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Have Trent Baalke’s draft selections set the 49ers back?

Al Sacco
Oct 2, 2015 at 12:02 PM32

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Early in his tenure, it seemed like the San Francisco 49ers had really hit a home run in choosing Trent Baalke to be their general manager. After all, the first draft he solely presided upon in 2011 was stellar, and produced impact players such as OLB Aldon Smith, QB Colin Kaepernick, CB Chris Culliver, C Daniel Kilgore and FB Bruce Miller.

However, while Baalke does deserve a lot of credit for that class, he seems to have struggled to live up those standards since. In fact, looking at the 49ers' selections in recent years, it may be fair to wonder if Baalke was a one trick pony.

1st Round: WR A.J. Jenkins, 2nd Round: RB LaMichael James, 4th Round: C/G Joe Looney, 5th Round LB Darius Fleming, 6th Round: FS Trenton Robinson, T Jason Slowey, 7th Round: LB Cam Johnson

Looking at the approach here, you can only assume the team expected to go in a different direction on offense, and possibly run more of a spread attack at some point. The issue was they didn't have the personnel to really do that, and the guys they drafted couldn't play anyway.

Jenkins will go down as one of the biggest busts in 49ers' history, and only lasted a single season before being shipped out. He never caught a pass in red and gold. James showed some flashes, but ultimately was a bad fit and now seems like a huge reach in the second round. Even Looney, who did start four games last year, was let go in favor of some pretty sub par offensive lineman prior to this season.

All in all, no one is left from the 2012 class, and while the Niners were able to absorb the blow initially, missing on so many players then is hurting them in the long run.

1st Round: FS Eric Reid, 2nd Round: DE Tank Carradine, TE Vance McDonald, 3rd Round: OLB Corey Lemonier, 4th Round: WR Quinton Patton, RB Marcus Lattimore, 5th Round: DE Quinton Dial, 6th Round: OLB Nick Moody, 7th Round: QB B.J. Daniels, OT Carter Bykowski, CB Marcus Cooper

Reid and Dial are the exceptions to a draft class that looked good on paper, but is yet to really produce any significant dividends. Reid is a solid starter who made a Pro Bowl, but he's struggled in coverage this year without a strong front seven. Dial was terrific value for where he was taken, considering he's now a starter at defensive end.

If you're looking for the real sore spot here, look no further than the second round. Carradine was coming off an ACL injury, but the thought was he would eventually be the guy to replace DE Justin Smith. After being redshirted in year one (a common theme with Baalke draft picks) and barely seeing the field in year two, Carradine is nothing more than a rotational defensive lineman at this point.

As far as McDonald, the Niners desperately needed a second tight end to pair with TE Vernon Davis. Much of their success on offense had to do with being able to get creative in two-tight end sets with Davis and TE Delanie Walker. With options like TE Travis Kelce and TE Jordan Reed still on the board, Baalke absolutely whiffed by going with McDonald. In a little over two seasons, the disappointing tight end has been targeted 29 times in 25 games, and has only caught 11 balls (38 percent). He's never caught more than one pass in any game, and never scored a touchdown. His playing time has decreased, and it's a long shot he'll be around after this season.

As far as the rest of this group, Patton has been an underachiever (11 career receptions) and Lattimore was another ACL special that didn't pan out. Lemonier is still with the team but doesn't appear to be anything more than a backup.

1st Round CB/S Jimmie Ward, 2nd Round: RB Carlos Hyde, 3rd Round: C Marcus Martin, LB Chris Borland G Brandon Thomas, 4th Round: WR Bruce Ellington, CB Dontae Johnson, 5th Round: OLB Aaron Lynch, CB Keith Reaser, 6th Round: CB Kenneth Acker, 7th Round: DT Kaleb Ramsey, FB Trey Millard

When you look at the names here, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that this class could make or break Baalke. The reason I say that is because so many of these selections are playing significant snaps in 2015 (or were expected to), although we're not sure if any of them will really have an impact in the long run.

While Ward might ultimately shift to safety at some point, he's been a major disappointment in the nickel corner role in the 11 games he's played thus far. Martin is currently the starting center, but has been abysmal. He's sporting a negative-11.5 grade according to Pro Football Focus. Thomas was expected to be in the competition at right guard after sitting out 2014 with a knee injury (sound familiar?), but right now he can't even beat out G Jordan Devey who the team acquired in August. Borland looked like a gem, but, know.

