This is part III of a 5-part series looking at the recent draft picks in the NFC West. Read the primer here and a look at the Rams here.
The San Francisco 49ers descent into laughingstockdom was gradual in some ways and sudden in others. After losing to the Seahawks in the 2013 NFC Championship, the Niners dropped from 12-4 to 8-8, scoring 100 fewer and allowing 68 more points in the following season, then firing Jim Harbaugh. They then dropped to 5-11, at which point they were outscored by 149 points, which was a 283-point swing from where they were in 2013. At which point, they fired Jim Tomsula. Finally in 2016, San Fran sunk to 2-14, firing Chip Kelly after they were outscored by 171 points.
In 2012, Harbaugh had the Niners defense ranked second in points allowed and third in yards. Under Kelly, they finished 32nd in both categories. In 2012, San Francisco was 11th in points and yards on offense, and last season they were 27th in points (after being 32nd under Tomsula) and 31st in yards.
Look, the 49ers are bad, you see?
San Francisco has had some opportunities to build through the draft, compiling a high number of picks, but didn’t much with said opportunities because surprise, surprise, former GM Trent Baalke was bad at his job. Only recently have the Niners been able to add a couple top-10 picks to their stable of prospects to build around, but even still rebuilding is difficult unless some of your mid-to-late round picks also become good-to-great players. It’s all about timing, you can’t just have your 10,000 first round defensive linemen work out.
You need to find some gold in the chaff.
Under new head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch, there’s some hope in San Francisco that things will start to turn around quickly, with Shanahan sparking the offense, and an intriguing front-seven leading the defense. Could the 49ers start to build back up towards where they were in 2011-2013 and win 6 or 7 games, or is it going to be another lost year, another laugh-stock-season?
I sent over a list of all the notable SF draft picks to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, and he sent me back his thoughts on those players as far as where they are in their development now. These are the last picks of the Baalke era ... how many can we expect to still be around if and when the 49ers are back to being good again?
The following words are David’s.
DeForest Buckner, DL, 7th overall, 2016: He led all NFL defensive tackles in snaps in spite of missing a game, and that says as much about Chip Kelly's offense as anything else. He will be a starter in the new 4-3 look, playing primarily on the interior. Expectations are high, with 13 NN writers ranking him the consensus No. 1 player on the roster.
Arik Armstead, DL, 17th overall, 2015: He has slimmed down a bit to compete for the LEO end role in the 49ers new defense. He has been a league leader in PFF's pass rush efficiency stat as an interior lineman each of his first two seasons, so it will be interesting to see how much interior time he gets now that he is working at LEO.
Joshua Garnett, OG, 28th overall, 2016: He missed last year's offseason workout program because of Stanford's quarter system, so he was a bit slow out of the gate. He moved into the starting lineup at left guard, but has been getting some time at both left and right guard (his college position). He struggled in pass protection, but was solid as a run blocker. He is competing with Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco for the two guard positions.
Jimmie Ward, DB, 30th overall, 2014: The 49ers 2014 draft pick played nickel back in 2014 and 2015, then boundary cornerback in 2016, and now will take over at free safety. He played FS in college, and the hope is he can attempt to fill the Earl Thomas role in the 49ers new Seahawks-esque defense
Jaquiski Tartt, S, 46th overall, 2015: The 49ers moved Eric Reid from free safety to strong safety, and Tartt is his backup. He is more of a thumper than a coverage guy, and I would not be surprised to see the 49ers try and implement him in more of a Deone Bucannon role in a big nickel or dime look.
Carlos Hyde, RB, 57th overall, 2014: He is among the leaguer leaders in PFF's yards after contact stat, which says something positive and something negative. The positive is he can take hits and keep going. The negative is that he has dealt with injuries throughout his 49ers career. He is entering his final season, and while he will be starting early in the season, I think the plan is to eventually replace him with rookie draft pick Joe Williams and/or rookie free agent Matt Breida.
Trenton Brown, T, 244th overall, 2015: The 49ers spent a seventh round pick on Brown, and last year saw him claim the starting right tackle job. He's a mountain of a man, but the big issue for him has been keeping his weight under control. He seems built for a power scheme, but he's got incredible athleticism for a man that big. It will be fascinating to see how he handles Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. The 49ers signed your boy Garry Gilliam to compete with him.
Aaron Lynch, Edge, 150th overall, 2014: The 49ers thought they had a potential pass rushing steal, but he's brought some headaches with him. He has struggled to keep his weight down (last year he blamed his wife's pregnancy), and then also dealt with a suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. Add in injuries and you've got a talented player who can't stay on the field. The 49ers signed Elvis Dumervil and that coupled with Arik Armstead's move to LEO don't bode well for Lynch.
Eli Harold, OLB, 79th overall, 2015: The 49ers have been looking for a future replacement of Ahmad Brooks, but have struggled. Harold is a solid pass rusher, but has played at what seem to be uncomfortable weights thus far. Trent Baalke liked his linebackers up near 270, and Harold has since said he is more comfortable a bit lighter. He is getting that chance this year, although he remains behind Brooks on the depth chart.
Bruce Ellington, WR, 106th overall, 2014: He is sort of the 49ers version of Percy Harvin. He's speedy and a versatile threat, but he can't stay healthy. He missed last season with a torn hamstring, and has missed time every year. If healthy he'd be the primary returner, play wide receiver, and could be used out of the backfield.
Bradley Pinion, P, 165th overall, 2015: The 49ers spent a 2015 fifth round pick on their punter and then traded Andy Lee. Pinion's a good enough punter, but he'll never replace Lee in my heart!
Rashard Robinson, CB, 133rd overall, 2016: The 49ers second-year cornerback is for all purposes the team's No. 1 cornerback. He's a physical, aggressive cornerback, has the length to handle press coverage, and has plenty of attitude you need for the role. He needed to add some weight to his frame, and appears to have done so.
Dontae Johnson, CB, 219th overall, 2014: He is competing with Keith Reaser and rookie Ahkello Witherspoon for the starting corner job opposite Robinson. Johnson has the size and length to be a physical corner, but something has been missing. He remains a regular on special teams, but has seen his defensive playing time decrease each year.
Keith Reaser, CB, 170th overall, 2014: He was an ACL red-shirt and worked his way into a more prominent role than Johnson last year. I personally think Reaser gets the starting job out of camp, but Witherspoon is the long term answer.
Blake Bell, TE, 117th overall, 2015: Converted from quarterback to tight end his senior year of college. He's got athleticism, but the 49ers offense has been so bad the past two years it's hard to really assess what he could do in a consistent, competent offense.
Will Redmond, CB, 68th overall, 2016: The last of Trent Baalke's ACL red-shirts. He got snaps in the preseason, only to end up on injured reserve. He is competing with free agent addition K'Waun Williams for the nickel role, and I think Williams claims it.
Ronald Blair, DL, 142nd overall, 2016: He's a versatile option who is viewed as a tweener, but is intriguing on the edge in run downs and inside on pass downs. The 49ers have more depth at defensive line than anywhere else, and new evaluators make it hard to figure out where Blair stands in the roster crunch.