Wednesday, June 8, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers vindicated me from the KD & Chizzy's Alternating Mock Draft as they eschewed taking Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker with the 7th overall pick and will be relying on Alex Smith yet again this year. Chizzy laughed at that notion, but if there's any coach who could get something out of Alex Smith, it might just be Jim Harbaugh whose succesfully developed Josh Johnson (Tampa Bay) and Andrew Luck (Stanford) during his coaching tenure. The 49ers have some pieces to work with on defense and added to it early on taking Missouri DE Aldon Smith and grabbing Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick in the second round. The Niners Draft class was split between adding offensive and defensive talent, as 5 picks were added for each side of the ball. Let's take a look at what they did.

1st round, 7th overall) Aldon Smith - OLB - Missouri
The Niners needed a pass-rushing linebacker to complete their front 7 in the 3-4 defense. Manny Lawson's been a bust at OLB despite being one of the most complete athletes in the NFL. Not even Mike Nolan, who has made stars of Elvis Dumervil in Denver and Cameron Wake in Miami, could get Lawson to live up to his potential. Parys Haralson isn't a bad all-around player by any means, but he's not the type who is going to get you 8+ sacks in a season. With Lawson and potentially Haralson both free agents, the Niners needed some help, which is where Smith comes in.

How he fits in: I think I mentioned it in nearly every mock draft I did, but Aldon Smith has absolutely violent hands. At 6'4" 263lbs with long arms and good athleticism, Smith should be able to play either side in the 49ers defense. Ideally, you'd like to see him on the weakside opposite Haralson, as he wasn't asked to drop into coverage at Mizzou, but he might have the skills to do it. However, despite having violent hands, Smith is still pretty raw technique-wise, and sometimes has trouble against the run, hence why he should start on the weakside.

Outlook: This was a bit of a surprising pick, especially considering that Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker were still on the board. Smith will start from day one unless both Lawson and Haralson are brought back, which is unlikely given Lawson's dismal 2010 season. He should be a solid starter if he's put in situations that allow him to succeed, meaning he shouldn't be asked to do a whole lot other than rush the passer, much like guys like DeMarcus Ware and Cameron Wake do. Once he improves his technique, then the Niners can start moving him around to get better matchups across the line of scrimmage for he and Haralson.

2nd round, 36th overall) Colin Kaepernick - QB - Nevada
Aside from Cam Newton, there may not have been a more polarizing QB prospect than Kaepernick in this year's draft. Coming from Nevada's pistol offense, he became the only player in college football history to rush for more than 4,000 yards while passing for more than 9,000 yards in a career. He was very productive, but the offense was not conducive to an NFL system. More athlete than QB, Kaepernick has a funky delivery that makes even Philip Rivers' windup look good. At 6'4" 233lbs he's got good size and and has decent speed at 4.53 in the 40, but watching him it takes him a while to get up to full speed. He'll have to take some serious baby steps to get acclimated to Harbaugh's system, which will require some patience. His deep ball may be the worst of the major QBs in the draft, so he'll really have to learn the nuances of the West Coast Offense to be successful.

3rd round, 80th overall) Chris Culliver - CB - South Carolina
Culliver's draft stock really got pretty hot right before the draft as there's not really a whole lot to notice looking at his career numbers. A well-sized corner at 6'0" 199lbs with 4.40 speed, Culliver will allow the 49ers to move on from Nate Clements if they so choose. Clements and opposite starter Shawntae Spencer are both getting up there in age and have slowed a bit. Culliver may be able to start off in the slot as a nickel if Clements stays, or, he might be able to see some time at safety as he had experience there with the Gamecocks. Not a flashy pick, but the 49ers get a good, solid prospect whose best football is still ahead of him.

4th round, 115th overall) Kendall Hunter - RB - Oklahoma State
I was really surprised the 49ers were able to land Hunter as late as they did, and he could prove to be a steal in a few years. Brian Westbrook and Xavier Omon aren't going to beat him for a roster spot, so Hunter will likely step in as a 3rd down back as a rookie. Obviously Frank Gore is still the main man, and Anthony Dixon is a nice big back who excels close to the goaline and in short yardage situations. Hunter is a smaller back, much like Gore was early on in his career, but he runs hard and has the best feet of any back in the draft. He's not overly fast, he's got excellent vision and decent burst. Short-term, his numbers won't blow anyone away, but in the long-term, he could be Frank Gore's replacement. Very underrated player.

