Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports



It's been almost a week since the NFL Draft started in Chicago and draft "grades" for teams have been steadily rolling in. While these grades don't mean anything when it comes to what actually happens on the field, they give an interesting perspective as to how teams are perceived from an outsider's point of view. Thus far for the 49ers, it's been a mixed bag.

The 49ers are in the beginning stages of a rebuild. We know this. It's also no secret that Niners general manager Trent Baalke needed a solid draft not only to help the rebuild effort, but also to keep his job. I've been critical of Baalke in the past and still remain skeptical of him until I see results on the field, but on paper, he looks to have improved the roster through his latest draft.

Yes, Baalke pulled off one of his better drafts this past week in Chicago. That could be taken one of two ways: he had a solid draft that will undoubtedly help the rebuilding process, or he's been so bad at drafting in the past that a little bit of improvement is a welcome sight. I tend to agree with the latter.

It seems like the pundits either hated the 49ers draft (like USA Today here and here), or they really loved the draft (like Pro Football Focus here). If one reads some of the negative draft grades, the most interesting thing and the prevailing thought about the 49ers is that they failed to resolve their quarterback situation because they haven't found a solution for the embattled Colin Kaepernick.

On the surface, this seems to be the case. However, digging deeper, it's plainly obvious that the 49ers will keep Kaepernick and let him compete because of the following reasons.

  1. Other teams have already filled their quarterback needs through the draft and free agency.
  2. They are already paying his salary for this year and no one will want to take on that big of a cap hit with rosters already being full.
  3. Kaepernick realizes that his best chance to start and succeed is now with the 49ers.
  4. Chip Kelly seems to be the mediator in this feud and actually seems to want Kaepernick.

The team probably came to this point after they knew that the top two quarterbacks would be off the board (former Cal QB Jared Goff and former North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz) and decided that none of the quarterbacks left were better than what they currently had. The Niners chose to build from the inside out, starting with the offensive and defensive lines. This isn't a bad philosophy, as a quarterback is really only as good as his line. Throw in the fact that the other quarterbacks that were linked to the 49ers - Connor Cook from Michigan State and Paxton Lynch from Memphis - were erratic in college and the decision became easier: if and when the team drafts the QB of the future, they must ensure that he comes into a stable situation so that he has the best chance to succeed.

Unfortunately, the pundits don't like this. They like flashy picks. They like guys that they've heard of and guys that have measurables that are off of the charts. They become so enamored with value that they immediately disregard picks that fill huge needs (see: Josh Garnett).

The Garnett pick got so much negative press because of what the 49ers "gave up" to move up into the first round and get him. Let's step back for a second and see what the team REALLY gave up:

The 49ers received the 28th pick as well as No. 249 in the seventh round, while the Chiefs got the 37th selection in the second round, No. 105 in the fourth and the 178th choice in the sixth.

Think about that for a second; the 49ers traded with Kansas City and moved up from No. 37 to No. 28 (essentially a wash), received No. 249 in the seventh round in exchange for No. 178 in the sixth round (also essentially a wash with the picks being that late) and gave up No. 105. So really, the 49ers only gave up a 4th round pick to select the best guard in the draft.

Realizing that all of these picks have some sort of value to people, let me pause for a second and mention these names: Blake Bell, Mike Davis, DeAndre Smelter, Bruce Ellington, Donate Johnson, Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore, Joe Looney and Kendall Hunter. These are all of the 4th round picks (before this draft) that Baalke has made since becoming general manager, so it's not as if the 49ers lost out on a franchise player by trading that pick away - despite what the "experts" think.

Let's also highlight the fact that the Niners drafted three offensive linemen this draft in Garnett, John Theus from Georgia and Fahn Cooper from Ole Miss. Cooper filled in admirably for right tackle Laremy Tunsil and won the Kent Hull Trophy for Ole Miss as their best offensive lineman...but what does this all mean? This means the Niners can now move on from Jordan Devey and Erik Pears, two of the worst offensive linemen in the league in 2015 according to PFF – so that alone will make the team better.

The team was also able to add defensive end Ronald Blair in the 5th round. Blair won Defensive Player of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference last year. It's important to note that any time a team can add the best player in his respective conference in a draft, it's going to add talent to that team. The team also increased competition at the cornerback position, adding Will Redmond (Mississippi St.), Rashard Robinson (LSU) and Prince Charles Iworah (Western Kentucky).

Some analysts don't like the fact that the 49ers did not address the quarterback position until the later rounds of the draft. The Niners chose to draft Jeff Driskel out of Louisiana Tech in the 6th round. He's very raw, but definitely has athleticism - 6'4, 237 lbs, 4.54s 40 yard dash. He'll most likely supplant Dylan Thompson as the third QB this year. Throw in running back Kelvin Taylor from Florida and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge from Michigan State and it seems as though the team has added significant depth and talent during this draft.

Now, to the point. For me, a draft is judged by the following factors:

  • Did the team fill needs?
  • Did the team find immediate contributors?
  • Did the team add enough talent to push the existing players or take the spots of less talented players?

The answer to all of those questions is "yes." Granted, it speaks mostly to the dismal state of the current roster, but it's a step in the right direction. To say that the 49ers had an unsuccessful draft because they failed to move Colin Kaepernick and "gave up too much" in trading up for Josh Garnett is ridiculous. It takes away from the actual talent that was added and the holes that were filled.

While I'm not a huge fan of doubling up on picks and over drafting one position - something Baalke loves to do - there were still a lot of holes filled. There is still a hole at inside linebacker that needs to be addressed but make no mistake, this is a rebuild and it's going to be a process. I'll be skeptical of Baalke until I see results on the field, but I can say that on paper this seems like Baalke's best draft since 2011...which isn't saying much but hey, it's a start.