49ers’ 2015 Draft: The Plan vs. Reality

Al Sacco
May 14, 2015 at 9:28 AM15

The San Francisco 49ers are set to hold their rookie minicamp May 16th-18th, and the team will finally be able to have their 2015 draft class (as well as any undrafted free agents) at the team facility for an extended look.

If you're like me, you're excited to see what this new group of players can bring to the table, but skeptical at the same time. You see, I feel like the 49ers are a borderline playoff team, and could have used an impact player or two through the draft to help make a significant difference 2015.

General Manager Trent Baalke didn't see it that way though, and took a surprising approach the the draft that centered around building for the future. So how will these picks ultimately fit it?

Round 1
Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon

What's the plan? While he's still very raw, the 49ers feel Armstead has the tools and size (6'7 290 pounds) to eventually be a very disruptive force on the defensive line. They know Armstead needs time to develop, but will take their chances that Jim Tomsula and company can help him reach his potential.

While Tomsula was in charge of the d-line from from 2007-2014, they were consistently one of the best fronts in the league. The 49ers ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (98.4), second in yards per attempt (3.72) and third in points allowed (19.4) during this stretch.

With a deep unit, the 49ers will rotate Armstead in 2015, with the hopes he can play a more vital role in the near future.

Reality check: A boom or bust pick in every way, Pro Football Focus listed Armstead as someone who "has first round tools and barely day two tape." He could have trouble even getting on the field this season, which makes his selection at number 17 a little puzzling for a team that could have used someone to step in right away at cornerback or wide receiver.

Look, I get it. Tomsula has made the most out of the players he's had to work with. After all, What did Abrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga or Ricky Jean-Francois do after they left San Francisco? Even Justin Smith never made a Pro Bowl until he started working with Tomsula. But this pick can go either way and taking a project defensive lineman who has only played meaningful football for a short time in the first round scares me (i.e. Kentwan Balmer).

Round 2
Jaquiski Tartt, SS, Samford

What's the plan? At 6'1 and 220 pounds, Tartt is a physical player who can pack a punch in the back of the defense. With Antoine Bethea aging and Eric Reid having a history of concussions, Tartt provides insurance and is someone the team envisions starting in the next year or two.

While he'll no doubt be a contributor on special teams in year one, another role that's been mentioned for Tartt is playing in dime situations. The 49ers rarely ran a dime defense because they had two inside linebackers who could cover in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. With Wilis retired and Bowman coming off of an injury, that may no longer be the case and could open a door for Tartt.

Reality Check: Considering Bethea's age (31) and Reid's history of concussions, you can understand why Baalke would want some depth here, but Tartt's selection makes little sense in the second round. If Bethea plays the way he did in 2014 and Reid is healthy, Tartt has no chance to crack the starting lineup until 2017. Tartt has the ability to be a very good player, but a second round pick on someone who will be a special teams player and (possibly) a dime defender for the next two years?

Round 3
Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia

What's the plan? Aaron Lynch is ready to take over for Ahmad Brooks, but the team could use another outside linebacker if Aldon Smith isn't resigned. While Harold's role will be limited this season, his development will be crucial if Smith is elsewhere in 2016. Even if Smith is retained, Harold gives the Niners excellent depth at the position and provides late first round value in the the third.

Reality Check: You can never have enough pass rushers and Harold is an explosive player off the edge who fits perfectly in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme. He might not play much initially, but he has the potential to be a double digit sack threat year in and year out. Smith is a risky player to commit $15-$20 million of guaranteed money to, and Harold provides insurance. He was probably the best pick Baalke made.

Round 4
Blake Bell, TE, Oklahoma

Whats the plan? With Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier and Garrett Celek all on the roster, the 49ers took Bell to stash away and develop. Bell is a former quarterback who was converted to tight end, so he's still learning the position. He could see work in short yardage packages initially and, at 6'6, is a big target in the passing game.

Reality check: Bell is a bit of a project who needs to get stronger and develop his game as a tight end. With Davis in the last year of his deal and McDonald looking more and more like a bust, the door will be open for Bell to make an impact in 2016. He's worth a shot in the fourth round (which is when you should take these kinds of risks) and could eventually be a regular contributor if the team shows patience with him.

Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

What's the plan? With a straight ahead approach that works best in-between the tackles, Davis is a good fit for the 49ers' power running scheme. Carlos Hyde is the unquestioned starter and the future at the position, but Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush are only signed for one-year. Davis will provide depth and someone who could see some short yardage work in his rookie year.

Reality check: While the team had two good change of pace runners in Hunter and Bush, they lacked someone who could be a bell cow if Hyde were to get injured. They filled that need with Davis, and may have gotten a solid backup running back for years to come.

DeAndre Smelter, WR, Georgia Tech

What's the plan? Baalke's annual "ACL pick," Smelter will most likely be stashed away as he recovers from his injury. Smelter is said to have excellent football intelligence and is a big, physical receiver who can win against tight coverage. The 49ers will hope he can eventually complete to take over for Anquan Boldin and be a compliment to Torrey Smith on the other side.

Reality check: Smelter is an excellent fourth round pick and could provide big returns in the next year or two, but haven't we seen this movie before? In what was an deep and talented draft at wide receiver, Baalke passed on all of them and took a shot at someone in the mid-rounds instead.

I would like the pick more if he was the second receiver taken, and not the only one in the draft class. Best case scenario is he takes over for Boldin in a year or two, worst case is he goes the way of other mid-round wide outs taken by the 49ers in recent years and never really amounts to much.

Round 5
Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson

What's the plan? It's possible the team feels that Andy Lee in on the decline and getting too expensive to keep. It's also possible that they see Pinion as more of a kickoff specialist. I guess that's the plan.

Reality check: Lee didn't have his best season in 2014, but did average 46.8 yards per punt. Still, even if Lee started kicking the ball behind him, I can't see the need to take punter (or a kickoff specialist) in the fifth round when the position could easily have been addressed with an undrafted free agent. Very puzzling.

Round 6
Ian Silberman, OL, Boston College

Round 7
Trenton Brown, OL, Florida

What's the plan? These two picks are bunched together because I think the plan is the same. Take a shot on two developmental offensive lineman late in the draft and hope it amounts to something down the road.

Reality check: No complaints with this approach. Both Silberman and Brown seem like safe picks who the 49ers feel could eventually compete for a roster spot. With the way the team recycles interior lineman, it can't hurt to have bodies with potential.

Rory Anderson, TE, South Carolina

What's the plan? Because Anderson battled injuries, his draft stock could have taken a hit. He's an explosive, fast tight end though, who looks to be more of a receiving weapon than a blocker. Like Bell, he's worth a shot considering the question marks at tight end beyond 2015.

Realty check: An excellent seventh round choice who could surprise some people if and when he's healthy. Tight ends like Anderson who can stretch the seams can create matchup problems for defenses and, therefore, find a way onto the roster.

Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and 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.


