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Theory: Trent Baalke's Draft Strategy is not traditional BPA

I'd say Baalke drafts on BPA; but, he grades differently than most do. That's why the conventional grading type of folks get all upset over his picks; but, his picks tend to produce rather well in the NFL...
I don't know how any one can say this is right or wrong.

Seems like a vailed guess to me.

Also looks like a coach is getting the parts he needs to run his offensive system.

The WCO offense values some things more then others.

49ers of old did not drop 1st round picks in guards.

Our QB likes to work out of the shotgun....they got a WR that excelled in space.

Our QB and offense has lacked a dump off threat that could take it to the house.

They can do things on offense today , that they could not do last season.
Thank you all for the insights and evaluations of the Baalke draft system. For my ten cents it appears to me that Baalke grades players differently than most people on the board and most of the draft pundits. It is clear that all parties can identify a talented player but not all people can tell how Baalke evaluates a talented person. It appears to me that once Baalke identifies talent then he starts to put weight on a variety of skills - desire to play, football intelligence, productivity, ability to learn and adapt, be able to play while injured, and whatever else goes into Baalke's system. So when he evaluates players a variety of the players others think good, they are already gone from Baalke's board. They apparently do not even get on Baalke's board. So since the board is smaller than others, he can focus on the issues he wants and does a pretty good job of predicting how other teams might pick players and so is able to move around on the board a bit more freely than others and still come close to where he thinks others might start to pick up on his players. I thought Baalke's third round pick was a thing of beauty in that he knew where Gradkowski and Looney would end up. He might have missed on Gradkowski but still had enough margin for error to get Looney. If he thought he would miss them both then he traded up to get the one left over and still get a player he wanted in a specific evaluation zone.

So for me it would be better to evaluate what Baalke thinks about players than what the average draftnik thinks about players. Now we will get to see if Baalke's strategy accomplished the task - giving Harbaugh, and coaches, talented players that can be coached into specific need slots determined by the team. So tall, athletic, endzone WR had already been acquired in Moss. So in the draft that was no longer a high need. Good, fast, multidimensional, soft hands WR was still a need and he picked the best one available in Jenkins.

I thought LMJ was an interesting pick because it would appear on the surface that we already had that "player" in Hunter. But it appears that Baalke wanted a multi-dimensional player with great TD production. He picked LMJ and we will see how accurate that pick is during this coming season.

So now we will see what happens to all of Baalke's picks last year in Kilgor, Person, and Beeler versus Looney and Slowey for this year. We have three roster spots on the OLine and that is starting guard, back up Tackle and back up interior lineman and then a couple of players for the PS. I think this arena will have the most training camp movement of any position. Time will answer a few more questions regarding Baalke's drafting approach.
Safe, high character hard working guys with great upside
Bill Walsh was adimate that players should be evaluated on what (specifically) they can do for the team, within the system. He viewed the evaluation of prospects in terms of what round they should be drafted as both foolish and lazy.

Baalke runs the draft looking for specific skills and specific abilities.

Aldon Smith was target for his specific ability in creating pressure on the QB. His role on the team was customized to take maximum advantage of his strengths while he was evolving into an every-down player.

Jenkins / James were targed for their specific ability in creating big plays. Their roles on the team will be deisgned to take maximum advantage of their key strengths.

The fundamental problem that most GM's run into is that it's extremely hard to tell who will make it at the next level. Grading players based on their targeted draft round allows you to fall into "group think" regarding player value.
Originally posted by Next9erDynasty:
Bill Walsh was adimate that players should be evaluated on what (specifically) they can do for the team, within the system. He viewed the evaluation of prospects in terms of what round they should be drafted as both foolish and lazy.

Baalke runs the draft looking for specific skills and specific abilities.

Aldon Smith was target for his specific ability in creating pressure on the QB. His role on the team was customized to take maximum advantage of his strengths while he was evolving into an every-down player.

Jenkins / James were targed for their specific ability in creating big plays. Their roles on the team will be deisgned to take maximum advantage of their key strengths.

