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The San Francisco 49ers have had some atrocious drafts in recent years, which have contributed to the downfall of a once-stacked roster. Former general manager Trent Baalke did some real damage to that roster and fans are hoping new general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan can correct that during their regime.
Still, in even the worst of drafts, there are likely to be some gems who emerge. Unless, of course, you are looking at the 49ers' now infamous 2012 draft class. With the 2017 NFL Draft quickly approaching, let's take a look at the 49ers' past four draft classes and identify the best selection in each. We'll begin with the 49ers' most recent draft class.
Best Selection: DeForest Buckner, Oregon
Round 1, Pick 7
Heading into the draft, there was a lot of doubt whether or not Buckner would actually be there for the 49ers when they selected with the seventh overall pick. He was seen as a can't-miss player and one of the best prospects in the entire draft class. The 49ers had just selected another Oregon defensive lineman with the top selection during the previous draft, picking up Arik Armstead in 2015. Buckner was seen as a different level of talent.
Pro Football Focus was admittedly obsessed with Buckner and his potential coming out of college. "There may not be a player in the 2016 draft that PFF has loved more than DeForest Buckner," Sam Monson wrote prior to the draft. "Buckner has been one of the most disruptive forces in the nation as a defensive lineman for the Oregon Ducks and has improved in each campaign."
During his rookie campaign, Buckner compiled 73 tackles, six sacks, and a pass defended. Buckner graded as Pro Football Focus' third best player on the 49ers' defense (among players with a qualifying number of snaps), was the 31st-ranked interior defender, and was on the field for 1,007 snaps – also ranking third among the defensive players.
Still on the Roster: DE DeForest Buckner (1-7), G Joshua Garnett (1-28), CB Will Redmond (3-5), CB Rashard Robinson (4-35), DE Ronald Blair (5-3), T John Theus (5-6), WR Aaron Burbridge (6-38), CB Prince Charles Iworah (7-28)
Not on the Roster: T Fahn Cooper (5-37), QB Jeff Driskel (6-32), RB Kelvin Taylor (6-36)
Best Selection: Trent Brown, Florida
Round 7, Pick 27
The jury is still out on a number of players from this draft class, including defensive end Arik Armstead – who was injured in 2016. We're still waiting to see how players like Jaquiski Tartt, Eli Harold, and Blake Bell develop. One player who has consistently performed and could be an anchor along the offensive line for years to come, surprisingly, arrived in the seventh round. Trent Brown played more snaps (1,089) than any other 49ers offensive player in 2016, earning him the NFL's top performance-based bonus.
Brown, a 6-foot-8, 355-pound behemoth, has held his own against some of the league's most talented pass rushers, including a December matchup against Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons. "I feel like a guy they thought was probably going to s--- on me was Beasley," Brown said following the game, "…but I think I fared pretty well."
Brown performed so well against Beasley on the right side that the Falcons eventually conceded the matchup between the two players and moved Beasley to the opposite side to take on left tackle Zane Beadles. Brown has gained the respect of his peers, from teammates like Joe Staley to competition like Von Miller, who, following joint practices with the 49ers during training camp, called him one of the "better tackles" in all of the NFL.
Still on the Roster: DE Arik Armstead (1-17), S Jaquiski Tartt (2-14), LB Eli Harold (3-15), TE Blake Bell (4-18), RB Mike Davis (4-27), WR DeAndre Smelter (4-33), P Bradley Pinion (5-29), T Trent Brown (7-27)
Not on the Roster: G Ian Silberman (6-14), TE Rory Anderson (7-37)
Best Selection: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Round 2, Pick 25
Despite the rumors that the 49ers may be looking to replace Hyde with a rookie running back, he has performed well – when healthy. That is the one real concern with Hyde. Since becoming a starter, Hyde has been available for just 20 of the team's 32 games over the past two seasons.
You can also make a case for cornerback Jimmie Ward, who last season's coaching staff praised as the team's best cornerback. Ward may move to the more natural safety position in 2017. Of course, the release of starting cornerback Tramaine Brock has muddied all of that.
In 2016, Hyde was 12 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. An MCL sprain in December against the Los Angeles Rams ended that endeavor. Over the past two seasons, Hyde has rushed for 1,468 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.42 yards per carry.
Hyde's durability could be a genuine concern for the new coaching staff. We'll learn how big a concern it is during the draft – should the team select a running back in an early round.
Still on the Roster: DB Jimmie Ward (1-30), RB Carlos Hyde (2-25), WR Bruce Ellington (4-6), CB Dontae Johnson (4-29), LB Aaron Lynch (5-10), CB Keith Reaser (5-30)
Not on the Roster: C Marcus Martin (3-6), LB Chris Borland (3-13), G Brandon Thomas (3-36), CB Kenneth Acker (6-4), DE Kaleb Ramsey (7-28), FB Trey Millard (7-30)
Best Selection: Eric Reid, LSU
Round 1, Pick 18
Over his four seasons with the 49ers, Reid has started all 57 games in which he has appeared. Last May, the 49ers picked up his fifth-year option, ensuring that the safety will remain with the 49ers through the 2017 season. Reid has had two seasons with more than 70 tackles (2013, 2015). His 2016 season ended on injured reserve following a torn bicep suffered in November against the New England Patriots.
Reid has 251 career tackles, a sack, 30 passes defended, eight interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Last season, he had 48 tackles and one interception through 10 games while playing deep safety, covering the slot receiver, and even filling in at linebacker due to a multitude of injuries.
Reid started his career as a hard-hitting safety. However, multiple concussions early in his career have forced the aggressive player to alter his game and there have been some concerns about his level of play following the changes. The concussions have even led Reid to contemplate early retirement. "I will continue to evaluate my own situation," Reid said in June of 2015. "If I have another concussion and I don't feel like I can play anymore, then I won't. If I do, and if I feel that I still can play, then I will. It's just a case-by-case basis."
"Eric is going to be more of a box safety for sure," said new 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh last week. With Reid closer to the line of scrimmage and Saleh saying that he is looking for "extreme physicality" on defense, the safety could have his best opportunity to top his 77 tackles accumulated during his rookie campaign. Of course, it will also put him at greater risk.
Still on the Roster: S Eric Reid (1-18), DE Tank Carradine (2-8), TE Vance McDonald (2-23), DT Quinton Dial (5-24)
Not on the Roster: LB Corey Lemonier (3-26), WR Quinton Patton (4-31), RB Marcus Lattimore (4-34), LB Nick Moody (6-12), QB B.J. Daniels (7-31), T Carter Bykowski (7-40), CB Marcus Cooper (7-46)
Disagree with the selections? Let us know within the comments who you would pick.