While the NFL playoffs have the full attention of our nation, this is also the time of the year when the NFL draft starts to get a lot of (l)ink(s) . It seems like every day news break regarding underclassmen entering the draft early, which seniors will be attending All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, and draftkniks and evaluators promptly provide their views on all draft prospects.

While there is no doubt that we are all enjoying the season that the 49ers are having, this success comes with the small price of a lower pick in the draft order, where San Francisco will land no higher than the 25th pick as of today. This will provide a challenge to 49ers general manager Trent Baalke because San Francisco historically does not draft very well in the middle-to-late stages of the first round.


The 49ers have drafted 75 players in the first round of the NFL draft dating back to 1950 when they joined the league. Those 75 players have been drafted as follows:

  • 22 players picked between 1st and 8th overall.
  • 24 players picked between 9th and 16th overall.
  • 14 players picked between 17th and 24th overall.
  • 15 players picked between 25th and 32nd overall.

After reviewing each of these 75 players and their performances in the NFL, whether with the 49ers or with another team (via trades, FA signings, etc), I found that 20 to 28 of the players selected by San Francisco in the 1-16 range are safe from the BUST label, while only eight to 10 of the players selected in the 17-32 range can be looked at as successful picks. That puts the 49ers' success rate of players selected between 1-16 at about 50%, while the success rate of picks 17-32 hovers around 33%.

As previously stated, San Francisco will not be picking higher than 25th in the 2014 NFL draft - unless they trade up. The team's success rate in the 17-24 and 25-32 ranges is nearly identical, with only about four or five players in each group becoming, at worst, above-average contributors to an NFL team. Over the last 14 drafts (or since 2000) the 49ers have picked in the 25-32 range six times, and besides Joe Staley in 2007 (28th) they failed miserably. Try not to puke as you read these names: Mike Rumph, Kwame Harris, Rashaun Woods, Kentwan Balmer, AJ Jenkins. They didn't do too bad in the 90's, with William Floyd, Dana Stubblefield, and Ted Washington making up for wasted picks on Jim Druckenmiller, Todd Kelly, and Dexter Carter ... R.W. McQuarters wasn't too bad. The 49ers did misfire with both of their late first round picks in the 1980's, as neither Keith DeLong (28th in 1989) nor Terrence Flagler (25th in 1987) lasted more than five seasons in the league.

If the 49ers are to consistently remain Super Bowl contenders, then Baalke and his staff will have to do their best to improve the rate at which San Francisco drafts impact players towards the end of the first round. This isn't to say that non-first round picks aren't impact players, but one does not need to look farther than this team to realize that successful first round picks form the core of a good team, as 10 of the 22 listed starters - Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, and Eric Reid - were picked in what is now day one of the NFL draft.

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Some interesting facts regarding the 49ers and the first round of the NFL draft:

  • The 49ers have used the first overall pick three times, and while only one of those players can be considered a bust (Harry Babcock in 1953), none of the other two (Dave Parks in 1964 and Alex Smith in 2005) proved worthy of such high honor. Parks started out hot but faded away quickly after his first three seasons.
  • The 49ers have picked 11th overall eight times, more than at any other slot in the first round. The most notable player the 49ers picked in this slot: defensive lineman Leo Nomellini, who was the team's first ever first round pick. If you don't know him, look him up, the Hall of Famer's accolades are impressive. What? Were you thinking Patrick Willis?
  • The 49ers have never picked fourth, 12th, 14th, 21st, or 32nd overall.
  • Where have the 49ers had the most success? The three 16th overall picks (Gene Washington, Jerry Rice, Julian Peterson) have been excellent, but three of the four third overall picks (Y.A. Title, Hugh McElhenny, and John Brodie) carry more weight for me (Steve Spurrier being the only blemish).
  • Where have they had the least success? 10th overall, where other than Michael Crabtree (and maybe Jimmy Webb) the other picks (Tom Stolhandske, Dickey Maegle, Bill Sandifer, J.J. Stokes) were busts.

I would love to hear from some old school fans regarding some of the names thrown on here from back in the day.

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