Just Barely, Baalke Delivers

May 3, 2011 at 6:45 AM


Seriously. This couldn't be happening.

Since landing Jim Harbaugh, we'd proudly predicted a new age of glory. But with business on ice, the start of that era kept getting pushed back. Now, though, at last we were here. Day one, of Harbaugh's first draft. Day one, of the Niners' resurgence.

This was the day when it all would start.

And it couldn't have started any worse.

For each of his picks, any decent GM has Plan A and Plan B. As the draft approached, Trent Baalke was predictably coy when asked for his plans about pick #7. "We'll find out on draft day," he said with a smirk.

And thanks to the Niners' "war room" camera, we DID find out. We saw Plan A and we saw Plan B. And we saw how both went up in smoke.

In a delicious twist of irony, Plan A hinged on the Cardinals. We'd crushed those guys in the season finale, earning ourselves that crucial sixth win. Now we stood at their mercy. They needed a passer, and Blaine Gabbert was there; all they had to do was take him. But instead they took Patrick Peterson, a Deion-like corner we'll face twice a year for a decade or more.

In the war room, all were visibly pissed. The message was clear: with pick #5, there went Plan A.

Baalke started working the phone, showing us that Plan B was a trade. The Falcons were looking to move up, WAY up, to take receiver Julio Jones. It seemed like we might have a deal, and what a spectacular deal it would be; Atlanta was dangling a Herschel's ransom, a package of dynasty-building picks. But at the last minute, the Falcons gave those picks to the Browns.

In the war room, Baalke slammed down the phone. And with pick #6, there went Plan B.

Stuck at 7, it was up to Baalke to salvage some face. Clearly, Harbaugh didn't want Gabbert, so thoughts started turning to Prince Amukamara, the next-best thing to Peterson and a popular choice for us at that spot. But Baalke went with Aldon Smith, whom some of us had scarcely heard of. Upon further review, Smith was more a surprise than a reach, though he seems as much the next Manny Lawson as he seems the next DeMarcus Ware. Still, he was Plan C, and an uninspiring one at that.

This was the start of the Harbaugh era. And it couldn't have started any worse.

Of course, the biggest task still lay ahead. This draft was all about Harbaugh's QB; getting him was an absolute must, even BEFORE we settled for Smith. Now, though, the stakes were raised. In a way, this strange partnership--the savior coach, and the GM who had just happened to be here--was hanging in the balance already.

With a leap of faith, Harbaugh had given Baalke his trust.

Baalke simply had to deliver.

Harbaugh's choice was Colin Kaepernick, and it was easy to see why. Statistically, he was the greatest dual-threat quarterback that college football had ever seen, bursting with raw athletic talent. His value, though, had been suppressed, by his gimmicky offense and baseball-like windup. So Baalke could wait for the second round (though he dodged a bullet when the Vikes reached way up to take Christian Ponder). But he couldn't wait until pick 45.

On the morning of day two, the Niners told Kaepernick they'd trade up to get him. Easier said than done, of course. Baalke couldn't get pick 33 away from the Patriots, who went with a corner. (They'd wait to take their QB in the third.) He must've been sweating as Buffalo was on the clock, but the Bills selected a corner too. As expected, the Bengals went passer but took Andy Dalton. And then, with the Raiders apparently hot on our heels, Baalke moved into the Broncos' spot, giving up a fourth and a fifth.

And with literally the last possible pick, Baalke delivered Harbaugh's QB.

With his most essential mission accomplished, Baalke went back to confounding the masses. Beyond quarterback, our greatest needs were corner and pass-rusher. Having already chosen a defensive end as an outside 'backer, Baalke decided to bring in a safety and stick him at corner. (And we needn't discuss the offensive tackles who'll move to guard or the defensive end who'll play as a fullback.) Obviously, that's a whole lot of projects, and they'll keep the pressure squarely on Baalke. He didn't do much to quiet the doubts about whether he's truly got what it takes; if these risks don't pan out, those doubts will evolve into shouts for his head.

Yet this merely illustrates the paradox of this new regime. We don't trust Baalke, but we DO trust Harbaugh, and Harbaugh's got no doubts at all. "Trent Baalke was a steely-eyed missile man in this draft," the coach raved. "It was impressive. Some of the things that happened in this draft, a lot of people would have buckled. ... [With] Colin, they were diving in. Three, four teams were diving in to get him, and we got him one pick before we couldn't have gotten him."

And for now, at least, that's all that matters. Baalke got him, the key to the Niners' return to glory. Oh, sure, it'll take a while, as Harbaugh constructs him with caution and care. We'll start with a bridge, and thanks to this vacuous labor mess, it's ever more likely to be Alex Smith, who'll cast his unfortunate shadow of old onto Harbaugh's era of shiny and new.

