Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports



Anyone who follows the San Francisco 49ers on a regular basis knows that their general manager, Trent Baalke, is stubbornly old school when it comes to building his football team. Baalke, who's an unapologetic Bill Parcells disciple, seems married to the notion that running the ball and playing stout defense is the only way to go. While it's certainly hard to argue against this philosophy, the game has changed some since Parcells' heyday. Yes, being able to run and stop the run is still very valuable, but the NFL has evolved into a passing league.

Now I'm not saying that throwing the ball all over the field is the only way to win, but I would argue that sustaining long-term success has a lot to do with having an upper echelon quarterback and playmakers at his disposal. Can you win if you don't have those things? Absolutely, but the championship window will be a short one (i.e. the 49ers from 2011-2013). Baalke doesn't seem to feel the same way however, and he almost treats the quarterback and wide receiver positions like an afterthought.

The evidence for this theory is in the way he's approached the roster in recent years. Baalke has said repeatedly (and I agree with him) that you build your team through the draft. He's right, and successful franchises like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have shown that drafting well and rewarding your own players is the key to staying competitive. But those teams take a more balanced approach to drafting, where as Baalke seems to ignore players who, you know, actually make plays. In some instances Baalke seems to overdraft certain positions, despite a wide array of needs.

For example, the Niners have selected seven cornerbacks (seven!) since 2014. Those players are Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker, Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and Prince Charles Iworah. Despite all of the attention they've paid to the position in the draft, there's a very good possibility that the undrafted Chris Davis could end up winning the slot role this year. Were all of those corners really necessary? Wouldn't it have made more sense to concentrate on other areas that needed help like receiver or quarterback?

Let's look at the wide out position first. While the team looked good in 2013-2014 with Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree as starters, it was obvious a need was on the horizon. Boldin was getting older and Crabtree wasn't long from free agency. It was the perfect time to address the position via the draft, and develop a legitimate starter to take over in the coming years. This never seemed like a priority to Baalke though, who instead tried to hit on mid-to-late round picks the last four years. Did he become gun-shy after missing so badly with A.J. Jenkins in the 1st-round of 2012? It's possible, but after you fall off the horse, you have to get back on. if you're afraid to draft certain positions, maybe you shouldn't be a general manager.

Either way, Baalke's wide receiver selections have been both uninspired and ineffective, as the list below points out.

Year Round Player Receptions with 49ers
2010 6th Kyle Williams 47
2011 6th Ronald Johnson 0
2012 1st A.J. Jenkins 0
2013 4th Quinton Patton 36
2014 4th Bruce Ellington 19
2015 4th DeAndre Smelter Missed 2015 recovering from torn ACL
2016 6th Aaron Burbridge First season with the team

Now Patton and Ellington will get their first crack at playing significant snaps this season, but neither is a sure thing at this point. With the results being mixed on those two at the moment, it's beyond frustrating the the only two selections at the position the past two seasons where a 4th-rounder coming off an ACL tear, and a 6th-round flyer. It seems like another pass catcher would have been a screaming need to me. They did splurge on Torrey Smith as a free agent, but he's primarily a deep threat, and has no one to complement him at the moment.

Maybe though, just maybe, the issue isn't with guys like Patton and Ellington, but with the person who's supposed to be delivering the football. Now you could argue that the Niners thought they had a franchise quarterback with Colin Kaepernick and there was no need to draft another one, but I would make two points against that.

The first is that if the team was so convinced Kaepernick was the answer, why did they give him what basically amounted to a year-to-year contract? When you give a player that type of deal, it's obvious that questions still linger about them moving forward. If that was the case, it would have made sense to draft another quarterback to develop. The second point is that even if you love your starter, it still can't hurt to have a good backup that's been brought along in your system. Take the New England Patriots for example. Having Tom Brady didn't stop them from drafting Ryan Mallett or Jimmy Garoppolo, as those players not only provided the team with insurance, but also valuable trade chips.

Instead, Baalke decided to go the retread route by bringing in Colt McCoy and Blaine Gabbert, and almost ignoring the position all together in the draft. The only two quarterbacks selected since Kaepernick in 2011 were B.J. Daniels (7th-round, 2013) and Jeff Driskel (6th-round, 2016). The result is that the Niners have no idea what to expect behind center this year, and could be starting from scratch in 2017.

Obviously, the upcoming season still needs to play out, and there's always the possibility that someone like Gabbert or Patton could step up and prove themselves to be cornerstone pieces moving forward. But right now that would be an upset, and not something the 49ers can hang their hats on. Let's just hope that Baalke, if he's still the general manager, eventually comes to his senses and starts to address his roster like it's 2016, and not 1986.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013, and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49