Johnson, Acker and Reaser all appear to be promising corners, but with little support around them, it's tough to judge. Can you really go into a season with that much inexperience at the cornerback position and expect to be successful without a strong pass rush?

Ellington has found it hard to stay on the field, but is bursting with potential. Lynch was a steal on the fifth round, and has seven career sacks. Unfortunately, while he may be the team's best pass rusher, it's unfair to ask someone so young to carry that load.

The real bright spot here though is Hyde, who is currently Pro Football Focus' top ranked running back. Hyde looks like he can be a workhorse back and a star (if he can only get some blocking up front).

Looking at the evidence, I don't think the book has been completely written on Baalke yet, but I'm not sure the ending will be a happy one The 2012 and 2013 drafts set the 49ers back, no question, although 2014 has promise and could still go either way (obviously it's too early to tell on 2015). What worries me most is that while Baalke has drafted a number of "starters," he really hasn't brought in any Pro Bowl level players since 2011. You can make arguments for Reid and Hyde, but the former seems to be regressing and the latter just hasn't played enough yet.

As the season progresses, many of Baalke's picks are going to have to show they are players who can be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If not, it might be time for a complete overhaul in San Francisco.

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.


  • Scappman
    Unfortunately for 49er fans any change has to start with "Little Man York" He turned over the reins to Baalke, who has shown his true worth to the team. Remember what York said after he ousted Harbaugh? "The only goal for the 49ers is to win a Super Bowl". So anything less = failure=Baalke. York-Baalke got rid of the only thing standing between them and a victory in the Super Bowl, that being Harbaugh. So no more excuses. Love him/hate him, Harbaugh turned a losing team into a team that was close to a Super Bowl win. So Harbaugh is gone and now 49ers fans have Jimmy T., who will never be remembered for diagraming plays like Bill Walsh and his newly appointed OC had designed a pathetic offense. At best, the current 49er's rank as one of the bottom 3 teams in the NFL. The team still has some talented players left who are truly frustrated, but our GM has drafted injured players or "Projects" who might be NFL starters, someday! We were 8-8 and Baalke failed to draft one starter with the 15th pick of the draft. We may draft 1st next year, so it's imperative he must go or we have no hope for the future. Tough decision for a spineless owner. Shame on you Jed York.
    Oct 7, 2015 at 4:59 PM
  • woodrow since '54
    Baalke is a dipstick Explain why we couldn't afford Iupati but the Cardinals could. Why we couldn't afford Mathis but signed 2 terrible OL's.Why we couldn't draft up for OL Beckham because the price was too many of our hoarded picks that are always busts. Why we didn't draft a QB (like Carr) to back Kap when it was apparent to nearly everyone Kap wasn't the answer. Why York supported Baalke over Harbaugh. Now we're screwed. No one with any talent wants to coach here. Jed Trust Fund Baby York is going to be the Al Davis of the Niners. Sadly he could be here for decades.
    Oct 5, 2015 at 5:08 PM
  • Isae Fukuyork
    You heard me Jed.
    Oct 5, 2015 at 4:55 PM
  • not even a 1 trick pony
    Scotty Mc made the draft board before he was fired. And went to seattle (we know how that worked out). Im not giving Bad pick Balk that first year. If chicago can get into a playoff run, we can thank york for firing scottie and letting his feeling cost us all.
    Oct 5, 2015 at 1:28 PM
  • Kevin boulanger
    Kap..U fkn.suck!!!!!!!.Dallke U fkn.Suck!!! York..U suck most of all!!!!U guys don't have a fkn clue!!! Daddy sits on his ass!! Yorkie Jr does what he's told..And fkn.Dallke is all about $$$..You can't MAKE or KEEP a team.Go AWAY .NOBODY wants to come here OR play for U.because U don't have a fkn.clue..Been a Niner fan since 79 and this management is the laughing stock!! Get the fk off OUR team!!.And go wash cars or something!!!!!
    Oct 4, 2015 at 4:48 PM
  • bgdg
    You hit it on the head. Nobody draft is perfect. But you need to find some stars. This GM has more misses than hits. Drafting poorly will kill a team. Name one star receiver this guy has drafted. Getting more draft picks doesn't help. You need quality not quantity players. Decisions are questionable. A. Smith he drops like a hot rock. He could have put him on unable to perform, trade him. He got nothing. While Brooks gets rape charge, stays on team. When has football become so political correct. Raiders were dirty, drinkers, fighters, but had some good teams. Character doesn't always equal great player.
    Oct 3, 2015 at 10:09 PM
  • Brooks
    Baalke needs to go, and take Tomsula with him
    Oct 3, 2015 at 9:30 PM
  • Since 1950