But make no mistake, that era's begun. Whatever else Baalke did or didn't, he did what he simply needed to do.

Baalke delivered Harbaugh's QB.
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.


50 Comments

  • Kathy
    What a joy to find such clear thinking. Thanks for posting!
    Jun 4, 2011 at 8:42 PM
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  • louie
    Hey, NinerTico, Jeff Kaplan doesn't need any cover from those of us who agree with him, but (since real NFL football is on hold) I feel a need to respond to you since Jeff didn't bother. First of all, the 49ers aren't "our" organization (unfortunately, it's the Yorks'). Speaking as a long time $ea$on ticket holder I would guess that if the 49ers were "our" organization most of us would probably have hired a real GM a long time ago--as opposed to two (McCloughan and Baalke) inexperienced, untested rookies who had never dealt with the NFL or the other GMs/teams at that level. If you think the 49ers had to play with the hand that they were dealt, it's because you don't appreciate what a top, experienced GM can do with a #7 overall pick and eleven more picks to wheel and deal with. You say you trust Jed and Baalke. I ask why? How many years/drafts have to go by before you and the other fans who support this ownership acknowledge history/reality and join those of us who want to see it before we believe it?
    May 13, 2011 at 10:59 PM
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  • NinerTico
    "Seriously. This couldn't be happening." Why is it always an underlying current of ineptitude and failure about any aspect of our organization with your articles. "Just Barely" says it all without even trying. And the all-inclusive..."It couldn't have started any worse." You don't trust Baalke. I get it. We get it. However, don't say "we" because I do trust him. I also trust Harbaugh and Jed to get this ship righted, on course to move towards repairing our team. This article is laughable and made for great entertainment, drama is as drama does. Oh yes, I am entitled to my opinion. You assume a great deal. The cards were laid out on the table and he could only do so much with the hand he was dealt: Couldn't move up or down, that much is fact for sure. You write well, make some points and at times hit the nail on the head. Good for ya on that. But, C'mon man! We are all entitled to our opinions, this is but another negative one from ya. Typical. Even the small amount of positive you give Baalke for finding Jim's QB is lost in all that underlying current. Just keep stirring the pot with that ladle of doubt. Makes for good Niner Talk Soup. Thanks!
    May 12, 2011 at 8:41 AM
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  • Neil N
    Well considering Fangio didn't take Fairley, I'm guessing that our 3-4 style of defense doesn't fit Fairley's play style! Ahaha you're trying to lecture me on defenses and how Fangio would disagree with me, but guess what... we took ALDON SMITH. NOT Fairley. And yes, I watched the national championship game. Do you know what I saw? A player that needed to lower his pad level and play with better leverage. He was dominating because he was just physically superior to college guards. In a 3-4 not only will Fairley be facing NFL tackles (who are better athletes and better pass protectors), but he would also face multiple double teams. The kid isn't Suh, he will lose his physical dominance when he moves onto the NFL, and will be forced to learn technique to be successful. Fairley is still a project. You also act as if Aldon isn't elite talent. Don't fool yourself, he is.
    May 10, 2011 at 12:09 AM
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  • Terry B.
    So 298 pounds would make Fairley four pounds heavier than Justin Smith. Neil, I assume that you know that the terms 3-4 and 4-3 are not schemes, but rather position groupings. Wade Phillips's 3-4 is very different from Bill Belichick's, and they do not use their players the same way. But in your mind, there is simply no way that, in a grouping of three defensive linemen, Nick Fairley could be successful. I suspect that Vic Fangio would disagree with you. Since Fairley was drafted by a 4-3 team, we'll likely never know the answer to this question. But I would suggest that you go back and watch the national championship game and see if you can say to yourself with a straight face that there is simply no way that the 49ers could use a guy like that. I hope we never have a defensive coordinator that uncreative. You win in this league with elite talent, and I think it's very risky to leave guys like Fairley on the board in favor of projects. And, as for "gold stars," I can't think of a Super Bowl winner that got there because it assembled the highest character players. It's certainly a nice sentiment, but not a winning one.
    May 9, 2011 at 8:09 AM
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  • Neil N.
    Terry B., yes actually completely true. Fairley's game is based around quickness more than anything else. If you're a 3-4 end you need the ability to absorb double and even triple teams constantly. Fairley's reliance on quickness and upright playing style is not a good fit in a 3-4. To add onto all of this Fairley's main weakness was his motor, and if you have a weak motor as a 3-4 end then it opens up the linebackers to the guards and tackles, which leads to long runs. Fairley isn't nearly as strong or as big as Richard Seymour. Fairley's 6-2 or 6-3 298. Seymour is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-6 315. The difference is that his role will change from one-gap disruptor to gap-eater that absorbs double teams. Fairley just isn't suited for that kind of play.