The fundamental problem that most GM's run into is that it's extremely hard to tell who will make it at the next level. Grading players based on their targeted draft round allows you to fall into "group think" regarding player value.

Yes but some of the Walsh/Baalke type GM's may have an owner that's into that Group Think mentality and has been reading one too many mock drafts by the "experts" resulting in that GM doing a balancing act to also please the owner in keeping his job.
He obviously read Bill Walsh's book on how to build a winning team. You DO NOT take BPA, you draft players that will likely play and not just collect talent that will sit on the bench being stackd at one position. You also put a premium on skill positions, WR, RB, QB, blind side OT, shut down corner, pass rusher. All other players can be had later in the draft. OL will look good if you have a qb who can get rid of the ball. If a rb hits the hole quicker the OL looks better. Guards and Centers can be had later in the draft.

This is straight out of Walshs book. Draft for the team that you want to be. Team obviously wants to get speed on the outside so defenses cannot stack the middle and dare them to throw outside.

Team wants to get yards, yards, touchdowns instead of FG's.
One difference that should be pointed out is best athlete versus best football player. Walsh brought in some experiments from time to time when he had the luxury but generally he looked for productive, highly motivated guys. Size and speed were secondary to the desire to excel.

The current 9ers have some amazing athletes who are also highly motivated players--Willis comes to mind first because he is the best MLB in the NFL, but Gore is incredibly driven, Justin Smith as well. They get the most out of very good athleticism. If it's a choice between a slightly lesser athlete who has a much stronger fire to play? Pick the fire. That is not something that comes out at the combine or on pro days. You need to watch game film and see how players react to adversity and pressure.
[ Edited by dtg_9er on May 9, 2012 at 7:09 AM ]
Several times in this thread, mention was made that La Michael was a duplicate for Hunter(Ninefan and maybe OTC, but not certain). I don't think that to be the case. When the pick was made I was stunned, mainly because all of a sudden I could see La Michael on 2nd and long or 3rd and short (or long) gettng a pass in the wings and turning a pass into a run and 1st down. The moment the pick was made I saw what baalke was thinking. We are desperate for 3rd and short and RZ offense to move the chains or score. La Michael is THE guy. Who does he remind you of? For me, it is a slimmer, maybe shiftier, younger, Reggie Bush. I really think if he stays healthy, he will be that tailback that is always there when we need to move the chains. The AJ pick makes it so that La Michael can't be ganged up on. And that excludes Vernon, Delanie, Moss, Mario, crbtre, and Frank...perhaps others. Those first two picks are for one reason... move the chains on our weakest down, 3rd. Same applies to RZ. I can't think of a better twosome to accomplish fixing our worst link in the chain, 3rd down/RZ . With just those two guys our biggest weakness is fixed, and that completely disregards the other guys noted above. This is like a perfect Christmas wish list, altho I didn't see it until La Michael was picked. Hunter is there to give Frank a breather or replace him if injured; and yes he is more of a slashing kind of runner. La Michael is there for an entirely different reason.

For me, these two guys WERE our draft. Anything after that was just gravy.
[ Edited by pasodoc9er on May 9, 2012 at 10:26 AM ]
Originally posted by pasodoc9er:
Several times in this thread, mention was made that La Michael was a duplicate for Hunter(Ninefan and maybe OTC, but not certain). I don't think that to be the case. When the pick was made I was stunned, mainly because all of a sudden I could see La Michael on 2nd and long or 3rd and short (or long) gettng a pass in the wings and turning a pass into a run and 1st down. The moment the pick was made I saw what baalke was thinking. We are desperate for 3rd and short and RZ offense to move the chains or score. La Michael is THE guy. Who does he remind you of? For me, it is a slimmer, maybe shiftier, younger, Reggie Bush. I really think if he stays healthy, he will be that tailback that is always there when we need to move the chains. The AJ pick makes it so that La Michael can't be ganged up on. And that excludes Vernon, Delanie, Moss, Mario, crbtre, and Frank...perhaps others. Those first two picks are for one reason... move the chains on our weakest down, 3rd. Same applies to RZ. I can't think of a better twosome to accomplish fixing our worst link in the chain, 3rd down/RZ . With just those two guys our biggest weakness is fixed, and that completely disregards the other guys noted above. This is like a perfect Christmas wish list, altho I didn't see it until La Michael was picked. Hunter is there to give Frank a breather or replace him if injured; and yes he is more of a slashing kind of runner. La Michael is there for an entirely different reason.

