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Will past mistakes make Trent Baalke think twice before drafting a wide receiver in the first round?

Al Sacco
Apr 22, 2015 at 10:20 AM12

In his first five seasons as the San Francisco 49ers' general manager, Trent Baalke made six selections in the first round of the NFL draft. Those picks were: Anthony Davis (2010), Mike Iupati (2010), Aldon Smith (2011), AJ Jenkins (2012), Eric Reid (2013), and Jimmie Ward (2014).

Five of those players made an immediate impact and were or are long-term fixtures on the roster (although the juries still out on Ward, he was the team's nickel corner when healthy last season). The sixth player, however, was a bust of colossal proportions that set the team back at the receiver position

That bust, obviously, was Jenkins, who didn't catch a pass in his only season with the 49ers. As bad of a pick as it was, Jenkins is just another name in a long line of wide receiver flops for San Francisco.

Since drafting Terrell Owens in 1996, the Niners have selected a total of 18 receivers. Only six of those players have gained 1,000 yards in their entire 49er careers. Only one, Michael Crabtree, managed to gain 1,000 yards in a season. So out of 18 draft picks who played 50 individual seasons with the team, only once did any of them again 1,000 yards.

While Baalke wasn't there for all of these mistakes, he hasn't managed to select anyone of note at the position either. Since 2010, Baalke has taken five receivers in the draft. They are Kyle Williams (6th round, 2010), Ronald Johnson (6th round, 2011), Jenkins (1st round, 2012), Quinton Patton (4th round, 2013) and Bruce Ellington (4th round, 2014).

Out of those five, only Williams has more than six career receptions (to balance that out though, he single-handedly fumbled away the 2011 NFC Championship game). Johnson didn't make the team, and Patton has been a disappointment. It's unfair to judge Ellington at this point, however, as he just completed his rookie campaign.

Because of their inability to select a receiver, the position is almost a year-to-year revolving door in which new veterans are brought in every season in an effort to see what sticks. Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Stevie Johnson, and Brandon Lloyd are all familiar names that didn't live up to past production in recent years, despite the 49ers hoping to catch lightening in a bottle with them.

The one exception to this is Anquan Boldin, who has been the best player at the position the team has had since Owens. In two years in San Francisco, Boldin's averaged 84 catches for 1,120 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns.

Baalke is hoping to get similar production from Boldin's former Baltimore Raven's teammate Torrey Smith, who the team signed to a 5-year, $40 million deal this offseason. It's the largest free agent contract the 49ers have ever given to an offensive player, but when you can't draft a position you don't really have any other choices.

While Smith will be in the fold for the foreseeable future, Boldin could be in his final season with the Niners due to age and contract issues. Because of that, it's extremely likely Baalke will be looking to take a receiver early in the draft.


You know that kid who is playing Little League somewhere in America right now who is praying the ball doesn't get hit to him because he has no idea if he can catch it? That's kind of how I imagine Baalke is feeling about picking a receiver right now.

There are three of them in this draft who look relatively safe: Alabama's Amari Cooper, West Virginia's Kevin White and Louisville's DeVante Parker. There were some rumors previously that the 49ers had interest in exploring what it would take to move up and get Cooper, and that makes sense on many levels.

Cooper is seen as the safest pick at wide out, and the one most scouts consider to be a sure thing. Baalke is probably looking at it the same way...easy catch, can of corn.

The issue with that, however, is Cooper will be long gone when the 49ers pick at 15, and they may have to trade up as high as six to get him. That will be too steep a price considering the amount of holes the team currently has. White, who could go as high as four, is also probably a pipe dream.

Parker may be more of a realistic option, although there's a chance he can go anywhere from pick number 10 on. If he's off the board, Baalke may have a serious dilemma on his hands.

The rest of the receivers who the team could consider taking have some serious boom or bust potential and an argument can be made for taking them in the second round just as much as the first.

Names like Oklahoma's Doriai Green-Beckham and UCF's Breshad Perriman offer plenty of upside, but they could also be major disappointments.

Can Baalke afford to take another chance on a receiver?

I don't think he can, and that's why I believe if Cooper, White or Parker aren't an option, Baalke will draft another position in the first round and wait to address a pass catcher. It's an easy sell because the class is so deep at the position, and someone like Ohio State's Devin Smith or Michigan's Devin Funchess could provide early returns in the later rounds.

How this situation plays out on draft day will be interesting to say the least. Are you ready, Trent? The ball's coming your way.

Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and has had his work used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY. Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Marty
    Major reason receivers have struggled the last eight seasons have been HCs Nolan, Singletary & Harbaughs systems. The 49ers offense his been in the 1950's passing offense. These coaches know nothing about NFL passing game. They are not interested. All they ever focus on was the running game. Just maybe Ellington & Patton will improve with the new coaches.
    Apr 26, 2015 at 2:35 AM
  • zach ameen
    Baalke is a failure because he draft for the need; he doesn't pick the best player available. That is why he jumps his guns too early and move up in a draft unnecessarily. His and his offensive scout staff skills in drafting good WRs and other offensive players are "0"
    Apr 25, 2015 at 3:48 PM
  • JayKay
    I don't think Baalke will chance another 1st round WR bust, unfortunately. Arik Armstead is talked a lot with all the measurables but didn't perform like he should of Oregon. I smell a trade down in the first to gain additional pick. But I do agree with another poster he could go for Gurley at 15.
    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:50 PM
  • MrBen
    I'm for taking the chance on DGB in first round,... if we trade back to do it. Patton has really good game speed, and has been working with kaep, so he might be a surprise this year. But if we draft a WR early, you might see him or Simpson not make the team. Time will tell, and the clock never stops ticking.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 10:07 PM
  • RishikeshA
    Thanks Al, the past four years Baalke has had Harbaugh at the point and he could stay in the background. No longer, every move will be scrutinized. When the team was in the running for Super Bowls and a top-flight receiver could have brought 6 and maybe 7 in the trophy case, Baalke did nothing. With his job on the line I don't see him taking a chance for any of the top 3 at the receiver position. He will go with what he feels comfortable with O-line or D-line.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 7:30 PM
  • Tim
    I don't mean to be insulting, but ..... "Stephone Anthony ILB, Monster tackler, Patrick Willis talent Round 4" BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAH!!! Come on man. That is ridiculous.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 3:29 PM
  • wilsonm73
    I hear a lot of people pumping up Ellington and Patton. They will get their opportunity this year and we'll see. And stop it with the injury thing, if they're hurt they're not reliable. I don't buy that the coaches gave preference to the veteran players despite skill level. The coaches aren't stupid and they know winning is their pay check. If Ellington and Patton were so good they should have convincingly beat out those older guys or been drafted higher. They are both likable guys but don't count on them changing the 49ers WR position much. Its something entirely different. Baalke has a formula somewhere that says he can win with old cheap veterans and mid to late round WR's picks. I'd be really surprised if he went WR in round 1 especially with the addition of Simpson and Smith.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 2:44 PM
  • Eric Thornton
    Great read. The WR position has been a revolving door dating back to Braylon Edwards. With the rule changes making for an easier transition for rookie receivers I believe Devin Smith in the 2nd gives us a punchers chance at a capable passing offense.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 2:19 PM
  • brian
    I don't know why, but I have a weird feeling that baalke takes Todd Gurley at 15. Could I be wrong? I hope I'm wrong but there you go.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 12:09 PM
  • Chris
    Did you not read what I said?? Lol he was injured half the year his rookie season made a awesome catch against the cards his rookie year!! Then they picked up aging vets during his second year!! I'm sorry but cmon give him a chance! Him and Ellington are the future!!
    Apr 22, 2015 at 12:03 PM
    Response: I understand where you're coming from, I just don't agree. Barring injury, I think he ends up being the 5th receiver this season (Boldin, Smith, rookie, Ellington, Patton) and won't be on the team in 2016.
  • Chris
    How can you say Patton is a disappointment?? He's been injured half of his rookie year and last year the receiver corps was pretty heavy!!
    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:39 AM
    Response: What has he done? He has 6 catches in two years.
  • Don
    I wouldn't draft a WR with my #15 pick.. Here is what I would do if I were Trent Baalke... Round 1. Arik Armstead DT, Best athlete at the position, fills need Round 2. Phillip Dorsett WR, After burner speed, DeSean Jackson clone Round 3. Stephone Anthony ILB, Monster tackler, Patrick Willis talent Round 4. Mike Davis RB, Natural runner, great instinct Round 4. Josh Shaw CB, Big, fast, high football IQ- a steal Round 5. Mitch Morse OG, Solid solid player-blocks and protects, competitive Round 6. Ty Montgomery WR, A gem this late, can receive, return kicks, Sp teams
    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:03 AM

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