    I think that your assessment gives Baalke even more credit than is deserved. 2011: A blocking FB and a mediocre QB active after 4 years. 2012: BUST! 2013: Reid's the best of the bunch and Dial nothing more than a maybe. 2014: An under-sized, oft-injured safety and Hyde, another maybe. The rest, likely irrelevant. 2015: Too early to tell ... but nothing even remotely exciting. He's GREAT at creating additional picks ... but then just terrible at using them!
    Oct 3, 2015 at 10:21 AM
  • Niner
    The ol is abysmal. We knew we wouldn't pay iupati, Davis was injured , we were weak at center and Boone held out. The gym then does what, rely on looney ( last of his miserable 2 no draft) a weakling center and guys too lousy to play for other teams. So let's get this straight, baalke has to trim the salaries aka post mooch days, he's afraid to draft a qb, and is lost in drafting wrs and ol , mediocre at drafting dl and secondary . So we have good lbs and a rb. We expect our confused tomsula to win with that....baaaahaaaa
    Oct 3, 2015 at 10:17 AM
  • Bud Prize
    One way to judge is to look at who else was available. When Aldon Smith was drafted JJ Watt was available. When Jimmie Ward was drafted Jordan Matthews was available. As long as decisions like these are made the 9ers will continue to slide.
    Oct 3, 2015 at 9:20 AM
  • Cameron
    The biggest problem is that this team has not had a good QB in over 10 years. When you have a great QB you can withstand attrition, injuries and coaching changes. This team really needs Jared Goff. He has a chance to be a special player and anchor this offense.
    Oct 3, 2015 at 6:54 AM
  • james Carson
    Balke is next or is Kap?? to go.. someone will go. Sad truth is its not the fault of others except Dorks. Harbaugh took the players Balke drafted and won, big time. Harbaugh had something to do with Balke's success as a GM. Balke will now be exposed as an average joe GM. When Mike Singletary was the coach did you ever dream that the niners could ever trade Alex Smith for meaningful draft picks? NOT. Enough said. Sunday is coming and this just keeps getting worse. DORKS please sell the team, your in over your head. Jed your no Eddie, wake up.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 11:00 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    Whats the difference between Ron Jeremy and Jim Tomsula? Ron's smart enough not to stand around at work with his mouth wide open. Thank God the human meatball is a football coach if he had Ron's job he would be getting F'ed in the face on daily basis.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 6:28 PM
  • Edd
    I'm so glad you finally addressed this. We know you cant get rid of the owner, so people get over it. The GM, however, is another story. Baalke's draft record is average, no better. His vision/goal is really what bothers me. Smash mouth, run the ball philosophy is archaic, outdated, and largely unsuccessful in today's NFL. You must emulate what works, and the passing game is what works. They need a GM with this vision, who can draft accordingly, can hire the right coaches, and field a competitive team. It all starts by replacing Baalke, and it will take years to recover. But make no mistake this team is NOT heading in the right long term path.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 5:48 PM
  • Bob
    I think a lot of people have forgotten the Scott Mc Cloughan was the GM that drafted many of the players that made up our awesome defense of the past 5 years. He left the 49ers and ended up at Seattle for a while. Look at Seattle's defense. Baalke does not yet have the same resume and I think his selections have hurt the 49ers more than they have helped them.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 5:43 PM
  • Leroy
    With the exception of Jenkins at WR, how can you say the TEs and other receivers aren't living up to expectations? Pass catchers are made or never exist depending upon who is under center. Look no further than Randy Moss going to the Raiders. He's done. First year with Brady, 23 TDs. Larry Fitzgerald tears it up with Kurt Warner and good with Carson Palmer, w/o them, he's a nobody. Receivers mean nothing. All about the QB. Jerry Rice, absolutely he was great. He also went from The Messiah to Steve Young. How do you guys get these jobs? You know nothing!!!!!!!
    Oct 2, 2015 at 3:51 PM
  • WestCoast5150
    The Fault lies clearly on Baalke!
    Oct 2, 2015 at 3:42 PM
  • Paul
    Another thing is drafting a punter that wasn't first, second, or third team all ACC Conference. There was a tie for third team. At a minimum he was considered the 5th best punter in the ACC last year not America. The 49ers drafted him in the 5th round when they could have gotten him in the 7th or as a free agent. Nobody else drafted a punter this year. Andy Lee was a good punter that they could use this year. Perhaps he was too expensive (I get that), but they only got a 7th round pick for him. Pinion was the 11th ranked punter in the draft, and to be repetitive the only punter drafted.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 3:11 PM