For me, these two guys WERE our draft. Anything after that was just gravy.



Couldn't agree more. More and more, I see AJ being a Rice clone who can be moved all over the place who has great separation skills and strong web-like mitts to catch everything on the run, a true WCO-type WR especially at Flanker. Then you add the HR ability of James from the backfield, on the edge or in the slot and you have safeties worried who they will have to cover. As I said before, no more 8-9 men in the box a la the NYG game last season where Alex came out throwing. I suspect that Harbaugh/Roman will have specific plays designed to do just that and bring both James and AJ on the field at the same time.

Explosion in the offense was THE primary need and they went out in the first two rounds to do it, value ,in the eyes of other beholders, just don't mean much. It's what Baalke and Harbaugh view as the BPA in the position of need. Well, they certainly took care of that with James and Jenkins.

I haz such a ginornormous happy!!!!
Ginonormous happy! That got a great belly laugh. Your comment about no more box 8 is spot on. Looks like a big yr for Frank once the D backs off the line. Also a big yr for Alex. Ginormomous happy here too. I wonder if everyone else is thinking what Coach is thinking with these two guys?
Originally posted by Ninefan56:
Thank you all for the insights and evaluations of the Baalke draft system. For my ten cents it appears to me that Baalke grades players differently than most people on the board and most of the draft pundits. It is clear that all parties can identify a talented player but not all people can tell how Baalke evaluates a talented person. It appears to me that once Baalke identifies talent then he starts to put weight on a variety of skills - desire to play, football intelligence, productivity, ability to learn and adapt, be able to play while injured, and whatever else goes into Baalke's system. So when he evaluates players a variety of the players others think good, they are already gone from Baalke's board. They apparently do not even get on Baalke's board. So since the board is smaller than others, he can focus on the issues he wants and does a pretty good job of predicting how other teams might pick players and so is able to move around on the board a bit more freely than others and still come close to where he thinks others might start to pick up on his players. I thought Baalke's third round pick was a thing of beauty in that he knew where Gradkowski and Looney would end up. He might have missed on Gradkowski but still had enough margin for error to get Looney. If he thought he would miss them both then he traded up to get the one left over and still get a player he wanted in a specific evaluation zone.

So for me it would be better to evaluate what Baalke thinks about players than what the average draftnik thinks about players. Now we will get to see if Baalke's strategy accomplished the task - giving Harbaugh, and coaches, talented players that can be coached into specific need slots determined by the team. So tall, athletic, endzone WR had already been acquired in Moss. So in the draft that was no longer a high need. Good, fast, multidimensional, soft hands WR was still a need and he picked the best one availafble in Jenkins.

I thought LMJ was an interesting pick because it would appear on the surface that we already had that "player" in Hunter. But it appears that Baalke wanted a multi-dimensional player with great TD production. He picked LMJ and we will see how accurate that pick is during this coming season.

So now we will see what happens to all of Baalke's picks last year in Kilgor, Person, and Beeler versus Looney and Slowey for this year. We have three roster spots on the OLine and that is starting guard, back up Tackle and back up interior lineman and then a couple of players for the PS. I think this arena will have the most training camp movement of any position. Time will answer a few more questions regarding Baalke's drafting approach.

Great post NineFan56! I love watching Harbaugh and Baalke build this team to the way they envision, which has all these draft and nfl guys completely clueless to what the 49ers are doing!
Originally posted by dtg_9er:
I hope they use those 13 picks next year to trade for fewer, higher picks. Unless they are less successful in keeping their free agents. Or I guess they may have some weakness' exposed that need addressing, but to get five or six good players could really make the team solid...five picks in the first three rounds sounds nice but six is possible as they already have four.

