.  All of the 49ers’ first-round outside linebackers have developed into good picks.  Based on recent history, it seems like a safer position than either receiver or cornerback.

    I don’t buy that argument myself.  I don’t think the lack of success of A.J. Jenkins or Mike Rumph has anything to do with the class of players available this year.  However, I can’t argue that, when dipping into the first round, the 49ers have historically been better at finding pass rushers than pass catchers.

Defensive Ends

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    Last 10 Picks:

    • Tank Carradine, 2013 (second round, pick No. 40)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Quinton Dial, 2013 (fifth round, pick No. 157)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Cam Johnson, 2012 (seventh round, pick No. 237)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Ray McDonald, 2007 (third round, pick No. 97)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Jay Moore, 2006 (fourth round, pick No. 104)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Melvin Oliver, 2006 (sixth round, pick No. 197)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Andrew Williams, 2003 (third round, pick No. 89)—Dennis Erickson/Terry Donahue
    • Andre Carter, 2001 (first round, pick No. 7)—Steve Mariucci/Terry Donahue
    • Menson Holloway, 2001 (sixth round, pick No. 191)—Steve Mariucci/Terry Donahue
    • John Engleberger, 2000 (second round, pick No. 35)—Steve Mariucci/Bill Walsh

    None of the Baalke/Harbaugh-era picks have had a lot of time to show their stuff yet; with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald manning the two defensive end positions, there hasn’t been much call for any of the draftees to step up.  Tank Carradine is the one most likely to make an impact in 2014, so the verdict is still very much out on this position.

    It’s been a mixed bag at the position stretching all the way back to 2000.  There’s been no outright steals, but both Andre Carter and Ray McDonald have done well.  Finding McDonald in the third round was a very good selection by Scot McCloughan, and Carter was a good value for a top-10 pick.

    They’re offset by some of the larger misses, highlighted by Jay Moore and Andrew Williams.  You expect third- and fourth-round selections to at least contribute as rotational players, but the two picks only combined for nine NFL games.  Moore never even made a roster.

    There’s no trend here; it’s a very mixed bag of selections.


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    Last 10 picks:

    • B.J. Daniels, 2013 (seventh round, pick No. 237)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Colin Kaepernick, 2011 (second round, pick No. 36)—Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke
    • Nate Davis, 2009 (fifth round, pick No. 171)—Mike Singletary/Scot McCloughan
    • Alex Smith, 2005 (first round, pick No. 1)—Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan
    • Cody Pickett, 2004 (seventh round, pick No. 217)—Dennis Erickson/Terry Donahue
    • Ken Dorsey, 2003 (seventh round, pick No. 241)—Dennis Erickson/Terry Donahue
    • Brandon Doman, 2002 (fifth round, pick No. 163)—Steve Mariucci/Terry Donahue
    • Giovanni Carmazzi, 2000 (third round, pick No. 65)—Steve Mariucci/Bill Walsh
    • Tim Rattay, 2000 (seventh round, pick No. 212)—Steve Mariucci/Bill Walsh
    • Jim Druckenmiller, 1997 (first round, pick No. 26)—Steve Mariucci/Carmen Policy

    Welcome one, welcome all, to the 49ers draft hall of horrors.

    Three cheers for Colin Kaepernick.  Without him, there wouldn’t be a single good pick among the entire bunch.  In only a year and a half of starting, Kaepernick’s already outplayed his draft position far more than any of these other guys.

    A few years ago, Alex Smith would have topped the list of busts by far, but his resurgence over the last three years makes him “only” a very poor pick, rather than the all-time bust it seemed he was destined to become.  Now, however, you can argue he’s only the third worst value of the bunch!

    Coming in second-worst would be Giovanni Carmazzi.  The second quarterback drafted in what was supposed to be a very weak draft, Carmazzi only lasted a year in the NFL, hurting his shoulder in the process.  He never even completed an NFL pass.   Adding insult to injury, a local kid named Tom Brady went in the sixth round—the best value pick in NFL history.

    But the worst of the last ten quarterbacks drafted has to fall once again on the shoulders of Jim Druckenmiller, drafted to be Steve Young’s heir apparent back in 1997. Bill Walsh, quarterback guru, called him a “can’t-miss” prospect, comparing him to Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe.

    Druckenmiller finished his NFL career 21-for-52 for 239 yards, with one touchdown and four interceptions.    He only lasted two seasons in San Francisco before being traded to Miami, where he was cut without ever playing a game.

    The 49ers would love to just get a player of Tim Rattay’s quality in the draft to be their long-term backup quarterback option, but the quarterback position has been such a nightmare over the past 15 years.  The risk of a player failing, and joining the ranks of Davis, Smith, Pickett, Doman, Carmazzi and Druckenmiller are very, very high.