Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Analysts’ Criticism of 49ers Draft Is Misguided

May 5, 2016 at 1:40 PM

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It's been almost a week since the NFL Draft started in Chicago and draft "grades" for teams have been steadily rolling in. While these grades don't mean anything when it comes to what actually happens on the field, they give an interesting perspective as to how teams are perceived from an outsider's point of view. Thus far for the 49ers, it's been a mixed bag.

The 49ers are in the beginning stages of a rebuild. We know this. It's also no secret that Niners general manager Trent Baalke needed a solid draft not only to help the rebuild effort, but also to keep his job. I've been critical of Baalke in the past and still remain skeptical of him until I see results on the field, but on paper, he looks to have improved the roster through his latest draft.

Yes, Baalke pulled off one of his better drafts this past week in Chicago. That could be taken one of two ways: he had a solid draft that will undoubtedly help the rebuilding process, or he's been so bad at drafting in the past that a little bit of improvement is a welcome sight. I tend to agree with the latter.

It seems like the pundits either hated the 49ers draft (like USA Today here and here), or they really loved the draft (like Pro Football Focus here). If one reads some of the negative draft grades, the most interesting thing and the prevailing thought about the 49ers is that they failed to resolve their quarterback situation because they haven't found a solution for the embattled Colin Kaepernick.

On the surface, this seems to be the case. However, digging deeper, it's plainly obvious that the 49ers will keep Kaepernick and let him compete because of the following reasons.

  1. Other teams have already filled their quarterback needs through the draft and free agency.
  2. They are already paying his salary for this year and no one will want to take on that big of a cap hit with rosters already being full.
  3. Kaepernick realizes that his best chance to start and succeed is now with the 49ers.
  4. Chip Kelly seems to be the mediator in this feud and actually seems to want Kaepernick.

The team probably came to this point after they knew that the top two quarterbacks would be off the board (former Cal QB Jared Goff and former North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz) and decided that none of the quarterbacks left were better than what they currently had. The Niners chose to build from the inside out, starting with the offensive and defensive lines. This isn't a bad philosophy, as a quarterback is really only as good as his line. Throw in the fact that the other quarterbacks that were linked to the 49ers - Connor Cook from Michigan State and Paxton Lynch from Memphis - were erratic in college and the decision became easier: if and when the team drafts the QB of the future, they must ensure that he comes into a stable situation so that he has the best chance to succeed.

Unfortunately, the pundits don't like this. They like flashy picks. They like guys that they've heard of and guys that have measurables that are off of the charts. They become so enamored with value that they immediately disregard picks that fill huge needs (see: Josh Garnett).

The Garnett pick got so much negative press because of what the 49ers "gave up" to move up into the first round and get him. Let's step back for a second and see what the team REALLY gave up:

The 49ers received the 28th pick as well as No. 249 in the seventh round, while the Chiefs got the 37th selection in the second round, No. 105 in the fourth and the 178th choice in the sixth.

Think about that for a second; the 49ers traded with Kansas City and moved up from No. 37 to No. 28 (essentially a wash), received No. 249 in the seventh round in exchange for No. 178 in the sixth round (also essentially a wash with the picks being that late) and gave up No. 105. So really, the 49ers only gave up a 4th round pick to select the best guard in the draft.

Realizing that all of these picks have some sort of value to people, let me pause for a second and mention these names: Blake Bell, Mike Davis, DeAndre Smelter, Bruce Ellington, Donate Johnson, Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore, Joe Looney and Kendall Hunter. These are all of the 4th round picks (before this draft) that Baalke has made since becoming general manager, so it's not as if the 49ers lost out on a franchise player by trading that pick away - despite what the "experts" think.

Let's also highlight the fact that the Niners drafted three offensive linemen this draft in Garnett, John Theus from Georgia and Fahn Cooper from Ole Miss. Cooper filled in admirably for right tackle Laremy Tunsil and won the Kent Hull Trophy for Ole Miss as their best offensive lineman...but what does this all mean? This means the Niners can now move on from Jordan Devey and Erik Pears, two of the worst offensive linemen in the league in 2015 according to PFF – so that alone will make the team better.

The team was also able to add defensive end Ronald Blair in the 5th round. Blair won Defensive Player of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference last year. It's important to note that any time a team can add the best player in his respective conference in a draft, it's going to add talent to that team. The team also increased competition at the cornerback position, adding Will Redmond (Mississippi St.), Rashard Robinson (LSU) and Prince Charles Iworah (Western Kentucky).