I think we are definitely going to be looking to do this. The clear strategy is to get players who will both make the team AND make a significant impact.

What we look to address though will obviously depend heavily on player performance this year. Will any guys' performance fall off from last season? Or even, will the reverse be true for some? Also injuries could come into play, although we definitely hope we don't have any of that happen for key players. Then of course, FA's tetained, etc.


Originally posted by Dshearn:
I don't know how any one can say this is right or wrong.

Our QB and offense has lacked a dump off threat that could take it to the house.

They can do things on offense today , that they could not do last season.

I think the 49ers are definitely hoping that Jenkins turns out to be at minimum a top NFL slot guy, or potentially a starter, who can add that exact ability -- taking a five yard pass and turning it into an 80 yard touchdown.
Originally posted by pasodoc9er:
Several times in this thread, mention was made that La Michael was a duplicate for Hunter(Ninefan and maybe OTC, but not certain). I don't think that to be the case. When the pick was made I was stunned, mainly because all of a sudden I could see La Michael on 2nd and long or 3rd and short (or long) gettng a pass in the wings and turning a pass into a run and 1st down. The moment the pick was made I saw what baalke was thinking. We are desperate for 3rd and short and RZ offense to move the chains or score. La Michael is THE guy. Who does he remind you of? For me, it is a slimmer, maybe shiftier, younger, Reggie Bush. I really think if he stays healthy, he will be that tailback that is always there when we need to move the chains. The AJ pick makes it so that La Michael can't be ganged up on. And that excludes Vernon, Delanie, Moss, Mario, crbtre, and Frank...perhaps others. Those first two picks are for one reason... move the chains on our weakest down, 3rd. Same applies to RZ. I can't think of a better twosome to accomplish fixing our worst link in the chain, 3rd down/RZ . With just those two guys our biggest weakness is fixed, and that completely disregards the other guys noted above. This is like a perfect Christmas wish list, altho I didn't see it until La Michael was picked. Hunter is there to give Frank a breather or replace him if injured; and yes he is more of a slashing kind of runner. La Michael is there for an entirely different reason.

For me, these two guys WERE our draft. Anything after that was just gravy.

Definitely wasn't me. I am actually one of the minority crowd that firmly believes that Hunter has every tool to be a starting NFL running back similar to the mold of Ray Rice. His blocking ability is a key attribute that boosts his capability of being an every-down NFL back. The Niners love that about him, and I believe they meant is when they said they envisioned him as a starting caliber back last year when he was drafted.

When Gore eventually departs/retires, I think we could still have an outstanding running game with a stable of Hunter, James, and a power back.
Originally posted by OnTheClock:
I think this deserves to be discussed because I see a lot of it going on in multiple other threads. Although.. I think mainly it is the hot topic in MD's draft grade thread where I think he may be being overly-critiqued. There are several draft strategies, but I'd like to just look at two, comparing the first one with what Baalke's strategy appears to be to me.

-----------------------------------------------------------------


Draft Strategy One: Pure Value Drafting

Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals (look at their recent drafts) employ this simplistic strategy that basically says "take the overall BPA across all possible positions of needs the team has." So basically, if you need a RB, CB, and DT and the best player available among those three positions is a CB, you take the CB. Some teams are much stricter and will put far less weight on need and in that scenario if they saw a WR rated higher, they would take him instead, regardless of the fact that it was not a need. But that's a whole other strategy to discuss. Back to Pure Value... MD has a valid point in thinking that value drafting can lead to good results -- IF you are a good talent evaluator. Teams that draft for value but their board and rankings of players is utterly silly, simply won't experience the benefits of value drafting.

If I were to apply this strategy for the 49ers this year, I probably would've done something like this:
1. OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia - I had Glenn as the 2nd best OG behind DeCastro and graded him a top 20 player, better than Konz)
2. OLB Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma - Oddly enough he was selected by our original 4th. I felt he had mid-late 2nd round talent and upside.
3. WR Chris Givens, Wake Forest - Would've given us a FAST player who can catch better than Ginn and other drop-prone WRs.
4. DE Jared Crick, Nebraska - Crick is way more talented than this.
5. CB Alphonso Dennard, Nebraska - As dumb as he is for doing what he did, the talent would be hard to overlook.
6. RB Michael Smith, Utah State - An explosive player that, while not as productive, would bring the same kind of speed as LMJ.
7. OLB Cam Johnson, Virginia - Would not have changed this pick at all. Despite the health stuff, still feel this was a tremendous value.

