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Why have the 49ers ignored the quarterback and wide receiver positions?

Al Sacco
Aug 17, 2016 at 9:44 AM18

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Anyone who follows the San Francisco 49ers on a regular basis knows that their general manager, Trent Baalke, is stubbornly old school when it comes to building his football team. Baalke, who's an unapologetic Bill Parcells disciple, seems married to the notion that running the ball and playing stout defense is the only way to go. While it's certainly hard to argue against this philosophy, the game has changed some since Parcells' heyday. Yes, being able to run and stop the run is still very valuable, but the NFL has evolved into a passing league.

Now I'm not saying that throwing the ball all over the field is the only way to win, but I would argue that sustaining long-term success has a lot to do with having an upper echelon quarterback and playmakers at his disposal. Can you win if you don't have those things? Absolutely, but the championship window will be a short one (i.e. the 49ers from 2011-2013). Baalke doesn't seem to feel the same way however, and he almost treats the quarterback and wide receiver positions like an afterthought.

The evidence for this theory is in the way he's approached the roster in recent years. Baalke has said repeatedly (and I agree with him) that you build your team through the draft. He's right, and successful franchises like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have shown that drafting well and rewarding your own players is the key to staying competitive. But those teams take a more balanced approach to drafting, where as Baalke seems to ignore players who, you know, actually make plays. In some instances Baalke seems to overdraft certain positions, despite a wide array of needs.

For example, the Niners have selected seven cornerbacks (seven!) since 2014. Those players are Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker, Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and Prince Charles Iworah. Despite all of the attention they've paid to the position in the draft, there's a very good possibility that the undrafted Chris Davis could end up winning the slot role this year. Were all of those corners really necessary? Wouldn't it have made more sense to concentrate on other areas that needed help like receiver or quarterback?

Let's look at the wide out position first. While the team looked good in 2013-2014 with Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree as starters, it was obvious a need was on the horizon. Boldin was getting older and Crabtree wasn't long from free agency. It was the perfect time to address the position via the draft, and develop a legitimate starter to take over in the coming years. This never seemed like a priority to Baalke though, who instead tried to hit on mid-to-late round picks the last four years. Did he become gun-shy after missing so badly with A.J. Jenkins in the 1st-round of 2012? It's possible, but after you fall off the horse, you have to get back on. if you're afraid to draft certain positions, maybe you shouldn't be a general manager.

Either way, Baalke's wide receiver selections have been both uninspired and ineffective, as the list below points out.

Year Round Player Receptions with 49ers
2010 6th Kyle Williams 47
2011 6th Ronald Johnson 0
2012 1st A.J. Jenkins 0
2013 4th Quinton Patton 36
2014 4th Bruce Ellington 19
2015 4th DeAndre Smelter Missed 2015 recovering from torn ACL
2016 6th Aaron Burbridge First season with the team

Now Patton and Ellington will get their first crack at playing significant snaps this season, but neither is a sure thing at this point. With the results being mixed on those two at the moment, it's beyond frustrating the the only two selections at the position the past two seasons where a 4th-rounder coming off an ACL tear, and a 6th-round flyer. It seems like another pass catcher would have been a screaming need to me. They did splurge on Torrey Smith as a free agent, but he's primarily a deep threat, and has no one to complement him at the moment.

Maybe though, just maybe, the issue isn't with guys like Patton and Ellington, but with the person who's supposed to be delivering the football. Now you could argue that the Niners thought they had a franchise quarterback with Colin Kaepernick and there was no need to draft another one, but I would make two points against that.

The first is that if the team was so convinced Kaepernick was the answer, why did they give him what basically amounted to a year-to-year contract? When you give a player that type of deal, it's obvious that questions still linger about them moving forward. If that was the case, it would have made sense to draft another quarterback to develop. The second point is that even if you love your starter, it still can't hurt to have a good backup that's been brought along in your system. Take the New England Patriots for example. Having Tom Brady didn't stop them from drafting Ryan Mallett or Jimmy Garoppolo, as those players not only provided the team with insurance, but also valuable trade chips.

Instead, Baalke decided to go the retread route by bringing in Colt McCoy and Blaine Gabbert, and almost ignoring the position all together in the draft. The only two quarterbacks selected since Kaepernick in 2011 were B.J. Daniels (7th-round, 2013) and Jeff Driskel (6th-round, 2016). The result is that the Niners have no idea what to expect behind center this year, and could be starting from scratch in 2017.

Obviously, the upcoming season still needs to play out, and there's always the possibility that someone like Gabbert or Patton could step up and prove themselves to be cornerstone pieces moving forward. But right now that would be an upset, and not something the 49ers can hang their hats on. Let's just hope that Baalke, if he's still the general manager, eventually comes to his senses and starts to address his roster like it's 2016, and not 1986.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013, and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via 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.