5th roundd pick, 163rd overall) Daniel Kilgore - G - Appalachian State
One of the stranger picks of the Draft here. The 49ers are set at the tackle position with Joe Staley and Anthony Davis. They just drafted Mike Iupati and have Chilo Rachal as starting guards. Center David Baas is a free agent, but the 49ers drafted Kilgore and Mike Person, two guards, while also having Nick Howell and Tony Wragge there as well. Obviously not all of those names will get out of camp, but why they didn't draft a center is puzzling. Kilgore has more experience at RG than any other position, but did play some LT as a senior. Not very big, and not very athletic, Kilgore will have to fight just to stick as depth.

6th round, 187th pick) Ronald Johnson - WR - USC
The Niners got another talented player later in the Draft than I expected with Ronald Johnson. Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, and Dominique Zeigler should all make the roster, and Ted Ginn adds some value as a returner, but none of the later three names are all that great opposite of Crabtree. Morgan is the best of the bunch, so Ronald Johnson will probably initially be the 3rd or 4th receiver in the group competeing with Zeigler. Johnson at 5'11" 199lbs isn't much of a deep threat and has some lapses in concentration and will drop an easy one every once in a while, but he's tough, and is able to run a lot of underneath routes, which will compliment Michael Crabtree in Harbaugh's system. He could be a solid contributer as a rookie with some starting potential down the line.

6th round, 190th overall) Colin Jones - S - Texas Christian
Purely a depth and special teams pick here for the Niners. Dashon Goldson, who is very underrated, Taylor Mays, Reggie Smith, and maybe Curtis Taylor will make up the 4-man safety group. There may be an additional spot for someone with special teams potential, and that's where Jones fits in. An undersized SS for the Horned Frogs, Jones stands 5'11" and 203lbs, he's a bit undersized, but that didn't stop him from logging 80 tackles as a senior. He'll face an uphill battle just to make the roster, but he can stick if he shows a thing or two on special teams.

7th round, 211th overall) Bruce Miller - FB - South Florida
Miller, an outside linebacker at South Florida, is being groomed to replace Moran Norris at FB. This has been done a few times in the past with guys like Spencer Larsen in Denver, and Owen Marecic at Stanford, now with the Browns. And as you notice the Stanford connection, Harbaugh's done this song and dance before so you've got to give him the benefit of the doubt. At 6'1" 254lbs, he was undersized as a DE for the Bulls, but that's pretty good size and build for an NFL fullback. His development bears watching, but they may stash him on the practice squad or even on the roster and keep him inactive (remember, teams can only activate 45 of their 53 players on game day) so they can develop him behind Norris.

7th round, 239th overall) Mike Person - G - Montana State
As I alluded to earlier, the 49ers drafted a pair of guards. Person is the other one and he to comes from a small school program. At 6'4" 299lbs he was a RT for the Bobcats as a senior. Lacking the necessary size and athletcism to play T at the NFL level, he'll slide inside to G. Again, this is purely a depth pick and I think it's going to be a scenario in which either Kilgore or Person sticks on the roster, not both. I'd certainly be surprised anyway. Again, with Baas as a potential free agent, I'm surprised they didn't tacke a chance on a C late as there were some decent ones that were available in Missouri's Tim Barnes and Syracuse's Ryan Bartholomew.

7th round, 250th overall) Curtis Holcomb - CB - Florida A&M
The Niners knew they had some issues at the corner position and added three guys there. Holcomb's a smaller guy at 5'10" and 190lbs he'll be looked at as a developmental slot corner, though he barely registerd on scouts' radars. Holcomb started all 11 games last year for the Rattlers, and will have to make a big jump to the NFL. He's not going to see the field this year, so he'll have to latch on to a practice squad somewhere in the league and bide his time before he gets a chance to prove his worth.

Overall Grade: C
The 49ers draft was like a roller coaster all the way through. A lot of ups and downs. They avoided getting snookered by the Patriots in the 2nd round in a trade to move up for Colin Kaepernick. But, they still drafted Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round and they'll have to live with that. I liked the selections of Aldon Smith, Kendall Hunter, and Ronald Johnson. Chris Culliver might be a good fight, but someone will have to explain the philosophy of drafting two small school guards with what they already had on the roster, and neither of them to my knowledge, have any experience at the C spot, which could be a primary need for the 49ers. Bruce Miller could be a poor man's Owen Marecic, and that's an intriguing conversion prospect to watch. I'm not sure what the rest of the defensive backs already add to the 49ers roster. I know they needed depth, but some other names might've better suited them.

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