  • BW
    Here's my 49ers re-draft, with each round done the same day that the real draft took place. Posted on my FB page that I'll buy Baalke a $50 steak dinner if his picks are better than mine: Round 1, Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Titans Dominant deep/redzone threat, terrorizes DBs. Round 2, Ronald Darby, CB Florida St. Bills Shutdown corner often avoided all together. Round 3, Paul Dawson, ILB TCU Bengals Productive linebacker, averaged tackle every 5.3 snaps. Round 4, Marcus Hardison, DE Arizona St. Bengals Disruptive force with great initial quickness. Round 4, Mark Glowinski, OG West Virginia Seahawks Coaches rave about his toughness. Round 4, Michael Bennett, DT/DE Ohio St. Jaguars Great burst off snap, w/terrific technique. Proj round 2. Round 5, Cameron Artis-Payne, RB Clemson Panthers North/south tough runner, gets to speed quickly. Round 6, A.J. Derby, TE Arkansas Patriots Big, physical, and fast, ability to create separation. Round 7, Corey Grant, RB Auburn UDFA Jaguars Has blazing straight-line speed, clocked 4.28/4.30 40 yd. Round 7, Rob Crisp, OT NC State UDFA Cardinals Hard-nosed, high-effort tackle, can keep up with speed rushers. Projected round 3-4.
    May 21, 2015 at 2:04 AM
  • don
    I am interested on how the undrafted free agents look. There are likely several undrafted players who will make the team..
    May 16, 2015 at 2:59 PM
  • BolivarTrask
    Great article. I would consider this an excellent draft if every player would have been drafted one round later than they were and Amistead not at all. We really needed a #1 WR and a redzone target. DGB would have fit both roles. If it were not for out atrocious offense last year we would have squeaked into the playoffs. We scored averaged about 10 points in our losses last year. You cant expect to win if you score 10 pts.
    May 15, 2015 at 2:53 PM
  • paul jones
    amazingly I actually see eye to eye with you on this one. it really feels like baalke treated the early rds as if he was already in rd 4. taking armstead at 17 was ridiculous, especially when you consider that we could have traded back again and grabbed 2-3 more extra picks and still got an impact receiver like DGB. hell we could have traded down twice and still grabbed armstead and the extra picks. it almost seems like baalke is trying to prove that he's smarter than the rest of the league cause I honestly can't see any other team making the same picks until you get to eli Harold. as a niners fan I sure hope baalke's right and he does know more than the rest of us, as a football fan i'm skeptical.
    May 15, 2015 at 1:33 PM
  • Dallas Niner fan
    Daniners, I totally disagree with your comments. First if we have such great depth what happened last year? Where was that great depth to fill in for all the injuries? One of the most talented rosters in the league??? Put down that crack pipe buddy, last year Vernon Davis and tight ends? Stunk, Kap? stunk, offensive line? stunk. Wr's?...please. Balkke drafts well on defense, horrible on offense. When was the last time he drafted a decent WR??? The only thing that kept us in contention last year was our defensive coordinator's defense and duct tape and he's gone. We now have an unproven coaching staff. How you came to the conclusion that we are better roster than last year is beyond me. We have lost 9-10 veterans. Show me where we have improved: WR? hardly; Corner back? less talent and depth, offensive line? Hardly addressed. Hell, we didn't even draft a back up QB. You comfortable with Gabbert? I admire your optimism and fan loyalty but you can't ignore the facts.
    May 15, 2015 at 11:57 AM
  • Daniners
    If healthy, we are a better team than last year. We were decimated by injuries, finished 8-8 and gave away 3 games. Our best CB did not play, best ILB's did not play, best pass rusher did not play. Our starting pro-bowl level RT did not play. We lose a RB who's yds per carry decreased every year since 2012. We lose a WR who was awful. We lose a RG who played terrible, and gave up sack after sack. We lose a OC that kept us near the bottom in offensive production.
    May 15, 2015 at 9:58 AM
  • Daniners
    The Niners absolutely have great depth. Everywhere. We lost aging veterans and replaced them with unproven, yet talented players (22 in three years). That's what you do. you draft for the future. Great example is Reaser. Go look at his tape. Excellent. 4.3 40. If healthy, he would have been in 2nd rounder in this weak CB class. Steal last year. Also, you need to read what I wrote before responding. that, or actually need to read what you wrote. You responded to"impact" rookies. That has nothing to do with what a player will be in 3 years. Whether it was a good pick. Time will tell. What I am telling you, is that both the players I mentioned lack essential skills right now to be considered "impact" rookies. I could pick 10 other guys in first round who I think are more likely to have an impact than Jones or Perriman. Now, history would say that both of us will be wrong no more than a handful of 1st round rookies will have "impact". Let's be clear, impact is Beckham and Benjamin. Lynch and Borland had impact, but they were not 1st rounders. Don't regurgitate what a bunch of ex-football analysts say about the Niners. They really don't follow them that closely. Nonsense.