  • Paul
    York needs lessons from Uncle Eddie D. Eddie D didn't understand why the 49ers couldn't win the Superbowl every year. He was a such a pain to Walsh. Walsh almost quit a few times. He would do anything to keep the Niners as winners. York hit a homerun, but not a Grand Slam with Harbaugh. Harbaugh will never be great until he stops being a dictator. He believes in himself a little too much. He may get very close, but never win it all.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 2:55 PM
  • Tim
    If you think its questionable Hyde will have an impact in the long run, you aren't paying attention.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 2:48 PM
  • Vermonator
    951NINER is correct, Nick Moody plays for Seattle now...
    Oct 2, 2015 at 2:25 PM
  • ninerfan
    I've said this before, and will say it again. Its not Baalke, its not cap. The fault lies with Jed "F$&%" York. "Win with class" my ass. We as a team will not see results until JY ceases ownership.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 2:16 PM
  • 951NINER
    Moody is no longer on the team
    Oct 2, 2015 at 2:12 PM
    Response: Total brain fart on that one. Thanks for correcting me!
  • Bearsky
    Shemp is correct. The root of this organization's issues will remain with the Yorks. The scapegoat of the day will always be news as long as this ownership remain the same. "Ron Jeremy" , Hahahaha.....
    Oct 2, 2015 at 1:46 PM
  • Shemp
    The problem is that Jed values relationships more than results. He gets along with Trent, and by illogical extension, he trusts him too. They did not get along with Harbaugh, and out he went. So you need to redefine the definition of success under Jed York. The definition is "do we all get along, and am I making tons of money?" Now that we've gotten that out of the way, the next question is performance, which doesn't register on young Jed's radar as a criteria, otherwise Harbaugh would still be here and Ron Jeremy would not. Baalke likes to acquire huge amounts of draft picks, draft severely injured players, and then release most of them so they can quit football or get picked up by other teams. He also drafts and acquires questionable characters, because he knows his coach will get fired for playing them. The emperor has no clothes. Jed is a kid who hasn't run a candy store before running the niners and Baalke is an average gambler who isn't being held accountable by anyone. Prediction: 4 - 12, Tomsula on the hot seat and fired next season, Baalke retained and further cements his position.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 1:28 PM
  • JedPunk
    Trent's interns and Twitter monkeys have tried to quiet this fact for a year. Four years, 40 picks - where are they? Trent finds late rd. value, but his high rd. picks are a colostomy bag. Oh, wait for it ... he blames Harbaugh??
    Oct 2, 2015 at 1:02 PM
  • Lou
    Niners4evrer....u r clueless. The reason we are struggling is because, King York and Balke couldn't resolve their issues with Harbaugh of control. That said, they let him go with nothing close to replacing him in sight. The job of the CEO/Owner is to make things work. Ego aside and win. That's what Harbaugh did. There was always friction between Balke/Harbaugh over draft picks. U r right the offensive line is horrible. Kap would be better but he's a run first QB. Run QB's don't win SB's. Just look around the league. Just look across the bay. Carr is looking like a good pocket passing, short pass, long pass, move the feet, move up in the pocket, throw the receiver open, touch pass, screen pass QB. All the things Kap lacks...oh, I forgot two...reading defenses and not having blinders on just one target.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:55 PM
  • Niners4ever
    Just because the niners are struggling does not mean that Baalke's draft picks are terrible. Nobody was complaining when we were in the Superbowl. Where we really got screwed was Willis, Borland, Aldon, and Anthony Davis not being on our team this year otherwise we are easily 3-0. The issue is Kaep throwing completions to our team and getting a RG, RT that is worth a dime. Defensively, it's a new scheme. You can tell our guys are still working out the bugs and it might take a while.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:28 PM
  • Dallas niner fan
    Don't forget Reid's concussion issues. Also, the horrendous hiring decisions of the coaching staff is on Baalke as well. We need a new GM.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:25 PM
  • Lou
    Agree with Craig....Balke stinks. They need a complete overall, starting with York hiring someone between himself and the GM who knows football. York needs to get the hell out of the way and let someone run team that knows what he's doing. Balke needs to be shown the door. A pro style pocket passing QB is also a must.
    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:20 PM

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