    May 8, 2011 at 1:09 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Neil N., not true. Fairley easily projects as a DE in the 3-4, a la Richard Seymour. DT in the 4-3; DE in the 3-4. The scouting reports said as much, and Fairley was even quoted as saying he'd be happy to play in either system. He was mocked to the 49ers in several mocks. Fangio is a smart guy who has used both schemes. Do you really think he can't figure out a way to use a player like Fairley? Moreover, the player we drafted is a DE who we're going to teach to play OLB. So you mean to tell me you're 100% confident that Smith can be taught to play OLB, but Fairley can't be taught to move 3 or 4 steps to his left or right and tear it up the same way he always does? Please. Just please. I have a feeling we're going to have more than a few moments of regret waiting for Smith to develop while Fairley is tossing Jay Cutler around like a rag doll. Maybe DE isn't our most pressing need, but Fairley is not the type of player you pass up lightly. Alas, if only he had a gold star...
    May 6, 2011 at 6:51 PM
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  • Neil N.
    Terry, Fairley doesn't fit a 3-4 scheme. He's purely a 3 technique otherwise known as a DT in a 4-3.
    May 6, 2011 at 6:00 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Neil, I was talking about Nick Fairley. Jeff, although Baalke might have come up with the specific term "gold star," do you really think he's running the show? I suspect that Harbaugh is top dog here and that Baalke merely does his bidding. After all, the 49ers had no problem drafting turds while Baalke was director of player personnel. Then we brought in as head coach someone who actually says things like this: "I'm really impressed with him as a person. He's an All-American young man. Has great wiring, many blessings from mom, dad and God, and we just feel like he's going to be someone who's obviously going to add to our football team and make us a better football team." And now all of a sudden we have our "gold star" system. The circumstantial evidence says that Harbaugh is steering this ship.
    May 6, 2011 at 12:46 PM
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    Response: I disagree, Terry. Although Baalke was here when we were drafting "turds," he was outranked by, among others, our last coach, who was known for chasing questionable characters. When Baalke ascended to GM, he made sure to get complete personnel control; upon his own hiring, Harbaugh made clear that he would have none. And not only did Harbaugh give Baalke all the credit for the draft, but also, with respect to the "gold star," he said that it was Baalke who "put a definition on what a 49er is." I don't deny that Harbaugh seems to have bought into this vision--though your quote just seems like your typical draft-day puffery--but I'm quite convinced that the vision is Baalke's.
  • Gmoney
    Neil, I think the other problem with Quinn was that he wasn't as versatile a player as Aldon. All accounts have him more as a 4-3 end than a 3-4 OLB. He could make the transition, but it wouldn't be smooth. Baalke made a point to mention Aldon's versatility. Can rush, drop back and even move inside on passing downs. Fangio's defense is built on versatility and ambush tactics, having a player as versatile as Aldon will help. Also makes me wonder if now the Niners keep Manny and get rid of Parys due to Manny's versatility. If Aldon is the Haley of this defense, perhaps Manny can be the Keena? I mean can you think of two more athletic OLB's?
    May 6, 2011 at 12:23 PM
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  • Dan
    Ok, you guys want to discuss the gold star. It does seem to limit the pool you're choosing from, but how do you not limit your pool while you're scouting out prospects? Isn't that the whole purpose of scouting? Isn't character one of the things you look at? I admit 45 guys making the cut seems a bit strict, but how bad is that? The NFL seems to get more and more screwups every year. You get guys making millions and shooting themselves in the foot. Maybe the bar should be set higher. Anyway this transcript said most of the guys they got were the gold stars, so they didn't limit to 45 guys. They went off the gold star thing at least a couple places. I know that won't fit into your Baalke/Jed bashing fun but I thought I'd put it out there to keep you guys straight. If you pay attention, Harbaugh fits the mold exactly, so the gold star is looking good there at least. Sorry you guys are so disappointed in this year's draft, better luck in free agency. You guys will pick that apart too, as you should. You know you are actually putting Baalke through kind of the same type of standards test he's doing with the players. I guess it's only fair, but don't forget to hold yourself up to the light.
    May 6, 2011 at 12:02 PM
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  • Gmoney
    Been a fan of this page forever but never ventured into the forums. Great discussion back and forth and a nice way to scratch that ever growing football itch. One thing I would caution against is saying this draft was a success or failure so early. Snap judgments are rarely correct. I was as confused as anyone when I heard Aldon Smith's name called. I wanted that kid from NC Quinn badly. But then I took the time to look at Smith more closely and I am quite happy with the pick now. For those who are against this pick, I highly suggest you to go to the tape. Kid came in as a freshman, broke the team sack record, then started year two with three sacks in three games. Broke his leg, then came back three weeks later and played on his one bad wheel while maintaining his status as a disruptive force. I ask you all, if he had had the same season as he had his freshman year, would he have been rated higher? I think so. If Harbaugh really liked Kaep, then Baalke gets credit for moving up and snatching him, by all accounts, the niners weren't the only one. Imagine if they whiffed on that, then what? I say let's wait and see how they turn out before we say anything with certainty.