Some analysts don't like the fact that the 49ers did not address the quarterback position until the later rounds of the draft. The Niners chose to draft Jeff Driskel out of Louisiana Tech in the 6th round. He's very raw, but definitely has athleticism - 6'4, 237 lbs, 4.54s 40 yard dash. He'll most likely supplant Dylan Thompson as the third QB this year. Throw in running back Kelvin Taylor from Florida and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge from Michigan State and it seems as though the team has added significant depth and talent during this draft.

Now, to the point. For me, a draft is judged by the following factors:

  • Did the team fill needs?
  • Did the team find immediate contributors?
  • Did the team add enough talent to push the existing players or take the spots of less talented players?

The answer to all of those questions is "yes." Granted, it speaks mostly to the dismal state of the current roster, but it's a step in the right direction. To say that the 49ers had an unsuccessful draft because they failed to move Colin Kaepernick and "gave up too much" in trading up for Josh Garnett is ridiculous. It takes away from the actual talent that was added and the holes that were filled.

While I'm not a huge fan of doubling up on picks and over drafting one position - something Baalke loves to do - there were still a lot of holes filled. There is still a hole at inside linebacker that needs to be addressed but make no mistake, this is a rebuild and it's going to be a process. I'll be skeptical of Baalke until I see results on the field, but I can say that on paper this seems like Baalke's best draft since 2011...which isn't saying much but hey, it's a start.


  • What grade would you give the 49ers draft?
  • B
  • A
  • C
  • Incomplete/Too Early To Tell
  • D
  • F
  • 1,801 votes
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.


