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In his last days as the 49er's consultant, Bill Walsh looked to clean out his locker and move on from the organization he helped build with his football genius and draft savvy. Historically, Walsh's importance to the 49ers' organization ballooned on Draft Weekend, two days where Walsh put on a draft clinic for all those willing to pay attention. This draft, however, was supposed to be Terry Donahue's draft; a chance for the protégé to prove he could do it. Like the greats before him, Walsh was supposed to leave the organization quietly and unceremoniously May 1st when his contract expired.
Walsh became famous by trading down draft picks for more draft picks; scouring the scouting reports and picking quality players in later rounds that would contribute to four Super Bowls. Although this was Donahue's draft, he asked Walsh to work the phones during the draft, knowing that this would be a frenetic weekend replete with trades and proposed player swaps. Donahue also asked Walsh to survey the talent of the players on the board. At least Donahue is smart enough to know where to go for help. In his last draft with the organization, Walsh helped the 49ers orchestrate a successful first day of the 2004 NFL Draft.
It was common knowledge going into the draft that Donahue wanted to deal the 16th pick. Among NFL circles, he was said to be desperate. The Eagles and 49ers deal was "dead" as of yesterday, according to ESPN. With Walsh's help, the 49ers were able to secure the Eagles second round draft pick and trade down from 16 to 28. This was risky, considering that defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a force in the middle, was still available. But the 49ers pulled the trigger on the move anyway, when the clock began ticking for the 28th pick Wilfork was not available, but wide receivers Mike Jenkins and Rashaun Woods were available. Once again, the 49ers' brass gambled and traded their pick with the Carolina Panthers, moving down to the 31st selection, and acquiring Carolina's 4th round pick.
The gamble paid off, and with the 31st pick the San Francisco 49ers picked wide receiver Rashaun Woods. They came away with much more though, gaining a fourth pick on the first day and sixth pick on the second day. Walsh's strategy of stockpiling picks and rebuilding through the draft got off to a good start.
The second round saw the 49ers pick Justin Smiley, an offensive guard from Alabama that some had projected as the best guard in the draft. An excellent pick for a position of need, the 49ers added much needed depth to a line that looked thin. With recent free agent additions like Scott Rheberg, the line appears able to handle an injury to a starter with relative ease.
With their second pick in the second round the 49ers looked to have gotten the nickel corner they have been missing when they selected Shawntae Spencer, a cornerback from Pittsburgh. Adding Spencer (a 6'1" corner with 4.4 speed) to a defensive backfield with Plummer and Rumph as starters and all of a sudden the 49ers look to have, at least on paper, a formidable defensive backfield.
With the final pick on day one, Erickson tried to get his speed receiver in Derrick Hamilton, a wide receiver from Clemson. Described as a player with second level speed to separate from defenders, Hamilton may be utilized as a deep threat to stretch defenses in Erickson's spread offense. At the very least he adds depth to a wide receiver corps decimated by free agency.
All of these picks have tremendous upsides with very little downsides. The 49ers are now in a position on day two, with six picks, to start filling the bottom of their roster with quality back ups, the kind of back ups that create a championship caliber team. The 49ers need to fill holes at defensive tackle and tight end in the fourth round but after that, they can draft the best player available.
Clearly this draft had the big "BW" stamp all over it as it seemed that the 49ers made all the right moves. Walsh's eye for talent and ability to see the whole picture paid off one more time for San Fran; a fitting way for an NFL genius to bid adieu. Although Donahue does not have a horrible track record, drafting players like Julian Peterson and Eric Heitmann, his choices are definitely hit or miss (see Josh Shaw, Jeff Chandler, and Teddy "Who?" Gaines). It was Walsh, however, that dealed his way to 11 draft picks in the 2000 Draft after an abysmal 1999 season that accelerated the end of an era. It looks like Donahue still has much to learn from savvy Walsh. Hopefully he, like many of the rest of us, learned to cram in college.