    May 6, 2011 at 11:12 AM
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  • Neil N
    @TerryB. Well considering Cam Newton was far and away the most dominant player in college... I wonder who you're talking about... I think the reason we didn't take Quinn was because he didn't check out medically. Kid has a brain tumor that is too close to the brain to be removed completely. He's a great football player, but the tumor could become malignant or he could have a complication within the first couple years of his pro career. Now why would one want to take that much of a risk, when a similar physical specimen in Aldon Smith is still on the board? If the doctors don't clear him he is wiped off the board. End of story.
    May 6, 2011 at 10:29 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Oahuan's comments are frightening, as they clearly demonstrate that the franchise is being set up for long-term failure. If Harbaugh is limiting himself to "gold star" players (or "gold helmet" as Dan would say) and thought there were only 45 in this draft, the writing is on the wall for this regime. You win in this league with blue-chip players. We may indeed get a team of the best choir boys, but Harbaugh's plan is not a recipe for success. It reminds me of how Josh McDaniels came into Denver talking about only drafting high-character players and having fewer than 100 players on his draft board. It took him all of two years to run the Broncos into the ground. When we picked Smith, arguably the most dominant player in all of college football was still on the board. You can't last long in this league making decisions like that. And Culliver in the THIRD ROUND? Are you freaking kidding me? We should all be afraid. Very afraid.
    May 6, 2011 at 8:21 AM
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    Response: Just a point of order, Terry. The "gold star" was Baalke's idea; Harbaugh merely "bought into it." I'm not sure whether Harbaugh's just playing the good soldier, but if indeed the "gold star" gets in our way, that's Baalke's fault, not Harbaugh's. For better or worse, Baalke's in charge.
  • Oahuan
    Well - Congratulations, Jeff, on fulfilling your civic duty by questioning authority and promoting critical thought. Now let me challenge your critical thinking by saying that after my post-draft examination of the 49er picks, I find Baalke/Harbaugh's draft to have been beautifully executed - logical, sensible, and consistently on "theme." Without knowing or even pretending to know exactly how good any of the draftees are or will be, it seems to me that given the team's short and long term needs, every pick was well-researched, valued and then picked in just about the right order. Obviously, the skill and judgment brought to bear in evaluating talent is most important and won't be known for a while, but in that regard, there is one critical question which hangs over this draft. Was too much weight given to character, i.e., the "gold star" thing. Clearly, a lot of physically talented players were eliminated from consideration, probably Jimmy Smith, Kendrick Ellis, Jerrell Powe and maybe even Fairley and Quinn, because of it. According to Harbaugh, there were only about 45 "gold star" players. My guess is the 49er draft would have been very different if everyone were actually in it.
    May 6, 2011 at 2:29 AM
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  • Neil N
    We tried to trade down because the Falcons were offering the frekken goldmine. Also Aldon is admittedly raw. He'll have to learn coverages and playing in space will be a new experience for him. He also broke his leg midway through the season, played on it, and wasn't quite as productive. But you imply as if the first round was an absolute disaster saying that Aldon was "uninspiring". I just really can't see how you think that. And even if he was plan C, plans A and B would have been a grand slam. I would argue that plan A was the El Dorado trade with the Falcons, and plan B was Peterson. Considering every team in the NFL would have made that trade with Atlanta, and most people were calling Peterson the best player in the draft, you are comparing Aldon to flawlessly perfect situations. While Aldon isn't a grand slam or a perfect prospect he's a solid double that has the potential to score, he just needs a little developing. Basically Aldon isn't a franchise changer now, but he has all the potential in the world to become just that.
    May 5, 2011 at 9:17 PM
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  • Oahuan
    Jeff - Yeah, I know your point was that Kaepernick was the target all along. But in saying that Baalke accomplished the goal of acquiring Kaepernick "barely" and panning the picks of Smith and Culliver (and other later picks), your arrogance still amazes me. Given the way the draft played out, do you still believe that Prince Amukamara would walk in and start right away for the 49ers? Do you still feel that if Amukamara were the pick, he would contribute more to the team right away than Smith? Were you really "HORRIFIED" by the pick of Culliver? I know other pundits (such as Maiocco) also felt Amukamara should have been the pick at 7 (my choice was Quinn), but do you guys actually think you can evaluate talent better than Baalke, Harbaugh, and all the scouts and other personnel who get paid for a living to do this and have spent literally thousands of hours assessing not only the players in the draft but the players on the team as well? I will also admit that when Culliver was announced as the 3d round pick, I said to myself, "WHO?" But, "HORRIFIED"? How presumptuous can one be?
    May 5, 2011 at 6:42 PM
