Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports


Can Trent Baalke rebuild the 49ers offense through the draft? History says he can’t

Al Sacco
Dec 21, 2015 at 9:04 AM25


The year was 2007, and the San Francisco 49ers were knee deep in the worst offensive season in the team's illustrious history. Set back by a bad scheme, a poor line and underwhelming quarterback play, the Niners finished last in the league in points scored (with 219) for the first time in the modern era.

Fast forward to 2015, and it seems as if history is repeating itself. The 2015 version of the offense is equally as terrible, and also looks like it's going to finish last in points scored (their total of 202 is currently 39 behind the St. Louis Rams for 31st place).

There was one difference between the '07 version and '15 version though, and that was the young talent that was still learning how to be successful in the NFL. You see, back then, the Niners had building blocks in place with a couple of 23-year old tight ends named Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. 24-year old running back Frank Gore looked like he could be a workhorse for years to come, and 23-year old tackle Joe Staley gave a glimmer of hope to the offensive line. These up and comers would all be instrumental in the team's resurgence during the Jim Harbaugh era, and were major contributors to the 2012 NFC Championship team.

The same doesn't appear to be true this time around however, as it's difficult to find much young talent on the 49ers offense, let alone multiple players who could lead the team into the future. Other than Carlos Hyde, is there anyone on the offensive side of the roster that you can see as someone to build around? I'm not sure I do.

If your looking for answers on how the cupboard could have gotten so bare so quickly, they should be relatively easy to find. You see, successful franchises build and sustain strong rosters through the draft. San Francisco's general manager, Trent Baalke, hasn't done this. In fact, the more of an imprint Baalke seems to have on the roster, the worse it appears to get, especially on offense.

Take a ride back in time with me, won't you? All the way to 2012. The 49ers were coming off a bitter loss in the NFC Championship game, but seemed to be set up for years of success due to a strong core of players Baalke inherited or were largely influenced by his predecessor Scott McLoughan. Since the Niners didn't have many needs in the short term, the plan was to draft for two or three years down the line, when players like Davis, Walker, Gore, Staley, and others would have moved on or been near the end of the line. While Baalke executed the plan, he just did it poorly.

By now, the 2012 draft is infamous in 49ers' lore, and is a big reason why the team has so many offensive issues now. It's why they've had to go out of their comfort zone, and overspend in free agency for a player like Torrey Smith. Plain and simple, Baalke whiffed. On the entire draft. By selecting receiver AJ Jenkins and running back LaMichael James in the first two rounds, one would assume the team thought they were getting centerpieces on offense for years to come. Instead, Jenkins was one of the biggest busts in team history, never catching a pass in just one season on the roster before being traded. James struggled to find his niche, couldn't get on the field, and only lasted a little over two years. Baalke also missed on an offensive lineman (something that would become a theme), as fourth rounder Joe Looney never panned out and was let go prior the the 2015 season.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports


When the 2013 draft rolled around, San Francisco was still in need of some pieces on offense, especially at receiver and tight end. Having just lost Walker to free agency, it was imperative the team found someone to pair with Davis so Harbaugh could continue to employ the two-tight end sets he loved to run. Baalke spent a second round pick on the position, and selected Rice product Vance McDonald. This was another example of the right idea, but bad execution. In just under three seasons, McDonald has only managed 32 receptions on 61 targets (52 percent). To make matters worse, McDonald has a drop rate of 22 percent, which is the highest of any qualifying tight end over the past three years. He's actually done more harm than good. To make matters worse, Baalke passed on the likes of Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed, each of whom have become standouts at the position.

Baalke also tried his hand at receiver again, selecting the somewhat promising Quinton Patton in the fourth round. Patton has since proved to be both immature in his antics, and his development as a player. In 24 career games, he has 34 receptions on 64 targets (53 percent), and is always good for a few boneheaded moments now and then.

Miracles do happen in this world though, and Baalke seemed to hit on an offensive player in 2014, jumping on Hyde in the second round. Although injuries have derailed his 2015 campaign, Hyde looks the part of a feature back, and could have a Pro Bowl or two in his future if he can get any semblance of a team around him. In seven starts this season, Hyde overcame inconsistent line play and a foot injury to put up 470 yards on 115 attempts before finally being shut down.

