Making Sense of the 49ers’ Draft

With the 30th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select, Rashaun Woods, I mean, A.J. Jenkins. Wide Receiver, Illinois.

You’ll have to forgive me for not posting sooner regarding the 2012 NFL Draft. I was in Santa Barbara for Alumni Weekend and let’s just say there were some non-curricular activities.†

The only thing harder than guesstimating who teams will draft is grading the players drafted and analyzing how said draft picks will contribute to their new team. That is really difficult. But you know what, let’s give it a shot with the 49ers.

†Notable alumni: Jim Rome, Barry Zito, Chris Speier, Michael Young, Ryan Spilborghs, Skip Schumaker, Johnny Tsunami, Michael Douglas, Brian Shaw, Josh Elliott, Jason Lezak & Gwyneth Paltrow.

#15 is “feeling amazing” after practice yesterday

The last time the 49ers drafted an offensive weapon in the 1st round of the NFL Draft, they were getting the most prolific wide receiver in NCAA history. Yet they were fooled. Michael Crabtree came in the form of pyrite a.k.a. fool’s gold. Crabtree didn’t partake in the NFL combine, entered the draft with a prime donna reputation and a Jones fracture on his left foot. The once projected top 5 pick fell all the way to the 49ers at #10 overall. With a glaring need at WR, the 49ers simply had to draft Crabtree. And they did. Crabtree held out until a month into the season much to the chagrin of 49ers’ front office. MC Hammer was even at his rookie contract signing. What a zoo.

To be an effective WR in today’s NFL, you need either size or speed. If  you have both, that can be deadly (See: Johnson, Calvin). Unfortunately, Michael Crabtree has neither. His upside is a solid #2 WR option with limited big play ability. In three seasons, he amassed the following statistics for the red & gold (I won’t even mention his playoff numbers):

As you can tell, this level of production does not validate a top 10 1st Round draft pick especially after all the hype. The 49ers tried to address the WR position over the off-season by signing free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. Moss is 35 years of age and did not play football last year while Manningham was playing third fiddle to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz in New York. Despite his undeniable clutch gene, Manningham isn’t a #1 WR though he does provide depth and an upgrade at the position. The safe bet was for the 49ers to draft an offensive guard in the 1st round this year. But they didn’t.

1st Round (30th overall): A.J. Jenkins, Wide Receiver, Illinois

When the 49ers drafted Alfred Alonzo “A.J.” Jenkins three things came to mind:

  1. Why didn’t the 49ers take Stanford TE Coby Fleener?
  2. Why didn’t the 49ers take Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill?
  3. Who the hell is A.J. Jenkins?
I’m not going to pretend like I saw this pick coming because I didn’t. I’d been clamoring for Coby Fleener for months so that the Niners could pair a 6’6” 247 LB TE with 4.47 speed alongside Vernon Davis. This would have been a match-up nightmare for defenses. But I don’t run the 49ers. According to reports, the Minnesota Vikings offered their 35th overall pick and 4th rounder to trade up to the 49ers pick at 30. The Niners turned this offer down because they knew A.J. Jenkins was high on the St. Louis Rams’ draft board, who were looming at 33rd overall. The Rams had given Jenkins similar grades to Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon and ranked him ahead of Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. Here’s how A.J. Jenkins faired at the 2012 NFL Combine:

Jenkins was the 4th fastest WR at the combine, so his speed is a plus. The other bonus is his 9 7/8″ hand-span. Those are some mitts Alex Smith will enjoy targeting. Now, Jenkins might not start at the beginning of the season but in a lot of ways he is the anti-Crabtree. A three-time All-Academic selection in the Big 10, Jenkins will be graduating with a major in Sports Management on May 13th. He is a classic Baalke selection as he’s shown tremendous character and as Harbaugh called him, he’s a “gold helmet guy.”

NFL Films Greg Cosell “really liked the 49ers pick. Jenkins very good on film. Nice combination of traits. Think he has a chance to be quality starting WR.” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock “liked” the pick too though most everyone else gave the 49ers some flak for reaching on a possible flanker. The Big 10 scares me as a poor NFL producing conference, but it’s hard to argue with A.J. Jenkins’ 2011 statistics: 90 catches and nearly 1,300 yards receiving in the 13 games. In his game film he looks and plays a lot like a poor man’s Mike Wallace:

This pick is likely the writing on the wall for Kyle Williams as the 49ers will now be carrying 5 WRs: Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree, A.J. Jenkins and Ted Ginn, Jr. For now I’m going to give the selection a C+ until proven otherwise.

2nd Round (61st overall): LaMichael James, Running Back, Oregon

As Jon Gruden stated, this draft choice was a “luxury pick” for the 49ers. And I couldn’t be more content with this selection. At first glance, you’ll notice a logjam at RB for the Niners with Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon and Rock Cartwright. But LaMichael James gives them home run hitting ability a la Darren Sproles. The second runner up for the 2011 Heisman Trophy  Award, LMJ finished 2nd all-time in career rushing yards in the Pac-12 Conference with 5,082. LaMichael is one of the most decorated running backs you’ll find to come out of college while his only knock is size.

