EUGENE OR - Running back LaMichael James #21 reacts to news that the San Francisco 49ers only have two uniforms.
I know that in the post-coital afterglow of the NFL Draft, it's difficult to care about any picks outside of the ones made by our favorite team. There's gonna be a lot of information on this site about the Seahawks' draft picks, as well there should. Seattle's picks are the most pertinent in that they have the most direct effect on the team's fortunes but, for the same reason we scoreboard-watch during 'Hawks games, it would behoove us to monitor how their division rivals fared in the draft as well. So pay attention to me.
Today's subjects are the defending NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.
Round One, 30th Pick: AJ Jenkins, WR, Illinois -- I examined this pick last week HERE. In short (get it? Cuz' he's barely 6 feet tall. Anyone?), I see lack of size and separation skills jeopardizing Jenkins' ability to justify his status as a first-round selection. If he shows the capability to create space, however, he's got the elusiveness and speed to prove me wrong.
Round Two, 61st Pick: LaMichael James, RB, Oregon -- Of all the 2nd round picks in the 2012 draft, perhaps none are as well known amongst football fans as Heisman finalist LaMichael James. The numbers are staggering: 771 carries for 5,082 yards (6.6 YPC) and 53 touchdowns. As a Senior, James averaged 7.3 yards/rush on his way to 2,015 total yards from scrimmage and 19 TDs. Perhaps no play better characterizes James' skill than this one:
So why were 60 players selected ahead of this chimeric, seemingly invincible ballcarrier? One term: "system back." Call it the curse of Reggie Bush (or don't, I don't really care). In 2006, Reggie Bush was coming off of a college career in which he never got tackled and was the presumptive #1 overall pick. That's when the Houston Texans surprised everyone and took Mario Williams, leaving Bush to the Saints at #2. There's no need to go in-depth on Bush's career, because we're all familiar with it and, despite his emergence as a bona fide NFL runner this past season, his early struggles combined with the superlative success of Williams were sufficient enough to scare a lot of teams away from runners that thrive most when given lots of space.
LaMichael James' college career was sensational, but Oregon's absurdly fast-paced offensive scheme and circus-like O-line maneuvers provided him with veritable chasms to run through and gave him ample opportunity to show off his cartoonish open-field abilities. Those opportunities will be much more rare as a pro and 100 yards seems a lot smaller when it's filled with 22 highly-trained, absurdly-talented gargantuan men.
When this pick was first announced, I thought shit, the Niners got LaMichael James! Then I thought, wait, they already have Kendall Hunter and doesn't he do essentially the same things as James? Then I thought what if Seattle had drafted him? Then I thought damn, it sure would be cool if the Seahawks had LaMichael James. Then I thought ooh, pizza's here! And then I thought how ridiculous is it that you can't customize Dominoes' artisan pizzas? Then I thought what if we can't really customize anything? What if everything we do is completely out of our hands and we have no real affect on anything? What if we're just physiological placeholders in a vast cosmic abyss and nothing that we do will ever have any real influence on anyone or anything? No, no, that can't be correct. People respond to things, our actions have effects. We're not meaningless, right? Then I thought LaMichael James is a good pick for them. Tip o' the hat, Francisco.
LaMichael James is what's referred to as a sexy pick, because we've seen what he can do at his best. I don't know what he would have done, production-wise, in a more "conventional" offense and I don't know what another back would've done in his place. Ultimately, those are wasted thoughts because we'll never know. What we do know is what James did and if even 80% of that carries over to the NFL, then the 49ers have a legacy back to take over when Frank Gore moves on.
Round Four, 117th Pick: Joe Looney, OL, Wake Forest -- Looney was the guy the Niners took after trading back three times. Similar to Seattle's approach, San Francisco was confident they could get their guy later on and were willing to accumulate more picks to move back to a spot they were comfortable he'd last 'til.
Looney may be the only one of their picks with a chance to start right out of the gate, as guard Adam Snyder joined the Arizona Cardinals via free agency. Looney's strength lies in his ability to get out of his stance and pull in front of stretch runs and sweeps, an integral part of San Fran's game. Looney has admitted that he loves to pull and get to the second level, and if he's capable of doing that at the pro level, the 49ers may have stole an interior lineman to build around.
Round Five, 156th Pick: Darius Fleming, OLB, Notre Dame -- Fleming entered the draft as a man without a clearly defined position. Fleming isn't terribly quick, but he's good enough off the line to have been productive as an end in Notre Dame's hybrid defense despite his relatively slight stature. Unfortunately for Fleming, the NFL isn't in exactly hitting up Craigslist for 6'2", 245 lb defensive ends and he may be too stiff to ever be a great linebacker. Still, the Niner linebacking corps is terrifyingly good as is, so like most 5th round picks, this doesn't look to be much more than depth.
Round Six, 180th Pick: Trent Robinson, S, Michigan State -- Another depth pick here, but one that fits the Harbaugh identity. Robinson made a name for himself as a tough-minded player who, though lacking elite size or field coverage, is unafraid to take on lead blockers and ballcarriers and look, when I typed in "trent robinson scouting report" it said "Did You Mean: trent richardson scouting report?"
Round Six, 199th Pick: Jason Slowey, T, Western Oregon -- More like Jason Slow-y, am I right?
Round Seven, 237th Pick: Cam Johnson, DE, Virginia -- At 268 lbs, Johnson surprised with a 10-yard split of 1.61, sensational for a defensive end. The knock on Johnson is that he's very raw and, relying heavily on his athleticism, can find himself out of position. Still, with his combination of size and burst, he has potential to be a pass-rush specialist. Harbaugh seems to have a sense for tailoring the game to the strengths of his players and it wouldn't surprise me if Johnson was somewhat of a pet project.