  • Dan Waterman
    I agree with your thought process, it is all on paper with lots of promise. Real result will in coming months, year and year after that. I agree with "montv" that it is very rare when a player excels in his first year for a college player it always takes time to adjust to NFL speed. In my opinion Josh Garnett is a great pick, I like the way Baalke moved up to get him, if we didn't get him, he goes to Seattle. It is always good to snatch it away from division rival. I am cautiously optimistic that we are on the right track at least on paper. We hoe for the best.
    May 11, 2016 at 4:06 PM
  • montv
    It really takes a couple of years before a draft can be evaluated. But I agree, it was past time to draft offensive linemen, and it looks like the Niners got enough to allow cutting Devey and Pears, great experts in the "lookout block", where you miss your man and tell the ball carrier or QB "Look out!". If Garnett is like Iupati, it was worth it to move up to get him. Buckner looks like a good choice also. And if there's one position Baalke is good at choosing, it's secondary. Wilhoite is serviceable at ILB, so let's hope he holds up and the defensive line improves enough to help out he and Bowman. As to QB, once Goff was gone, it was over. And there was no guarantee he would be the next Aaron Rodgers, either. I feel they should cut Kaepernick, play Gabbert and see what Driskell is able to do while carrying a clipboard. Bradshaw went to Louisiana Tech; of course, so did Tim Rattay. Keep Hyde healthy, play defense and let's see what happens this season.
    May 7, 2016 at 12:02 PM
  • Phil
    Speaking of pundits, Grant Cohn gave this draft a D-. Ha! Cohn's only a sportswriter because he rode his daddy's (also a hack) coattails. At least Lowell Cohn writes something interesting and true once in a while. Niners beefed up the lines, got depth in the secondary (we'll probably play a lot of nickel and dime, so it makes sense), and got great value in the 6th round with Driskel, Taylor and Burbridge.
    May 6, 2016 at 6:55 AM
  • Ruben
    Very good year we have some very good pass rushers and mlb's coming out ....we'll win more games than expected
    May 6, 2016 at 4:52 AM
  • Ben
    Joshua Garnnet was an EXCELLENT pick, and well worth the trade. He was the best guard in the draft, is a beast who plays angrily, and is a really smart, high character guy.
    May 6, 2016 at 2:24 AM
  • John
    This draft was basically awful for SF. I loved the first round and was very excited after day one. However, after the rest of the draft it was clear that round one was good because Chip must have had some influence. What happened after round one? We didn't do anything to improve the team. That sounds like Baalke to me. He drafted a guy from LSU who has not played in 18 months. Did he not learn his lesson from A. Smith and the others that gave this team a bad rap for the last 5 years? Character issues were one thing we needed to stay away from and he went and drafted the biggest screw up in the draft this year. Bad! Then he drafted a guy who is less than a year removed from ACL tear. Are you effing kidding me? Why? Why does he insist on doing this? and how on earth can anyone consider this a successful draft? Baalke WASTED our middle round picks. There is no argument there. He had enough picks to move back into the second round and maybe find a third starter in two days instead he wasted picks on guys who may not play this year or ever. F on the draft. The first round was an A but the rest was a Z!
    May 6, 2016 at 1:16 AM
  • mbniner
    I pulled the plug on my cable provider so I don't get ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. anymore and it is actually a pleasure not to hear those so-called experts making themselves into a daisy-chain to spout off the official stance on the latest hot topic, usually about an East Coast team. Most of them do not seem to have first hand knowledge of what they are discussing and it especially true for post draft grading. I think that the Niner draft was very good, given our needs and the strengths of players available to fill those needs. The draft was deep in OL, DL, and CB, and not so deep at ILB, WR, and,to an extent, OLB. The reality is we have 2 starting-caliber QBs, several promising WRs, depth at RB and solid Safeties.
    May 5, 2016 at 11:11 PM
  • newton
    most people forget that Blaine Gabbert was former #10 overall pick. Actually, his stat in college was a lot better than Kap. Unfortunately, he was thrown into the fire by a bad team with a defensive minded HC and bad OL there. Just like Alex Smith when he was with the 49ers during the early years. Never has a chance to learn the game properly. QBs like Brady, Rodgers, Montana and Young sat for a while to learn the trade before they were put into the fire. I think if Gabbert is in a right situation, he can be a very serviceable QB. He may not be an elite QB but he has enough skills to win a lot of games and gives the team some QB stability for a while. With almost the same setup, he did much better than Kap in 2015 even without any meaningful running game. I think the 49ers will be OK with him. Nick Foles was a superstar under Kelly. Gabbert is much better than Foles.
    May 5, 2016 at 7:01 PM
  • Steve
    The old cliche is true. The game is won and lost in the trenches. Denver just won a sb with a broken down qb. Also if we are as bad as the so called "experts" say then we should be right up there to draft a franchise qb next April.
    May 5, 2016 at 6:35 PM
  • Dennis
    Round 1 was the best draft since P Willy and Joe Staley.
    May 5, 2016 at 6:28 PM
  • Thomas
    One other minor consideration regarding the move up for Garnett; wether by accident or by intent what the niners also did was take one of the best O line men off the board ahead of SEA's first pick. they did take a an OL, a big need for them. just another weight on the scale of positives for the niners to come out of the draft.
    May 5, 2016 at 5:02 PM
  • Frank
    Totally agree! Tired of listening to these so called "experts". Like they watched any 49er games. Love the trade up to get the best run blocking guard in the country, Garnett. Add a couple of OL to compete for the RT or swing tackle. I was so sick of seeing Pears and Deven at the right side of our line. Rodgers,Brady wouldn't survive on that line. This will surely kick Devey and Pears kick off the curb. Lucky for us that Buckner fell to us at 7. Add Blair and suddenly our DLINE is also complete. I like that we solidify our trenches. Next year we add a terror OLB , ILB . Let's see what Gabbert can do with an improved line. If he can somewhat manage the game, then that's good enough. Develop Driskell. I think another solid draft next year, lots of cash to spend in free agency then we should be ready to compete in 2018.