Staying true to form, Baalke reverted back to his clueless ways, and followed up his best pick by possibly setting the franchise back years with two of his next three. In the third round, the floundering general manager attempted to solidify the interior of his offensive line by selecting Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas. The results have been disastrous. Martin has been bad at guard and a train wreck at center, ranking at or near the bottom of the league at the latter all season (according to Pro Football Focus). Thomas, who sat out his rookie season while recovering from a knee injury, can't even manage to crack the active roster on game day. He's a complete unknown at this point.

In the fourth round, Baalke tried to pick yet another wide out, this time hoping Bruce Ellington would work out. While Ellington has talent, he can't seem to find a role on offense, and it shows in his numbers. With 15 catches for 116 yards (7.7 yards per reception), he hasn't been the big play threat some thought he would be. Ellington has also been underwhelming as a kick returner, and may not have a spot on the team moving forward.

The late round picks haven't amounted to much either, with names like Jason Slowey, Marcus Lattimore, B.J. Daniels, Carter Bykowski, and Trey Millard never making any kind of an impact. In fairness, the jury is still out on the 2015 class, which saw a significant number of offensive players brought in. Only tight end Blake Bell has made any kind of an impact though, as the rest are still unknown commodities that haven't offered any immediate returns.

With his track record being what it is, it's scary to think that Baalke could once again be the one pulling the trigger in 2016, as the 49ers attempt to rebuild their shell of an offense. San Francisco simply has to make the right choices this time around, or there could be a lot of 17-10 losses in the coming years.

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 views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