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    Response: I take it your questions are largely rhetorical, but I'll say this. If you've read my stuff for any length of time, you know that I question authority. (Not always, but often.) I don't do it insincerely; I don't do it just to induce you to read and comment (though I'm glad that you do). I do it because no one in charge of anything you care about--be it your government, your workplace, or your favorite team--is entitled to blind faith. This is especially true with Baalke, who became our GM after spending a decade as a scout for losing teams. It doesn't matter that we're just schmoes; we still have the right--some would say the duty--to question him and hold him accountable. Indeed, if we've learned anything in the last decade or so, it's that the mere fact that someone's our owner, our GM, or our coach doesn't mean that he's any good at his job. And if WE don't question him, no one else will. I think I've raised fair, intelligent questions about this draft--though, I've gotta say again, my overarching point was positive!--and you've done a nice job of defending it. But please understand: it's not arrogance at work here; it's simply critical thought. As Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning." And who am I to question Einstein?
  • Oahuan
    Jeff- If you pay attention to what Baalke said, it is pretty clear that the 49er draft strategy was to use the 1st round to draft the player most likely to improve the team and then do what it took to get Colin Kaepernick. Aldon Smith was Baalke's selection, but quite likely he felt that there were others (Quinn? Amukamara? Who knows for sure?) who he deemed close in value to Smith. If he could trade down to somewhere nearby and pick up another choice, that would have strengthened the 49ers' hand to trade back into the 1st round to draft Kaepernick. That's what Baalke said he tried to do. He didn't try to "throw away" the pick or get rid of it. He tried to get as much value out of it as he possibly could, which is what he was supposed to do. The one thing Baalke has never said is that Aldon Smith was the best player in the draft and the guy he wanted all along. All he said was that Aldon Smith was the best player available to the 49ers at pick 7.
    May 5, 2011 at 10:30 AM
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    Response: Now you've hit on my point, Oahuan. The debate in these comments seems to have focused on how much (and how soon) Smith will help us, and that's a worthy topic of debate. But it's beside the point I was making. We all wanted Baalke to make the best possible use of pick 7. The best use would've been to take Peterson. That didn't work. The NEXT-best use would've been to trade it. That didn't work either. The THIRD-best use was to stay there and pick someone else. That's what Baalke was stuck with: the third-best use. And that's my point. Sure, I happen to disagree with Baalke's assessment of Smith; I think Amukamara would've been an immediate starter and thus "most likely to improve the team." But no matter who we took, we'd have settled for the third-best use, and it's THAT, much more than the selection of Smith, that disappointed me on day one. (The selection of Culliver, on the other hand, HORRIFIED me on day two.) Once again, though, Baalke deserves credit for focusing on, and then achieving, his crucial task: getting Kaepernick, Harbaugh's QB.
  • Terry B.
    The most apt comparison is neither Manny Lawson nor DeMarcus Ware but Jason Pierre-Paul. Identical size, and the scouting reports on both are virtually identical. Immense potential, not a lot of experience, game needs a lot of refinement. So maybe if we're lucky Smith can get 5 sacks as a rookie too.
    May 5, 2011 at 8:22 AM
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  • BodyRocker
    To answer the question about "distant plan C": first, I don't think TB and JH were having plan A be Peterson falling to us, that is not a plan, that was a wish. Heck, even I wrote down that Peterson would be picked by Arz in my office pool. Trading back (or trading at all), as all the pundits and experts say, only occurs if you have a partner to trade with (unless you give up a ransom, then you're not worth your salt). Why didn't they take Prince? Well, because they were smarter than any of us and just as smart as the other teams who passed on him. As Wes Bunting said on his tweet during Prince's slide, "It's because he's not really that good!" Finally, as Mike Mayock said, "If you have a player targeted, and you'd like to trade back a bit to get him but you can't find a trade partner, OR you trade back too far hoping to still get him, then a) he probably won't fall to you then you're stuck, and b) if that's how you have the player ranked and the player you want, then go ahead and take him at your pick, don't wait." Plan A, B or distant C; forget all this...it sounds to me like they made the right moves period. Heck, now even Mel Kiper is calling the Aldon pick a very good one.
    May 5, 2011 at 6:54 AM
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  • Neil N
    Don't understand all these Manny Lawson comparisons... Just because they both played DE in college? That's a lazy argument, it is ridiculous. Aldon is almost 20 pounds heavier, relies on power just as much as speed and quickness, and has a great swim and club move to boot. The problem Manny has is that he doesn't rush the passer with power, and solely relies on speed rushes. While he has good quickness he isn't elite. Aldon can bullrush, he can beat you with his first-step quickness, and he can club or swim you. The two players are completely different kinds of players. Aldon's build is much more similar to DeMarcus Ware. He has active hands and can turn the corner just like Ware. Aldon will have to add a couple more moves, and lower his pad level, but the kid has all the tools, and then some.
