Doug Pensinger-Getty Images

Doug Pensinger-Getty Images



When I first sat down to write this article, I had every intention of doing a fairly traditional, cookie cutter overview of the San Francisco 49ers and the 2016 NFL Draft. I was going to break down the picks, give some numbers from Pro Football Focus, and maybe even assign the team a grade. I love that stuff. Everyone does. As I began though, I didn't really feel like I was doing justice to what my draft experience was, and in turn, wouldn't be doing justice to yours. What I mean is, I'm a writer, but I was always a fan first. Fans have emotions, which are sometimes irrational, but that's part of the fun. We're invested, we care, and we think we know what's best (even though sometimes we're way off base).

Where am I going with this? Well, I don't want to write something regurgitating a bunch of stats and things that the Mel Kipers of the world said. I want to write what I was thinking, feeling, and going through as the 49ers made their picks. Maybe you'll find that you had some of the same emotions, maybe you won't. What will be undeniable though is that we all felt strongly one way or another.

To start, it's always hard for me to have expectations for the Niners, because GM Trent Baalke can be extremely unpredictable. He has his own way of thinking, and rarely strays from that process. It's kind of infuriating actually. Sometimes I think he's stuck in 1987, dreaming of himself in some meeting listening to Bill Parcells talk about how to build a football team. The game has changed, and while I believe some of Baalke's maxim still holds merit, I think he needs to tweak his approach a bit. I'll get more into that later.

Regardless of my mixed feelings on Baalke's general philosophy, I have to say I loved what he did in the first-round. A big reason San Francisco was so good during the Jim Harbaugh years was due to the fact that they had a dominant defensive line. The consistent push and pressure they got upfront from the likes of DE Justin Smith and DE Ray McDonald gave the entire defense a boost, and may have even made guys like OLB Aldon Smith and OLB Ahmad Brooks look better than they actually were. Mind you, ILB Patrick Willis and ILB NaVorro Bowman would still have been tackling machines, but they may have been making those four or five yards past the line of scrimmage if not for the d-line doing their thing.

Now I understand that players like Justin Smith don't grow on trees, but if they did, they might actually sort of look like DE DeForest Buckner. Buckner may not be a sexy pick, but I really feel like he was the best one the team could've made. He's so polished, and ready to come in and start immediately. He can be an anchor on the d-line, and someone who will go to multiple Pro Bowls. Truth be told, I haven't been this excited in the first-round since WR Michael Crabtree in 2009.

As the night went on, I had a feeling that the Niners were going to try and get back into the first, maybe for QB Paxton Lynch. I was right about the move, but way off on the player. With Lynch already off the board to the Denver Broncos, Baalke instead made an aggressive trade to get what he felt was the best run blocking interior lineman in the draft, G Joshua Garnett.

My initial reaction was shock, not in the selection, but in the fact that Baalke gave up three picks (his own second, a fourth and a sixth) to move up for someone who was going to be there at 37 anyway. As I did some research though, it seemed possible that the Seattle Seahawks had their sights set on Garnett, and the Niners actually made a smart, aggressive move.

If you can come away with two cornerstone players in any draft, you've done a tremendous job. I think San Francisco did that on day one alone, as I believe Buckner and Garnett are going to be starters for a decade in the trenches. They were very "Baalke" type picks, but in this case I'm all for them. Things were off to a great start, but the next couple of days would leave me baffled.

Let me just say that I don't think Baalke chose bad players, I just don't always like his approach. I really feel like, at some point, the 49ers have to realize that they need big time players at the skill positions to compete long-term in the NFL. A good quarterback can give you sustained success, and receivers and tight ends who make plays can help you, you know, score points.

Baalke, however, treats his skills positions like afterthoughts, and it absolutely drives me crazy. So when the Niners passed up on someone like WR Braxton Miller to select a rehabbing CB Will Redmond in the third, I was ready to throw my phone across the hotel room I was staying in that night.

Baalke's affinity for injured players is bordering on just plain insanity at this point, as none of them have worked out. I guess the jury's still out on CB Keith Reaser and WR DeAndre Smelter, but RB Marcus Lattimore, FB Trey Millard, DE Tank Carradine, and G Brandon Thomas all look like mistakes. In the cases of Carradine and Thomas, those selections have actually set the team back and are a big part of the reason the team needed to redraft those positions with Buckner and Garnett.

Now I've read that Redmond might have been a late first-rounder if he wasn't injured, but he's injured. There's no guarantee he'll bounce back so it's a giant risk for a team that doesn't have the luxury of taking them anymore. The same could be said for Baalke's next selection, CB Rashard Robinson. Because of a laundry list of incidents, Robinson hasn't played since 2014, and is another big question mark.

I'm confused here. Baalke took four corners in the 2014 draft (Reaser, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Jimmie Ward), and is now taking more? My initial thought was that he's redrafting again, but does he even know what he has in the guys he took two years ago to begin with?

If you want to look at it from a positive angle, new defensive coordinator Jim O'Neill is a Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine disciple, which means he'll want to bring pressure from different places. In turn, the defense needs strong corners, so maybe Baalke felt he needed an upgrade to fit the new scheme change. That could be the case, and I could just be looking at this with blinders on, but the whole thing just seemed off to me.

As upset as I was with the mid-rounds, I liked the approach moving forward. I think DE Ronald Blair is a good, balanced defensive lineman and will add much needed depth there. He was a steal in the fifth. The next two picks, OT John Theus and OT Fahn Cooper, are offensive lineman that can play inside or out, and will probably spell the end of T Erik Pears and G Jordan Devey (which makes me very happy). I'm more excited about Cooper, as he fared well against some stiff competition at Mississippi.

In the sixth round, I felt like Baalke was just trolling everyone when he finally decided to start taking skill players. In my irrational head, it was like, "Sure I'll take a QB, receiver and running back, but they don't matter that much so I'll grab them late." You're killing me, Trent.

I do feel like QB Jeff Driskel is intriguing because his skill set and athletic ability really fit HC Chip Kelly's offense well. If they're patient with him, who knows? Could end up being a starter, but he's a project. Same goes for RB Kelvin Taylor (who's former Jacksonville Jaguar Fred Taylor's son) and WR Aaron Burbridge. All are good value picks in the sixth round, but are they guys you feel will be impact players? I'm not so sure. Especially with Burbridge, he just kind of feels like another guy. The 49ers have a lot of those at wide out, don't they?

The seventh round is a good time to take a chance on someone, so Baalke decided he needed another cornerback to compete with the nine they already have. Actually, CB Prince Charles Iworah is very intriguing as he runs a 4.3 40 (that's really fast), but again, how many freaking cornerbacks do you need? What about someone promising to compete at inside linebacker, or a project pick to develop as a pass rusher?

Anyway, I'm interested to hear what everyone else's experience was, and if you shared any of the same thoughts. Again, this wasn't meant to be a draft breakdown by any means, but instead just a piece on what went through my mind as a fan more than anything else.

Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and had his work used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY. Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49