25 Comments

  • Frank M
    First of all, you don't rebuild your offense strictly via the draft. It takes young players typically a few seasons to find their niche. The #1 priority for Baalke should be to retain Alex Boone. He's too valuable to let go. If A Davis returns as he's tweeting he's likely to do, the OL should be measurably better before the draft. Baalke will need to draft more for depth than a starter IF Boone stays and AD returns. If neither happens, then he'll have FA and the draft to rebuild the OL. Rookie Trent Brown is showing he has the goods to be a solid OT. The RB corps should return healthy in 2016, although TB could still draft a good RB for depth. He'll need to draft a good QB and hire a head coach who can develop him. For that reason and the need to pump up the offense, I'd be in favor of Sean Payton becoming the next HC. While it's critical that Baalke have a stellar draft, it's only one means to improve his team. He should also acquire a WR with some size and speed to play opposite of Torrey Smith. All these things are doable, so for sure, the ball will be in Trent's court. It's up to him to deliver.
    Jan 3, 2016 at 2:06 PM
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  • Scott Bennett
    Get rid of this kiss ass Please. Get some one who wants to win and not worried about stroking your ego Jed. You know like that coach you had who took you to a Superbowl. Stupid is as stupid does. Expect Trent and Tomsula back for another crap season next year.
    Jan 1, 2016 at 9:19 PM
    0
  • JACK
    Good morning Al, I didn't know Holmgren wanted to coach us last year? And Baalke said " NO "? WOW!!! And Mike H. still wants the job? OH my, is Baalke mature enough to admit " bad decision " and hire Mike H. I really hope so. When you have someone with his experience that wants the job, it would be just " STUPID " to refuse this opportunity.
    Dec 29, 2015 at 10:05 AM
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    Response: From what i can gather, Baalke was against Holmgren then and wouldn't want him now. It's not the age (Baalke wanted Parcells in 2011) so not sure what his hangup is. I would have loved Holmgren 4-5 years ago, but I think the 49ers need someone who can rebuild the team and stick around for a while. Although you could argue Holmgren could certainly get the team headed back in the right direction and groom a successor.
  • Kevin Stench aka MR Magoo
    Kevin Lynch of the sf scrawnacle thinks the niners/yorks were right to fire Harb's..really? he says in the last year Harbaugh was not winning (however 8 and 8 is still 500) and the yorks were right to fire harbs because he went to Cleavland to ask for a better deal than what the niners were willing to give him. I believe that; cheap ass dorks are more worried about money than winning. Balke sat and applauded the move by the Yorks to not extend Harbs contract. Now we have what we have with Tomsula, Singletary 2.0.
    Dec 23, 2015 at 10:55 PM
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    Response: I guess you could argue Harbaugh was tough to deal with and wore out his welcome, but to me it's not that they replaced him but HOW they replaced him. Should have promoted Fangio or gone with the Gase/Fangio combo. Can't believe the passed up a bright, young offensive mind and a proven DC for Tomsula.
  • Tom C.
    Great Article Al: You are absolutely correct, Trent Baalke has been an awful evaluator for finding talented players thru the Draft and Free Agency, As a kid from the 70's and Early 80's, who watched Great Niner Players at The Redwood City Facility, This is just a very sad and dark time in 49er history, This current Roster is just so void of any Talented Players, This Re-build is going to take a few years to fix, And if Baalke is going to get another year, it is just going to take even longer! Pray after next season the rumors are true and the Yorks sell this team to someone who wants to make money and have a team on the field the fans will show up for!
    Dec 22, 2015 at 12:53 PM
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    Response: Thanks Tom!
  • Jim Monachino
    What is really painful is to see what AZ Cardinals have done with an owner's son as President (who signs checks and stays out of the way), an outstanding GM, and an outstanding coach. Building up over the past 3 seasons through draft and free agents. Finding gems no one else in the NFL has. York, Balke and Tomsula: the 3 Stooges of the NFL - Az 49er Fan (unless York/Balke/Tomsula return)
    Dec 22, 2015 at 11:58 AM
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  • RishikeshA
    Thanks Al, It's becoming more obvious that Baalke cannot pick offensive skill players. With a high pick, and a top QB on the board, will he pull the trigger? Can he evaluate a QB? Will he play it safe and draft defense? Harbaugh took a team in his first year without a training camp and almost won the whole thing. He made everyone around him better. Balk is out of the shadows and the odds are that he sinks.
    Dec 22, 2015 at 9:38 AM
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    Response: The more Baalke is exposed the worse the team gets. Really hope Jed blows the whole thing up.
  • Jeff in Wyoming
    I agree - Baalke has been a complete failure. The degree of failure has been staggering with all of the draft picks the 49ers have had. That is about the only thing Baalke has done is accrue more picks, but he hasn't done anything with them. I think a new personnel person needs to be considered.
    Dec 22, 2015 at 7:49 AM
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  • Zeke
    "We don't raise division championship banners, we don't raise NFC Championship banners. We raise Super Bowl banners. And whenever we don't deliver that, I hope that you will hold me directly responsible and accountable for it. And we look forward to getting this thing back on track." - Jed York "This isn't a rebuild situation, this is a reload" - Trent Baalke
    Dec 22, 2015 at 7:08 AM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Flaccid Penis, Baalsack, and the Fluffer have to go. Just looking at these guys makes me sick. Go Cardinals!
    Dec 21, 2015 at 3:18 PM
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  • JJG
    Look at the young scrubs we are playing now. He's not not a talented GM. His resume speaks for itself. None of his picks have made a significant long term impact in the NFL.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 2:35 PM
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  • FrankG
    We don't need to see anymore of Baalke! His draft philosophy of taking injured players for future roles has proven to be a huge waste of draft picks (with the exception of Frank Gore).
    Dec 21, 2015 at 2:23 PM
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  • Niner
    Last year iupati Kilgore and Davis was hurt. Lousy drafts and fa made us into an ol that is laughed at in the league. Looney was so bad he was cut, Martin looks like the 98 lb weakling in the comic book ads. Baalke like York and Tomsula are full of crap. The fans are disregarded and after 50 years of supporting the team ,I'm done too. I will root for the miners but I will not buy tickets merchandise, will not support Levi's and anyone else associated with those miserable Yorks. They shafted us 10 years ago and won't do it to me again.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 2:09 PM