    May 4, 2011 at 11:39 PM
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    Response: I admitted that Smith might be the next Ware (though I said he might be the next Lawson as well). But riddle me this, Neil. If Smith is so great, why did Baalke try to trade down? In your rush to defend this pick, don't overlook that Baalke would've preferred to get rid of it. My point, again: no matter how Smith turns out, he was a distant Plan C.
  • BodyRocker
    I think you need to go and read PhilGood's final draft review. Maybe you'll learn something. Especially the first two paragraphs.
    May 4, 2011 at 11:27 PM
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  • The_Real_Randy
    Jeff, I think your man-crush on Harbaugh (not to say that isn't partially justified) has blinded you to just how little has changed in Ninerland. Baalke reminded the whole world why he's the Gerald Ford of GMs when Goodell announced a name most had expected to go 10 picks later. I have cautious optimism about Colin K and think Kendall Hunter was a steal but otherwise this draft was garbage. And what was Harbaugh's master plan to resolve our QB troubles? Go up to Alex Smith and say "Hey, we need a guy to hold the starting spot until our future franchise QB develops so he doesn't end up a timid, beat-up shell of a player like our last franchise QB did. Since you were that pathetic wretch, we'd figured you'd be perfect for the job. And I'm so confident you'll accept my offer that I'll just give you a copy of my playbook now. See ya."
    May 4, 2011 at 11:11 PM
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    Response: Well, Randy, you know that my man-crush on Harbaugh didn't alleviate my concerns about Baalke, and unfortunately this draft didn't either. And no doubt, Harbaugh's pursuit of Smith has been difficult to watch, but I truly believe that he's doing it only because the labor debacle has narrowed his options. He needs a bridge, and Smith is the most available (though clearly not the best) choice. Let's hope that Kaepernick's a very quick study.
  • Dan
    Terry that's funny, I specifically said I wasn't referring to Dareus, I wasn't talking about Dareus. I'm not going to say who I think the A-holes are, but I was talking about good attitudes, and Aldon Smith. Nice to see you haven't forgotten about me though.
    May 4, 2011 at 8:37 PM
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  • petaluman
    Deion was timed in the 40 at 4.17-21 seconds. Patrick Peterson doesn't belong in the same sentence as a cover corner, and has no chance at all of ever getting there. That doesn't mean he won't turn out to be a great player. It's an extremely poor comparison, though. Don't let the writing style fool you. He's just making it up.
    May 4, 2011 at 8:31 PM
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  • Frank
    Jeff...I'll say the same thing to you I just wrote to Oscar. You and all the other Bay Area sportswriters need to give Baalke and Harbaugh a little more respect. I believe it's prudent to see these new players on the field, getting top-line coaching, before you condemn the guys who drafted them, particularly Baalke. Try seeing these players not necessarily for who they are now, but for what they can become. That's what led Harbaugh and Baalke to draft them...they saw their potential to meld with the veterans into a team to be reckoned with. I think part of the problem for many of you sportswriters and fans is you've become so used to less than mediocrity you can't bust out of that syndrome. Only time will tell, but I think it's reasonable to take a wait and see approach...see what Harbaugh and his very talented coaching staff can do. It's a new day in Ninerland...and I think the least you and your cohorts can do is give Harbaugh and staff a chance to prove themselves. That takes patience...have you got that in you?
    May 4, 2011 at 8:09 PM
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    Response: Well, Frank, I'll admit that after all these awful years my patience isn't what it used to be. But just to be clear: I love Harbaugh and his coaches, and I trust them to coach these guys as well as possible. I just think that Baalke is putting too much on their plates. As Terry put it below, quoting Maiocco, almost all of these guys are either unproven or moving to new positions. Of course this strategy could work, and Harbaugh will do everything possible to see that it does. But it's very, very dangerous, and I just don't like it.
  • Darrell G
    Terry, I didn't post anything about Dareus, I drew no comparisons in my post, if you are going to dispute a point, at least have your facts straight. I remarked that Smith really seems like a kid who will work and has a lot of raw talent and may be a much better pick than people are assuming. Now that you have opened the can of worms, I will say this........There were significant differences in attitude and the way they carried themselves. Smith is also built like a LB and was visibly quicker than Dareus. He has a great first step, coaching will take care of the rest. The only reason Dareus was a higher prospect is because he will be on the D-Line and Smith will be making a transition to OLB...one I think he will handle well. Watch the show in its entirety. One example is during the film study when Dareus is doing something with the crowd instead of focusing on the game...coach asks "What is that?" Dareus says "I'm pumping up the crowd." Coach says, "It's an away game." By contrast, Smith was coming off a broken leg after only 3 games and had a tremendous game despite not being 100% and was embarrassed he got caught from behind in the red zone on a potential pick 6.