Standing 5’8” and weighing in at 195 LBs, James is an undersized RB who Jim Harbaugh is more than familiar with. The last time Harbaugh faced the Oregon Ducks, LMJ rushed 31 times for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ouch. Speed kills, and with a 4.45 40 time Harbaugh will be doing everything he can to get the ball in LMJ’s hands in the open field. His ball security is top class also. Look for the Niners to use LaMichael similarly to a Danny Woodhead and even return punts every now and then. I like this pick a lot. I’m giving the 49ers war room an A. Release the Quack-en!

4th Round (117th overall): Joe Looney, Offensive Guard, Wake Forrest

Not to be confused with The Luniz, the 49ers like Joe Looney. After a few trade backs, Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz shook hands over a trade that sent the 125th overall pick and 6th round pick to Detroit in exchange for the 117th overall pick. Initially thought to be a day two draft prospect, Looney slipped to the 4th round due to a Lisfranc injury suffered at the Senior Bowl.

Joe Looney aced his interview with the Baalke & Harbaugh and also has some tremendous hair. I foresee Looney beating out Daniel Kilgore and Alex Boone for right guard duties this season. Time will tell though. For now I’ll give this pick a B- considering Looney’s upside and value in the 4th round.

5th Round (165th overall): Darius Fleming, Outside Linebacker, Notre Dame

Fleming is just an all-around solid linebacker. Matt Maiocco has compared him to Ahmad Brooks coming out of college. Both players have shown great pass-rushing ability. Fleming’s tape shows that he carries above average athleticism as well a knack for edge rushing. He can also set the edge, keeping plays inside.

Like Todd McShay and the old adage say, you can never have enough pass rushers. I remember Fleming playing Stanford last year as he intercepted Andrew Luck and returned it 34 yards. I think this is a no-nonsense draft pick here. I’m grading this a B for Baalke & Co.

6th Round (180th overall): Trenton Robinson, Free Safety, Michigan State

Another Big 10 player, this might appear to be a selection for depth at safety but Trenton Robinson shows some real potential. Todd McShay originally had him rated as a 4th round prospect and Mel Kiper compared him to Bob Sanders when he was announced. Robinson looks to be an active ball-hawk like teammate Dashon Goldson. If he can play physically and hone his in-the-box tackling, Robinson has a real shot at some playing time. This is a C+ for now.

6th Round (199th overall): Jason Slowey, Offensive Lineman, Western Oregon

Jason Slowey is your classic case of a strong man coming out of a small school. He competed in discus in college too so he has active/nimble feet. Early indications show he is a violent run blocker but may will to work on his pass protection. Offensive line coach Mike Solari will be giving Slowey all the pointers he can. This is a C as Slowey is coming out of a weak conference.

7th Round (237th overall): Cam Johnson, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Virginia

For the 49ers, this is my 2nd favorite pick of the draft behind LaMichael James. Originally thought to be a 2nd or 3rd round talent, Cam Johnson’s draft stock fell as his sickle cell trait scared many teams away. This is the same issue that Pittsburgh Steelers’ CB Ryan Clark suffers from (Tim Tebow & Demaryius Thomas thank him). In layman’s terms, this condition hinders a person’s stamina. For Cam Johnson, he’s had problems staying on the field for extended periods because of his endurance issue.

Johnson has a lot of potential. Cam was even in Mike Mayock’s Top 50 draft prospects. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed he can stay healthy and be active on the field. If he shows promise during OTA’s, Johnson could excel as a back-up defensive hand like fellow 7th round pick Ricky Jean-Francois from LSU. I’m a fan of this pick so I’ll mark it up for a B+. Terrell Owens suffers from this same condition, though a defensive linemen requires more stamina than a wide receiver.

To conclude, it’s no easy task to make sense of a draft class before they’ve even stepped onto the field. Just like this year, last year nearly all NFL analysts gave the 49ers average marks for their selections. They were proven wrong. Most draft classes can’t be properly analyzed until 5+ years down the road. Houston Texans fans were rallying for Reggie Bush and Vince Young in 2006, but Mario Williams proved to be the much better choice. The good news is that the 49ers will have upwards of 13 draft picks next year. That is just unreal. The way the 49ers front office values the draft is something to be excited about. There’s a lot of young talent headed the Niners’ way.

See you in Lambeau. Maybe Randy Moss will moon the Packers fans again.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by EVB on May 2, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Nice Job as always, SJ! Very detailed. Very informative. I’m ready for Kickoff NOW!!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Bob Jordan on May 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    Great analysis, Sean! I thought that first pick would be Coby Fleener. What a weapon at 6’6″ against the 5’10” CBs. They have added a lot of speed. I can’t wait to see how they use L. James. But I have to say my 2nd favorite team now is the Colts. I love what they did with those first 2 picks, Luck and Fleener. That was awesome. The Colts will be back very soon. Keep up the good work Sean. GP

    Reply

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