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Here is a link to my Thursday column about the 49ers’ draft goals. The full text runs below:

We assume the 49ers will take the 2014 draft seriously — the draft starts tonight. The past two years, the 49ers took a breather from the draft, or whiffed or got the dates wrong. They sure didn’t take it seriously, seemed eerily uninterested.

With some justification, the 49ers thought they had the best roster in the NFL. Many people did. If poor Kyle Williams had not fumbled that punt in overtime of the NFC championship game to give the Giants the ball, and if the Giants had not kicked the game-winning field goal which ended the Niners’ 2011-2012 season, the Niners surely would have gone to the Super Bowl. And won the Super Bowl. And had a parade down Market Street. That’s how good they were. Or thought they were.

The 49ers’ brain trust subsequently operated on the “goodness assumption,” thought the roster was loaded. The team didn’t go to the Super Bowl and didn’t win the Super Bowl on a mere fluke — Williams’ fumble.

This reasoning influenced and dominated the Niners’ thinking in the next two drafts, which were non-drafts, which were going-through-the-motions drafts. The Niners treated those two drafts as if they didn’t matter. I mean, why draft seriously when you are already the best? The Niners thought they didn’t need any impact players. That’s how good they were. “Impact” is the operative word here.

In 2012, the 49ers’ first pick was A.J. Jenkins. No need to elaborate on that failure. A complete waste. Not even on the team anymore. The second pick, such as it was, turned out to be shrimp running back LaMichael James, who has trouble getting on the field and never was worth being taken in the second round. Complete waste.

Forget the other guys in that draft. But keep this number in mind. Zero.

In the 2012 draft, the 49ers, who thought they needed no impact players, got exactly what they wanted. No impact players. As in a big zero.

Cut to the next year, 2013. The Niners still had a loaded roster. Still were playing it cool. Or is the word “complacent?”

With the first pick they drafted safety Eric Reid. That was a great pick. It’s what you’d call a hallelujah pick. Reid was a starter, took over easily for departed Dashon Goldson and definitely was an impact player.

After that, the 49ers reverted to form. You could call the 2013 draft — except for Reid — their Redshirt Draft. With their second pick, they took defensive tackle Tank Carradine. Damaged goods. Did not play a single snap last season. Will hopefully be ready for this season, although no one knows how good he is. You have to be pretty confident in your roster to redshirt your second-round pick.

In the fourth round, the Niners took running back Marcus Lattimore. Damaged goods. Did not play a single snap last season. Will hopefully be ready for this season, although no one knows how good he is. You have to be pretty confident in your roster to redshirt a fourth-round pick.

The 49ers took some other players in the draft who were of limited value — tight end Vance McDonald, linebacker Corey Lemonier. Limited. No impact.

If you’re keeping score, the Niners drafted precisely one impact player, Reid, in two drafts. That’s a low rate of success. That’s not even trying. Because they didn’t try, the 49ers fell behind other teams like Seattle. They didn’t win the Super Bowl, but Seattle did.

The Niners no longer have the most loaded roster in the league. We here at the PD would like to think the 49ers — Trent Baalke and his minions — have learned from their mistakes, understand the need for good young players as a prerequisite for winning a Super Bowl. We here at the PD would like to think Baalke and his guys have been walking around the quiet halls of their Santa Clara headquarters chanting, “Must draft impact player. Must draft impact player.”

After basically wasting the previous two drafts, this year they must think impact. And not just one impact player. Two.

I’m saying this is no longer a we’re-just-fine and a go-through-the-motions draft for San Francisco. This draft really matters. This draft needs to produce two impact players, a starting cornerback and a third wide receiver who can make a huge contribution in three-wide-receiver sets, preferably a receiver with downfield jets.

If the 49ers get these two players — you can fill in their names in your mock draft — well, if the 49ers get them, San Francisco will be back on track. Will be the Super Bowl favorite. If they do not grab two impact players, they most definitely are not the Super Bowl favorite. They are the fourth-best or fifth-best team in the league.

The idea of drafting for the future is in the past. The Niners need to draft for now — if they want to keep pace with the league.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

 

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Comments

20 Comments

  1. Streetglide

    Huzzah! A column about a real sport!

