First Round Selection: Kentwan Balmer
On the plus side, the Niners are finally putting resources into their defensive line after years of investing in flashy “playmakers”. On the downside, you have to wonder where Balmer fits in Mike Nolan’s Frankenstein defense. He’s built thin and long and needs to add weight to play nose or an effective end. End is likely his destination. The problem with Balmer is he’s really neither terribly high upside nor shallow downside. His career peak to this point is a second team All-ACC nod his senior season. The ACC is talent rich, but you’d like to see a first round pick with something more to show. And as I’ve previously pointed out:
Balmer’s breakout senior season had a lot of air in it. Balmer is a good in-shorts player, who looks real athletic, but is short on football skills and, presumably, determination. He needed to be taken by a top organization that could ensure him a lot of structure and force him into accountability, but that’s probably not the 49ers. Even then, I don’t know…presuming Nolan’s Monster is destined to one day become a 3-4, Balmer will play the inglorious role of offensive lineman mover. That’s a hard nosed position that records few counting stats and fewer money stats. One wants a tough guy with a pronounced mean streak. That’s just not Balmer.
Head Scratcher: Chilo Rachal
I should preface this by saying I’m not very high on Chilo Rachal. When I watched video of USC, Rachal seemed their least consistent and most mistake prone offensive linemen. Further, I’m never high on offensive linemen with questions about their pass blocking.
What makes Rachal a head scratcher, though, is that on a team with definite needs in the interior offensive line, Rachal isn’t really starter ready. Normally, on a team as far from contention as the Niners, I’d forgive taking a talented project pick, but the Niners are in a bit of a mutated win-now mode. Alex Smith and Mike Nolan are both playing for their jobs. And though contention is pretty unrealistic, some sign of improvement is very necessary.
If Rachal does start, woo-boy. He played on a stacked USC offensive line and was arguably the least accomplished of the 5. His talent, and by that I mean athleticism, pushed him into the second round, while two of his draft eligible teammates, Drew Radovich and Matt Spanos went undrafted. He’s slow off the snap, stiff in his hips and penalty prone. Scouts like his frame and explosive upper body strength, but his technique needs a snap or three on the practice squad. Unfortunately, putting your early second round pick on the practice squad isn’t really an option. Rachal could one day be a very good in-line run blocker and a fair pass blocker, which isn’t much value for a second round pick. One day.
Best Pick: Reggie Smith
Smith fits what the Niners want in a DB, a hard hitter, and is known to be good in coverage too. He was a standout at Oklahoma, starting 36 games in 3 seasons. His stock was depressed by marginal top end speed. He offers versatility as a utility DB, capable of playing both nickel and safety, is only 21 and has the foundation of skills and the will to be an above average starter at safety. Good value, good fit, low downside, good versatility and will contribute on special teams as a gunner and reserve return man.
A very poor draft for the 49ers; surprising, too, after an excellent draft in 2007. Balmer and Rachal are respectable athletes with few football skills. Cody Wallace is an interesting center prospect, very skilled, hard worker; a player I’d like more in another scheme, but good nonetheless. Josh Morgan is all athlete and zero football player. The Niners have to hope he can contribute as a return man before he’s arrested or kicked off the team. I like Larry Grant okay, and think he’ll provide a little pop on special teams. Given the state of the franchise, best available talent would have been wise watch words for every pick in the Niners draft. Ironically, I think they intended to do just that, but came up with this.