    May 4, 2011 at 7:14 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Dan, what in the world makes you think that Dareus has a bad attitude toward "football-related activities"? Did you pay attention to the draft at all? It was his superior attitude that had him rated over Nick Fairley, who clearly outperformed Dareus at the collegiate level. Until Darrell G perceived something during Mooch's silly NFLN special, I hadn't heard a single word about Dareus's attitude. Indeed, would someone with a bad attitude have agreed to be on the show in the first place? Also, who do you think had more to gain by appearing on the show? Dareus was a lock for the top 3, but Smith was a top-10 pick only to Trent Baalke. Thus, is it any surprise that the person who had everything to gain seemed more into it? To base anything at all on a pointless Steve Mariucci special is just absurd. That's how we get the Vernon Ghoulstons of the world. I'll say it again: devaluing college production in favor of other factors is the fastest way to the unemployment line for an NFL executive. I suspect that in a few years the decision to pick Dareus over Fairley will look like a colossal mistake. Let's hope we're not saying the same thing about Smith.
    May 4, 2011 at 4:17 PM
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  • Team York
    Wish I saw the 49ers war room on draft day, Jeff. Got a good laugh from reading your article. But I disagree with you on Baalke. This was a good draft. And just a comment for Terry B: Potential over production is the draft plan for a loser, I agree. But Maiocco is wrong when he says we drafted potential over production. Look at the stats for A. Smith, broke the Missu record in sacks his first yr. Had better stats than Bowers (3 yrs) in just 2 yrs. with a broken leg. Kaepernick's stats are off the charts. I just watched the Brady 6. 10 yrs. from now you will be watching the Kap 5. Hunter had great production his so. & sen. yrs. RoJo was the best receiver for USC but had injuries. The Culliver pick was a mystery to me (Maiocco is right on this one). I was angry the Niners didn't pick Kendrick Ellis. Overall, it looked like Harbaugh's staff had a lot of input in this draft. I think Baalke should be commended for this. Over the yrs. the front office and head coach haven't been on the same page. In summary, we got a great OLB, a franchise QB, and a good RB and WR. That works for me.
    May 4, 2011 at 3:05 PM
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  • Dan
    I agree with Darrell G. Aldon Smith has a better attitude, I like people with good personalities over complete A-holes any day. Not saying Dareus is an A-hole, I'm just saying I think people who have a good attitude toward football-related activities are going to be more successful in the long run working under Harbaugh. Harbaugh seems to carry over a good attitude from his home to his job and even when he's speaking to the press. I read transcripts of him and Baalke talking about their selection process, and they were heavily favoring guys with a good attitude, from what I got out of it. They said they put a gold star or something on the board next to the guys that met the requirement. The gold star is a great one, symbolizing the gold standard, and the gold helmet of the 49ers. A guy who has a bad attitude is pretty much useless and is just going to bring everybody down.
    May 4, 2011 at 1:24 PM
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  • Terry B.
    What a surprise--Dan likes Trent Baalke. Who could have seen that coming? Another surprise (although not to Darrell G.)--Marcell Dareus, a consensus top 3 pick guaranteed to make a fortune no matter what, wasn't that into being coached by "Mooch" for a pointless NFLN show. How can a guy like that possibly succeed over our workout warrior? Maiocco summed up our draft the best: "My biggest issue with the 49ers' draft, to brazenly quote myself, was that it 'was loaded with players who probably aren't close to being game-ready, except to contribute on special teams. The 49ers invested a lot of picks in players who are being asked to make difficult position changes. In other instances, the 49ers seemed to favor height-weight-speed and potential over college production.' " Potential over production--the draft plan of a loser.
    May 4, 2011 at 12:23 PM
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  • Darrell G
    Jeff, I would encourage the folks to watch NFLN's "Impact Players" when Mooch interviews and works out Aldon Smith and Dareus at the same time. Watch how the coach responds to one and then the other. Smith seemed to be very into what was going on and eager for coaching. He also seemed to impress coach and Warren Sapp. I think he's a better pick than people think.
    May 4, 2011 at 11:43 AM
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  • louie
    Plan C was only "inevitable" because the 49ers don't possess front-office people who are capable of wheeling and dealing with the front-office heavies from other franchises. Successful franchises don't wait around for inevitability, they make their "luck" while bottom-feeders (49ers) depend on luck just happening for them.
    May 4, 2011 at 9:20 AM
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  • Nick S.
    If the 49ers took Quinn or Amukamara at #7, the fans would have been satisfied... just because they've been looking at those guys' names on mock drafts since February. But the Niners took Aldon Smith, and because he was slated to go at #11, fans got upset. It's kinda dumb. Plan C was inevitable. No one from the Arizona media believed that the Cardinals would take anyone but Patrick Peterson. The Falcons dealt with the Browns and the 49ers couldn't trade down from #7. Those are the breaks. You go with the BPA and move on. You wanna get mad about something? The Chris Culliver pick baffles me. Get mad about that.