    And yes, this year is a make-or-break one for more than the Niners. If Baalke whiffs this time he might be gone. Scott is free and he might be welcomed back if he can keep his head straight.

    I think the jury is out on AJ. He might be great in KC, we’ll see. James is a wimp, he needs to go.

    I think the Niners will surprise everyone. After the obligatory move up for a CB, they’ll keep a low profile and then draft that QB from Alabama in the third, and a mess of receivers farther down. Maybe look for a linebacker or two as well.

    May 8th, 2014 10:43 am

  2. Dennis

    I find it stunning that you think two rookies at any position can come in and be the difference in going to the Super Bowl. Do you have a head cold again because that does not make any sense?

    May 8th, 2014 12:08 pm

  3. CohnZohn

    Dennis, As a matter of fact I do have a cold. Thanks for asking.

    May 8th, 2014 12:34 pm

  4. Streetglide

    You have too many colds Lowell. Take a shower in the morning, wash your hands often and take another shower as soon as you are home for the day and you will cut your sick days by 90 percent. And wash your hair (!!!) when you take that last shower. (from another old teacher who learned the hard way)

    May 8th, 2014 1:14 pm

  5. Brett

    I think it was a fair article Lowell but I do have to agree with Dennis. I do think some rookies can make a difference, but as far as that being the reason for going to the SB? A lot of other things need to go right for that. Justin Smith hast to be Justin Smith, and Aldon Smith needs to be Aldon Smith. To be honest I worry more about Aldon than I do about Justin at 35 years of age at this point.

    May 8th, 2014 1:37 pm

  6. Kommon Senze

    2012 draft was a busted year, but it’s worth noting that they traded out of that draft and got three picks in 2013 (one of which was used to move up to get Reid).

    As for 2013, I think it’s a bit unfair to call it ‘low impact’ since the strategy of the draft (as has been the m.o. under Baalke, who seems to use Bill Belichick’s philosphy as a template) was not about ‘immediate’ impact last year, but about creating better depth and having options for down the road.

    You may be right in saying that you have to have confidence in red-shirting a player for a year, but look back over history. How many players have been red-shirted or played minimally but still had huge impacts? Until recently, many players had that distinction, especially non 1st round selections. Colin Kaepernick had absolutely no impact in 2011. Does that mean that was a wasted pick? Navarro Bowman had no impact (outside of special teams) his rookie year, as well. Was that a wasted pick? The logic behind the implied ‘likely’ failure of these picks seems a bit dubious to me.

    Most draft analysts agreed that Carradine was a 1st round talent that would drop due to his inability to play immediately. The fact that the 49ers could afford to have him get healthy and learn the system for a year, imo, is a shrewd move, not a questionable one.

    I should add that Lemonier did have an impact. He played exceptionally well during the 5 games that Aldon Smith was out. If you go to various play analysis sites (like Pro Football Focus) his 5 game stretch ranked him as a top-10 OLB for that stretch of games. He, naturally, resumed a backup role when Aldon Smith came back, but I think it’s unfair to say he had no impact.

    Quentin Dial (a 5th round pick) was also red-shirted for half a season, but showed promise to get into the Defensive line rotation. His path may be more like the one Tony Jerrod-Ellie or Demarcus Dobbs has taken (i.e., slow progression into a meaningful number of snaps) but at his draft slot, that’s pretty solid value.

    Nick Moody had an impact on Special Teams.

    Was it lacking in ‘star’ talent? Perhaps. Let’s judge this draft in 3 years. The 2012 draft was a bust (as only Joe Looney and the soon to be departed Lamichael James remain), but I disagree with your assessment of 2013.

    May 8th, 2014 1:49 pm

  7. Tommy CostaRica

    What is this new draft timing, right in the middle of the NBA playoffs? Couldn’t this wait a couple of weeks?

    May 8th, 2014 1:55 pm

  8. CohnZohn

    Kommon Senze, I appreciate your comment. Allow me to counter one point by saying Carradine and Lattimore not having an impact their first year is not the same as Kaepernick. They were hurt and we still have no idea how good they are, or how well they are.