  • Con
    I wondering why we draft so many cb's im not agianst it in any way, i mean trying to find that gem in the late round at that cb is excellent if that is what he is trying to do?
    Aug 22, 2016 at 12:47 PM
  • RishikeshA
    My best guess is that Baalke can't grade the offensive side of the ball. As far as drafting a QB in the first round, it puts too much pressure on Baalke. Plays it safe by drafting O-Lineman and D-backs.
    Aug 20, 2016 at 8:45 AM
  • Timmy
    To be perfectly fair though, had I chosen AJ Jenkins in the first round I would be terrified to pick a WR again too.
    Aug 19, 2016 at 7:49 PM
  • Mike Cortese
    I agree with this article in many aspects. We are drafted to heavy in one position and ignoring other positions of need. however, this year there was no clear receiver trading up for that stood out. I think Baalke should have gone after a cornerback in the 2016 draft class, and a clear middle linebacker that can be a difference maker.
    Aug 18, 2016 at 7:07 PM
  • Perez
    Its always been the qb kap ,you dont get worse in your prime or need a coach to hold your hand..a franchise qb should make a receiver great not stare down the target or only see one side of the field and is breaking fingers with baseball motions pass. instead they stop running there routs because they are not getting the ball anyways.receivers careers die with the 49ers, it's funny how they leave and revive there careers somewhere else now then can suddenly play again..Crabtree said it best get in them books and learn what your doing out there or greg cosell break down of kap..
    Aug 17, 2016 at 7:46 PM
  • GM
    The title of this article is misleading: Why have the 49ers ignored the quarterback and wide receiver positions? Yet this article focuses ONLY on Baalke. If this article is truly going to ask this question over that time period, one needs to look at each 49er regime during those drafts and ASK THE QUESTION, rather than assume or create some sort of false consistent decision-making/evaluation of players for every year reviewed. Al you make the mistake many make in their criticism of the 49ers, in that you don't criticize the 49ERS, you only single out one guy - who as we all know from the coaches' mouths themselves, Baalke never, ever is the draft czar - especially for QBs and WRs.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 7:14 PM
  • WildBill
    We did draft a QB in Kaep, then a funny thing happened, we found success and our picks were no longer top 10. This year we were in the top 10, but the price was to steep. I agree we need QB, but miss and you pay for it for many years especially have if you package picks, look at the past, there have been many misses. As for wr, I think if you look at those who succeeded they also had a good QB. So get a QB is more important than. Remember scheme was dictated by HC and OC not Baalke with the exception of Tomasula. Walsh aways said that you can build an offense with schemes. Plus it is a matter if you see someone you like. There have not been any worth it.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 3:40 PM
  • Rob
    My bad, thought Phil Simms was in the Hall. Must have been thinking about his induction into the Giants Ring of Fame, or whatever it was called. That said, Parcels always had decent to great quarterbacks. I don't know what to make of Baalke. He seems to focus on defense, from which he does have a good eye.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 2:28 PM
  • Amos
    I wouldn't say he's completely ignored it. This past year, we couldn't possibly give up the draft capital to get Goff or Wentz.. who I believe aren't stars in this league. Not even close. We had to rebuild this team up front. There wasn't a FA on the market worth signing... at least from the QB standpoint. However, I do think we have swung and missed on some WR's. If there was any way we could have gotten an Alshon Jeffery.. that would have made Blaine Gabbert's life easier.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 11:57 AM
  • Nick
    I just don't get how he can't find a decent reciever...he drafted Jenkins when Jeffrey was still on the board... why not steal a scout from a team that can actually draft wrs like the Giants or another team can't hurt bc ballke is pathetic at getting offensive playmakers
    Aug 17, 2016 at 11:53 AM
  • Jacob
    No doubt that in order to be a perennial upper echelon team we will need to find that franchise QB we have lacked since 1999. I like the foundation we are building now, but we are still 2 or 3 good drafts away from being a powerhouse again. Baalke needs a guy who knows a good QB when he sees one. Maybe Chip Kelly is that guy. For both of their sakes he'd better be.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 11:41 AM
  • Rob
    Parcel's quarterback in New York was Phil Sims, who is in the HOF... He didn't get there handing the ball off. I think it has a lot more to do with Baalke whiffing on receivers and quarterbacks in the draft and free agency, than his philosophy.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 11:39 AM
    Response: I don't think Simms is in the Hall but yes, he was better than anyone the 49ers have had recently.
  • Graham
    I don't see taking a long shot like that as being all that different to what we have done, and unlikely to achieve anything much. But if none of the current guys can make it, next year we are going to have to put together a mega deal to trade up to the top.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 11:10 AM
  • Insane
    You seemed to mention that most of his WR selections have been mid to late round picks but failed to mention that so have the DB's. It's no surprise that Baalke is not great at selecting offensive talent. However, he is not alone in the selection process. With Chip Kelly at the helm now, I expect better WR and QB selections in the future. This offseason was all about building up the offensive and defensive lines. while also getting some DB's who can press and jam recievers at the line for our new man coverage defense. Expect this franchise to go after a QB, WR and pass rushing OLB early in next years draft.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 11:07 AM
  • Graham
    Not sure what really promising qb's Baalke has passed up in the draft Al.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 10:41 AM
    Response: Off the top of my head, someone like an AJ McCarron who went in the 5th round I believe. That type of pick, sonewhere in the last 3-4 years, would have been beneficial. They don't all work out, but should have made it a priority at some point imo.
  • hector
    Niners didn't learn from their own mistakes and they had to deal with personnel around to keep this "boat" floating. The worst part gonna be that 2017 offseason ain't gonna be a promising one either on FA or Draft. Watson, Kaaya and Falk could fit Kelly's system but not gonna put any of them as week 1 rookie starter then veteran FA's besides Brees are average at best (Mark Sanchez, Brian Hoyer,Landry Jones, Geno Smith,Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib) to be bridge passer until rookie is groomed.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 10:18 AM
  • m_brockalexander
    Baalke won't have a choice next year, if he still has a job. With all that cap space and his draft picks, they won't have any more excuses to fill these skill positions FINALLY.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 10:09 AM
  • EDD
    Too many "red shirt" and "potential value" drafts, plus lack of knowledge/ability to draft offense. I believe that as a GM, Baalke is in over his head.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 10:07 AM

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