That's just based on my personal ratings an example of a Pure Value Draft. Would I employee that exact strategy? Not necessarily..


Now let's discuss what Baalke appears to do...

Draft Strategy Two: "Missing Elements" Drafting

While I'm certain Baalke's draft do take into consideration needs and value (like any team), I believe Baalke's drafts focus on specific players with specific "elements" to add to this team. I believe he looks at the best players with the specific "elements" he wants to add (for example, speed on offense), and based on his evaluation formula -- whatever it is -- stacks and compiles his board that way. This can be an extremely risky endeavor, and it certainly narrows down the players you are looking at to select in the draft. This strategy essentially redefines "value" to the team during this given draft. Players that may be considered better overall at their position by most could feasibly be rated lower due to the lack of a desired element. Ex. Mohamed Sanu running a 4.67 vs. AJ Jenkins running a 4.39.

I firmly believe Baalke looked at the most explosive players such as Kendall Wright, Jenkins, Hill and Chris Givens and rated them heavily based on explosion and polish. Our speed guys last year were Ginn and Williams. Ginn is horribly inconsistent catching and separating against certain coverages, and Williams is unpolished, inconsistent separating, and doesn't protect the ball. If I had to guess, their ranking of the top WR fits in this draft may have been something like 1) Wright, 2) Jenkins, 3) Hill, 4) Givens.

I firmly believe we did that for running back too, and believe this is why we brought in David Wilson for a visit. If I had to guess, I think that ranking was probably 1) Wilson, 2) Pead, 3) James. James may have been in front of Pead, but it depends on what they thought of his "character" record.
This is such an interesting topic. Thank you for posting it. Your post shows some great insight and original thought on your part, IMHO. Great job.

There is a book out recently which discusses New England's HC Bill Bellichek and the way he drafts. Apparently he developed a grading system which incorporates many, many different variables and condenses them down to a single number. This allows him to quickly compare players at different positions. My guess is that Baalke has access to this system and utilizes it, or something similar.

The draft is such a complicated exercise, with many, many variables. Your post does an excellent job of discussing two different approaches.

That said, it still seems that it boils down to the BPA approach. The question, though, is how to determine who the BPA is.

It might be relatively simple, sometimes, to figure out who the BPA for the number one pick overall might be. A very talented QB is going to trump most other positions, then its a question of narrowing down the other variables. Luck vs. RGIII, for example, appears to boil down to the difference in their experience in a pro style offense, but either of them would be considered BPA over everyone else by some margin, great or small.

But after that, it may be more difficult to decide who's the BPA between half a dozen players at three or four different positions. The task is not made any easier based on the fact that the pool of players are the best 250-300 players out of the thousands who played college football at one level or another. They're all very talented. BPA among them might be judged very differently by two different GMs or NFL scouts.

Ultimately, every GM has to find a way to narrow his board down to the BPA at any particular point in the draft, i.e., for each round. Every team appears to consider factors such as measurables (ht, wt, speed, etc.), character, and medical issues to narrow their boards. Some teams add other elements, such as playing experience, desire, unique athletic ability, etc. Your discussion adds the factor "missing elements" which allows a team to add "need" into the mix when determining BPA.

Although no system is perfect, and every team has its share of "misses," the teams that have a grading system in place that allows them to narrow their board to BPA most efficiently and effectively appear to be the teams that enjoy the most consistent success.

It appears that Baalke is utilizing such a system, one that considers some factors which are unknown to us, as fans. This would explain some of the picks that are unexpected. Time will tell if Baalke's grading system proves to be consistently successful. Based on last year's results--admittedly a small sample size--it seems that there is reason for hope.