    May 8th, 2014 2:02 pm

  9. Tommy CostaRica

    I’m hoping that Johnny Manziel goes to the Raiders at # 5. I’m still pissed at them for passing on Rodgers at # 20 just before Green Bay took him at # 23.

    May 8th, 2014 2:08 pm

  10. Kommon Senze

    I understand it’s not identical, but they also got that at a much lower draft spot than if they were entirely healthy, so that mitigates the cost. By most accounts, Carradine is ready and rearing to go. His injury wasn’t severe, but bad enough to drop him last season.

    Lattimore is certainly more risky, because his was a far more severe injury (and his second serious knee injury in a short time frame). Again, as a 4th round pick, I think they’ve mitigated some of that risk..

    Ultimately the point is, while you have a point in saying that this is a watershed season (for reasons beyond the draft, imo), and they cannot afford to have another draft like they did in 2012, I don’t know if using the 2013 draft as an example of how they have not taken the draft “seriously” really supports that argument well.

    Did they take risks and defer some of that to this year? Absolutely. Was that a bad plan of action? I’m not so sure I agree with that.

    May 8th, 2014 2:09 pm

  11. Mark M

    To categorically dismiss last year’s draft(besides Reid) already is a bit premature. Some of those guys need to produce THIS year. It’s time to see these young guys start penetrating the rotation on the D line and in the skill positions. Gore needs to be supplemented with more play from Lattimore, Hunter. McDonald and Patton need to produce now. Youth needs to be interjected into this lineup now.

    Last years big draft needs to combine with this year’s draft and seed the team with talent for the next 5 years or Baalke is a flat bust. No pressure Trent.

    May 8th, 2014 2:29 pm

  12. CohnZohn

    Kommon Senze, And one other thing. They really could have used a running back last year to back up Gore. It was a need. Hunter was hurt a lot and James is a peanut. I don’t believe they had the luxury to redshirt Lattimore. Gotta run to Santa Clara for the draft. Interesting discussion.

    May 8th, 2014 2:58 pm

  13. Dennis

    Get well Lowell. I like you better when you are well, but thank you for plugging along under less than suitable conditions.

    You should have your house checked for mold or see if you are allergic to something.

    May 8th, 2014 3:01 pm

  14. Jim Bancroft

    Is Carradine really rearing to go? I don’t know, haven’t heard lately. The last I did hear about him, several months ago, was that he needed another surgery to get rid of scar tissue from the original one. He had trouble bending his leg.

    Anyone know the latest on Tank?

    May 8th, 2014 3:22 pm

  15. CohnZohn

    Dennis, Basically, I’m a wimp. Always have been.

    May 8th, 2014 4:08 pm

  16. Dennis

    Lowell,

    Seriously, you may have allergies and think it is a head cold. A lot of pollen this time of year and in the fall and if I recall right those are the times you get the cold. I have personal experience with this. Besides, your too mean to be a wimp of any sort.

    May 8th, 2014 4:15 pm

  17. CohnZohn

    Dennis, in my real life i’m a pushover.

    May 8th, 2014 4:28 pm

  18. dharte

    Trent Baalke is so overrated, and again a reach.

    When will people wise up to this hack? He’s already blown an entire draft in 2012. He was praised in 2011 for taking Aldon Smith when the better, the far better choice was JJ Watt (and Kaepernick was always Harbaugh’s pick). Last year’s draft is Eric Reid and a long list of ifs.

    And now this debacle: a #1 pick who might have been available in the 3rd round. Either of their #2 picks would have landed this guy.

    The Curse of Yorks….

    May 8th, 2014 9:21 pm

  19. CohnZohn

    dharte, You may be correct. I praised the pick. Now I’m going to sleep. Long day.

    May 8th, 2014 11:16 pm

  20. dharte

    We’ll see. But now I hear the kid is injured and just had surgery on his foot! This move showed little imagination and no guts. Baalke is like a hoarder who just can’t dump the crap in his garage: no doubt we have four or five 7th round drafts picks ready for action.

    And as I remember, Percy Harvin runs about a 4.3 40….

    May 9th, 2014 7:06 am

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