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Six worst first-round draft picks in 49ers’ history

Marc Adams
Apr 13, 2024 at 9:12 AM

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It is less than two weeks away from the 2024 NFL Draft, and the San Francisco 49ers finally have a first-round draft pick, after not having one the last two years. Who will they select? Will it be a defensive player? An offensive player? They could use help on the offensive line and in the secondary and defensive line. And they may also have multiple holes to fill a year from now.

Either way, the 49ers need to hit on these draft picks, especially in the early rounds, where they haven't always been at their best. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have some first-round misses, like DT Solomon Thomas and LB Rueben Foster. But are those the worst first-round picks in team history? Neither made this list, though some will argue that Thomas should be on it, mainly because he was taken number three overall, and because the team passed on QB Patrick Mahomes.

But Thomas wasn't terrible with the 49ers. He played for San Francisco for four seasons and was decent, starting 30 games. He just wasn't worth that high of a draft pick. So the players I chose for this list were mostly players who were awful while with the 49ers. They either were a terrible player, weren't with the team long, or both. The one exception is the player at number one, but you'll understand why he's on the list.

Here are the six worst first-round draft picks in 49ers' history:

6. DT Kentwan Balmer, 2008

In 2008, the 49ers selected North Carolina defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer at number 29 overall. Although he never started a game with San Francisco, Balmer appeared in 27 games in his two seasons with the team. He had 19 tackles for the 49ers to go along with one QB hit.

Taken in the second round was Cal WR DeSean Jackson, who many 49ers fans wanted. The 49ers could have used a dynamic threat at wide receiver during that time. Instead, they drafted an overrated defensive tackle who never did anything for the team.

5. DT Reggie McGrew, 1999

In 1999, the 49ers used the number 24 overall pick on Florida defensive tackle Reggie McGrew, who lasted only two seasons with the team. McGrew never started a game for the 49ers, finishing with one sack and only 11 tackles. He was a major disappointment.

To make matters worse, 1999 was the first season the 49ers had a losing record since 1982, finishing 4-12 with an aging roster. They could have used an influx of young talent. Instead, they had one of their worst drafts ever. Here are the players they picked in the 1999 draft:

  • McGrew
  • DE Chike Okeafor
  • DB Anthony Parker
  • DB Pierson Prioleau
  • FB Terry Jackson
  • G Tyrone Hopson
  • WR Tai Streets
  • LB Kory Minor

Streets and Okeafor were decent players for the 49ers for a while, but the rest of that class was underwhelming. Especially McGrew.

4. WR Rashaun Woods, 2004

One of the worst first-rounders the 49ers selected was wide receiver Rashaun Woods. The former Oklahoma State standout was an excellent receiver in college. But he lasted only one season in the NFL. Many believe Woods didn't want to put in the work to be an NFL receiver, choosing instead to be a fisherman.

Woods, who was taken with the number 31 overall pick, played in 14 games for the 49ers. But he only managed seven catches for 160 yards and one touchdown. San Francisco would have been better off drafting TE Ben Watson, who the New England Patriots took with the very next pick. Watson played 15 seasons, won one Super Bowl, and complied 547 catches, for 6,058 yards, and 44 touchdowns.

3. WR A.J. Jenkins, 2012

Illinois wide receiver, A.J. Jenkins, was drafted number 30 overall in 2012. He only lasted one season with the 49ers. In that season, Jenkins had zero catches and was targeted only once. He appeared in only three regular season games for San Francisco.

Part of Jenkins' issues was that, in addition to being too thin and weak, he struggled to keep his footing. One of the most common training camp reports was that of Jenkins slipping during his routes. 2012 was a Super Bowl season for the 49ers, but Jenkins had no impact.

The Seattle Seahawks selected LB Bobby Wagner 17 picks after Jenkins was drafted. The 49ers could have traded back, accumulated more picks, and grabbed Wagner. But at the time, the 49ers already had the best linebacker duo in the league in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. But Willis would retire after the 2014 season, and Bowman suffered a devastating knee injury in the 2013 NFC Championship Game that kept him from being the dynamic player he once was. The 49ers could have used Wagner.

2. QB Jim Druckenmiller, 1997

With the 26th overall selection in the 1997 draft, the 49ers selected Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Druckenmiller. He was supposed to be Steve Young's eventual replacement, but the young QB only lasted two seasons in the NFL. He started one game as a rookie, throwing for one touchdown and four interceptions.

Druckenmiller was a bad choice, especially when you consider that QB Jake Plummer was taken in the second round and that Young only played two more full seasons after Druckenmiller was drafted. Plummer would have been an excellent replacement for Young. Former 49ers head coach, Bill Walsh, who was a consultant with the 49ers during that time, had encouraged the front office to draft Plummer. They didn't listen, instead taking Druckenmiller, who by all accounts, was not much of a leader or student of the game.

1. QB Trey Lance

I've defended Trey Lance, the very young QB from North Dakota State, saying it's too early to label him a bust. But he's number one on this list because of what the 49ers gave up to draft him, and because he's no longer with the team.

Lance was expensive, in terms of draft capital. The 49ers used three first-round picks and a third-round pick on Lance. The QB wasn't as bad as the other picks on this list, but the sheer cost of the trade warrants his appearance here. And while the 49ers have continued to be very successful despite this big miss, they could have used some of those draft picks to have made the team even better. Not to mention the lack of depth the team has at certain positions.

For instance, the 49ers could have drafted LB Micah Parsons in the 2021 draft. Would Mahomes have been able to bring the Chiefs back to win the Super Bowl with Parsons rushing the QB along with Nick Bosa? I tend to think not.

Lance started four games for the 49ers. He looked like a young player learning how to play in the NFL. He wasn't bad, but needed a lot of development. Had it not been for Brock Purdy coming out of nowhere, Lance may still be the team's quarterback. And that made me consider not placing him on this list. But in the end, the price they paid, along with the fact that Lance is now in Dallas and that he was the number three overall selection, makes him the worst first-round draft pick in 49ers' history.


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