    May 5, 2016 at 4:55 PM
  • Tyler
    I really am normally very critical of Trent b,but I truly have no complaints about the draft. a lot of people were screaming for the 9ers to draft a ILB but what I really would like to see is the coaching staff convert jaquiski tart into ILB and then problem solved.
    May 5, 2016 at 4:39 PM
  • Greg
    Baalke could have taken any running back in the late third round, Hyde is injury prone. He has no wr to pair with Torrey Smith. Alot of depth but if someone does not step up, Baalke could be gone.
    May 5, 2016 at 4:13 PM
  • Stewart
    I don't mind the pick from a value standpoint cause we didn't give up the farm for him. Here is my only issue with the Garnett pick. TB has yet to pay a guard a second contract. Ipuati was an above average player for us and he let him walk. Boone, until last season was a good player as well. When you invest a 1st round pick, you like to see those players get to a second contract with us. I don't mind the pick if the rumors are true that we went ahead of Seattle to get him, cause that is fine. That all being said, it wasn't a sexy draft, but it was what we needed in terms of fixing some of our problem areas.
    May 5, 2016 at 3:55 PM
  • hawkspa
    While I agree that this was a descent draft and generally agree with you, I would like to add a few comments: (1) When stating reasons for sticking to Kaepernick, you omitted the most important: he is the best QB we could have. This draft was average when QBs are considered. We could not get any better than Kaep, Goff and Wentz included, (2) I have a mixed feelings when it comes to trade for J. Garnett. I think he is a very good player. Particularly, I like a fact that he is a very smart young man. However, maybe we should have stayed put, draft, say, R. Ragland (I do believe that we need ILB) at No. 37 and, say, A. Billings at No. 105. Since we do need OG, we could have drafted, say, C. Westerman at No. 145. So, it is not only who did we draft; it is, also, who we did not draft. Would you rather have J. Garnett and J. Teus, or R. Ragland, A. Billlings and C. Westerman? Please, think of it! (3) While I agree with drafting CB, I am not sure that we need 3 of them. I would have drafted W. Redmond at No. 68, but at No. 133, instead of R. Robinson, I would rather have D. Booker. Also, at No. 213, instead of Iworah, I would rather have another OF (V. Alexander) or ILB (S. Wright).
    May 5, 2016 at 3:00 PM
  • Tim
    Comparing USA today to PFF in regards to football analysis. Is like comparing The National Enquirer to the New York Times.
    May 5, 2016 at 2:43 PM
  • Cutitoff
    Very good article. Get the lines rebuilt before you draft a qb.That's a solid philosophy. There was no qb worth a dam,the experts think they can pull a qb out their rear ends just because they need one. No way to fill all needs at once, pick the BPA and build talent at every spot you can. Nobody wanted Kap, so what the hell were they to do? I thought Balke did a good job, of course you could change a few things here and there but you can say that about every team in every draft, and thanks for pointing out what they gave up to get Garnett, people going nuts saying they gave up three draft picks to get a guard, do the math.
    May 5, 2016 at 2:43 PM
  • Todd
    I think people want the 49ers to turn this around quickly which is not going to happen. So when they see these draft picks and the pack of quality off season free agents they get frustrated. This is 3 years to get a NFL caliber roster and 5 to 7 years to actually be good kind of rebuild. To think it can happen any sooner is just fooling yourself!
    May 5, 2016 at 2:26 PM
  • Jackman
    I agree wholeheartedly with your article, especially about Kap. The trade was never going to happen with Denver because the 49ers, Broncos AND Kap were a million miles apart. As for Kap, he is a professional football player and will do his very best this year because he has pride and is a competitor. What people forget is that Kap's beef was with York and Baalke - NOT with Kelly and his coaches. He has a new start and with a hopefully much better O-line will not get his brains beat in like last year.
    May 5, 2016 at 2:19 PM
  • Don
    Originally when the trade and pick went down i thought the Niners gave up too much but in retrospect if Garnett was the best blocking Guard in the draft, the 4th rounder given up was worth it. I also thought the three corners drafted was overkill but hard to say no in the 7th round to 4.3-40 speed with cover potential.. Still concerned that they did not address ILB in the draft but feel a bit better with NaVorro coming out and saying Chip's defense is very linebacker friendly. Perhaps they have enough depth with the new defensive scheme to make it work but would love to see just one more fast, rangy ILB in the stable to make sure. Maybe they can sneak a FA in that will suffice..
    May 5, 2016 at 2:14 PM
  • OldNiner
    I agree with most of the conclusions in this article. Most of the self-proclaimed "experts" are best described as draft-geeks and I think Kiper's Klingon hair has grown into his brain. The 49ers O-line will be immediately better, and both Gabbert and Kaepernick can play QB. The 49ers may very well need both of them this year. D-line could be awesome depending on how the coaches use the players they have assembled. Out of all those CBs, if we get one good one, I'll take that. Yes considering where the team is/was as of last season, this is all good news.
    May 5, 2016 at 2:06 PM
  • sacninerfan
    At first, I, like many thought, "wow, gave up too much" but looking at it, it really wasn't a whole lot. The only difference I would have liked to see was instead of drafting a WR, we should of went after a ILB. I really want to see what our WR's can do, Rogers, White, and Smelter in particular.
    May 5, 2016 at 1:58 PM
  • GM
    Excellent article! It was well stated and detailed in its presentation. Thanks for the analysis.
    May 5, 2016 at 1:57 PM

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