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.
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