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  • ant Chon
    Pretty much on target. Its all 20/20. Seems like with all the starters we had Ballke was taking arrogant chances with questionable picks. Now that Harb's is gone, Ballke is totally exposed. Winning with class!! yeah
    Dec 21, 2015 at 2:00 PM
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  • Daniners
    Spot on. Baalke has consistently failed to build an NFL caliber offense. Defensively, he has been able to put together capable talent. In general, an easier task. He should be fired as season end.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 1:39 PM
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  • Jak609
    Thank you for the article that sheds the light on how terrible Trent is at GM. He hasnt done anything for this franchise but help it spiral downward. He is the slap rock of the GM world. He needs to be the first one out of the door if u ask me.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 12:55 PM
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    Response: No problem. The product on the field is a joke, and he has to be called out. Defense has some nice pieces, but the he's destroyed the talent level overall
  • Bigwads
    York sided with Baalke. York was wrong. That statement summarizes the entire last two years. Baalke has been a categorical failure as a GM in the draft; he made moves that didn't coincide with what Harbuagh wanted and that was the rift IMO. Harbuagh wanted control of the draft and Dork sided with Baalke-nice job dumba$$.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 12:22 PM
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  • Duke
    This article is fantastic! Facts don't lie! McLaughlin did a great job for the Niners and for the Seahawks! Now, he's doing a great job the Redskins! Baalke how is continually traded down and acquired more useless picks!!! Under his management, the Niners of had more picks than just about anybody else. Instead of trading up to get superstars ?" we have a team of mediocre players!
    Dec 21, 2015 at 11:50 AM
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    Response: Thanks Duke
  • Don
    Totally agree on everything and everyone except Quinton Patton. Quinton has been woefully mismanaged. Get him the ball and he will make plays. He should also be the Niners primary returner for kickoffs and punts.. Your article does spell out in spades how Baalke has laid waste with his draft picks and should be terminated..
    Dec 21, 2015 at 11:40 AM
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  • NinerGM
    "Remember though, Scott laid the groundwork for 2010 that brought in Iupati, Davis, and Bowman." Nothing reported or written that proves this statement which means it's rumor that's been repeated to the point where it's become Niner Talk "fact" (and boy there are many). Baalke was also a chief scout during those McCloughan years and it's ridiculous to say one GM had "all the success" while another didn't. Additionally McCloughan's and the "core" players you outline were extremely mediocre until they had a coach and a coaching staff that actually thought of semi-decent competent schemes. Furthermore you're comparing apples to oranges; what slot pick in the draft were Davis, Gore, and Staley? They certainly weren't bottom 4th rounders - 6th picks. And let's face it - the team got lucky with Gore. "Ellington can't seem to find a role" or maybe the coaches have no idea how to use him, as if this hasn't been the mantra of this offense for many players over 6 seasons. Baalke has his mistakes but good grief to structure this argument as if there has been NO success on offense - the glaring omission Kaepernick whom the majority thought was a franchise QB for 2.5 seasons .
    Dec 21, 2015 at 10:22 AM
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    Response: Kaepernick was Harbaugh's guy, not Baalke's. If you can honestly justify defending the position Baalke has put this team in offensively I don't what to tell you. Sans a few players, the cupboard is almost bare on offense.
  • Brian Murphy
    Jed York, please do the honorable thing and sell the team to someone with passion, honesty and integrity. Your idea of winning with class has made us all ill. Happy Holidays The 49er Faithful
    Dec 21, 2015 at 10:02 AM
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  • Mohammad
    oh hell no. he was handed a loaded roster and all he had to do was keep it stocked with backups that would be starters in a few years. he has failed miserably...get him the hell away from this team. If Jed keeps everyone we are in for another 10 years of suckitude...we need to blow this up and get a new GM, coaching staff and draft for 2018. because that's when we'll be out of the cellar again.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 9:50 AM
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  • Robert
    What's even worse, Baalke is going to get another chance because York really likes him. Baalke didn't get along with Singletary, didn't get along with Harbaugh, and I bet Tomsula has a thing or two to say about Baalke's decisions for the roster this season. The common theme has been that the last historic offseason made it impossible for any team to succeed, which is true, but the problem is, and what Jed is probably going to over look, is that it's mainly Baalke's fault. Good GMs know the pulse of the players, have a good idea who wants to be here, who loves the game. Baalke did not and was ill prepared to deal with any defections and early retirements. I could live with another season of Tomsula, if he's given the proper tools, but Baalke has no right and does not deserve another chance as he has done more damage to this franchise then even Terry Donahue. I have no faith left for Baalke and to allow him to make the most important selections this offseason would be fool hardy. In a perfect world, Baalke and the coaching staff get replaced with proven winners, but York is too proud to admit to his own failures and we will be stuck watching this team implode once again next season.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 9:45 AM
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  • cNiner
    the Scary thing is that the 49ers brass trust baalke to pick and JT to Coach , so we are going nowhere as long as the York's keeping them around .
    Dec 21, 2015 at 9:35 AM
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  • NCommand
    Nolan was the GM and Scot was the VP of PP. Scot was only GM for one year in. 2009...on par with the 2008 and 2012 drafts. A waste. McNolan only added 10 players plus Justin Smith over 5 years.
    Dec 21, 2015 at 9:18 AM
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    Response: Remember though, Scott laid the groundwork for 2010 that brought in Iupati, Davis, and Bowman. Some core players were brought in during his tenor with Nolan. Nolan couldn't coach, but he did a decent job with personnel.

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