    May 15, 2015 at 9:49 AM
  • Daniners
    You lose credibility by putting Perriman to your group of "impact" players. Perriman's route running is suspect at best. He is coming in at roughly the same level as Cardarelle Patterson. Frankly, that hasn't worked out so well for the Vikes. We'll see if it ever does. He is every bit the "project" Armstead is. Byron Jones, another questionable "impact" add. First, one of the weakest CB drafts in recent memory. Great athlete with average technique. Plays in a receiver-rich division on below average defense, with below average safeties and pass rushers (Gregory has to prove 235 lbs. can make an impact). Jones will be good first year, not great. A guy with off-the-chart ability doesn't fall to mid-first round, if the skills match immediately.
    May 15, 2015 at 8:46 AM
    Response: I think an opinion of a player is just that, an opinion. Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens seemed to have liked Perriman to replace Torrey Smith (and they have a good track record of evaluating talent). Does Newsome lose credibility with you? And I wouldn't say the Niners have one of the deepest and most talented rosters anymore. It could play out that way, but a lot of question marks right now. Most of the starters look good but many questions beyond that (as with most teams).
  • DaNiners
    First, "projects" as you call them are taken all the time in the first round. Bruce Irvin was a "project" taken about the same place a Armstead. Next, let's define what a real "project" is, Haynes is a project, Armstead is simply young and needs better technique. That's 95% of the rookies out there, especially, DT's. Rarely, do rookie DT's make a huge impact their first year. There are always exceptions (Watt), but as as rule they make their biggest jump from year one to year two. As far as Tartt and Harold, great picks. If we had taken Harold in 2nd and Tartt in 3rd, no one would have said zip. We didn't, so now one of them was over drafted and the other under drafted. Of course, the net result is the exact same. We have two great, highly-rated players. The rest is for know-nothing draft junkies to analyze (yes, that includes Mayock, Kiper and all the rest who almost never get any of this right). Question? Why do the Niners still have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league? Still. Because Baalke actually drafts well. Oh, and another 12 (at least) coming next year. Awesome.
    May 15, 2015 at 8:25 AM
  • Genus49
    So basically you listed best and worst case scenarios and made assumptions and want to pretend you're bringing reality checks? Reality check: EVERY draft pick may amount to nothing whether poor play or injury or both. Some of the most NFL ready guys have been epic busts and some project guys have turned into all pro players. We'll see what happens. These reality checks are silly and unnecessary.
    May 14, 2015 at 7:23 PM
  • Oscar
    You never take a chance on a project that high in the draft I supported him against Harbaugh now I'm beginning to wonder about some of his decision making
    May 14, 2015 at 5:46 PM
  • NinerGM
    People have to remember that the draft for teams with a lot of starting talent, more like a conveyer belt; you develop players and groom them to start while current starters are evaluated year-to-year based on performance relative to price. Teams that seem to have perpetual windows have (1) a good QB and (2) have been drafting players or acquiring FA that transition as starters and leave as FA. Not sure why this is so difficult to understand. Talk to me about draft choices 3 seasons from now. Anyone giving "draft grades" in the draft year are a bit premature IMHO.
    May 14, 2015 at 5:23 PM
  • Sdaddy1012
    This write up lacks any credibility. Who exactly could the 49ers have drafted that would be an impact player THIS year? Outside of maybe an ILB there was no one at 15 or 17. So please explain.
    May 14, 2015 at 4:58 PM
    Response: Marcus Peters, Nelson Agholor, Byron Jones, Breshad Perriman, Malcom Brown to name a few. I'm sorry you think it lacks credibility, but I think everyone can agree Armstead is a project and any projects in the first round are risky.
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Great analysis, totally agree with you. I think that Balkke really needed to hit a home run with this draft with impact players, instead he had a C draft at best. What's up with all the projects? It's going to be a long season.
    May 14, 2015 at 3:23 PM
  • xavierd3
    Who could they have took at WR at 17 that would have done much in 2015? I like the Tartt pick makes the team more versatile and we are one injury away from starting Dahl, no thanks. Plus Bethea's deal was more of a two year deal and we could save some cash by letting him go in 2016..I'd rather have as much cash to resign Smith. The only pick that I hated was the punter in the 5th, you failed to talk about grabbing two picks in 2016 as well.
    May 14, 2015 at 1:01 PM

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