    May 4, 2011 at 1:40 AM
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  • Marco
    Baalke and Lucky Sperm Jed are jokes. Except for the RB in the 4th round, this was a draft of reaches! Not only will we be facing Peterson twice a year for the next ten years, but also the best pass rusher in the draft, Quinn, who went to the Rams. And, tell me in what universe is Aldon Smith ranked higher on a draft board than Nick Fairley. A team that went 6-10, and none of their first three picks are immediate starters. Take a look at the Giants' draft, that's a great GM that let gems fall to him in the first two rounds. 49er fans, as long as Lucky Sperm Jed and Baalke head up the team, it does not matter who the coach is. As the old saying goes, the fish stinks from the head down! We are looking at another 6-10 type season.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:55 PM
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  • Oahuan
    Good grief Jeff. Most of the good to great pass rushing 3/4 outside linebackers in the league are converted defensive ends. Culliver was playing corner his last year until he got hurt. Drafting a guard/tackle (Kilgore) and a tackle (Person) to move inside and play center or guard is hardly a rare move. There are two of those "conversion projects" on the team right now (Snyder and Wragge), and they've been on the team a long time - maybe too long. As for drafting Miller to play fullback, it's clear he's a tough guy who's a good football player, and it's pretty obvious that Baalke did not think there were any actual fullbacks left in the 7th round that were good enough. The late rounds are the perfect time to go for position-change projects, especially if you don't like what's left at those positions. As Baalke said: "We don't draft guys to cut them." I do kind of agree with you in regard to Culliver, given the team's experience with Reggie Smith. However, all you guys who are really negative about Bruce Miller's selection are nuts, imho. He's my favorite sleeper pick. I see a 10-year 49er in him.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:43 PM
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  • louie
    It's more fun to be optimistic. That said, there's very little reason, so far, to think Trent Baalke is the GM that this franchise needs. He was chosen as a scout by Scot McCloughan who was chosen by Mike Nolan who was chosen by John York. Are you feeling ill yet? Last year's draft and all the drafts that this "family" of 49er front-office people have presided over have cumulatively not resulted in anything resembling value/success for a team always drafting high. Aldon Smith may turn out to be better than any other pick the 49ers could have taken at #7, and Kaepernick might be a great QB, and IF that happens (BOTH PICKS) this will truly be a great draft. But the odds are that won't happen. And is there anyone out there who thinks the 49ers got anyone else in all those other picks that has a chance of making a difference? The corner they got in the third round doesn't stand a chance of beating out the mediocre corners they already have. My point is that a team that has picked this high for this many years in a row deserves to have a better roster than the 49ers have. It's not just luck.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:31 PM
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  • overthemiddle
    It's as simple as this. No one knows who is going to succeed or not. Everyone has their ideas but they can't say this or that until some games are played. Been lots and lots of first round busts and lots and lots of other rounds doing very well. So you all can say he is good or he is not but let's play some ball and we will soon find out. Owners and Players get it together, it's going to happen so you might as well make it happen NOW.
    May 3, 2011 at 6:00 PM
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  • MT9er
    I've got to agree with Jack and Oahuan ... the draft seems like a no-win as far as fans are concerned, and when a good chunk of "fans" have already decided Baalke will fail, all these articles get even more ridiculous. Had the 9ers succumbed to the masses and selected Gabbert or Prince, then the other half would have been complaining that Baalke had no spine and couldn't think for himself. He thinks for himself and thinks outside the box, and he is ridiculed for not following the masses. Who would have been a lock at #7? With whom should they have traded? For what? Bitching and moaning is all fine and dandy, but it helps when you can actually offer some alternative (and dare I even ask for) intelligent suggestions.
    May 3, 2011 at 4:43 PM
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    Response: For the record, in response to you and others below, I didn't say that Baalke should've traded up to get Peterson, and I didn't say that it was his fault that he couldn't trade down once Peterson was gone. All I did was acknowledge that staying at 7, for anyone BUT Peterson, was a distant Plan C. Granted, I questioned Baalke's selections of projects at positions of need (excluding QB, where EVERYONE'S a project). But don't forget: my overarching point here was actually positive. Baalke's critical task was to draft Kaepernick, and much to his credit he did it.
  • claude balls
    @ Oahuan, Jack: The world is simple when you live in your parents' basement. After all, when you get hungry, Mom brings you a snack. If you want to trade up from 7 to 4, the team at 4 will gladly do it for just a 1st and a 4th. If you want to trade down, teams will line up to hand you two 1sts, two 2nds, and a couple of 3rds just because you are such a nice boy.
    May 3, 2011 at 4:20 PM
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  • LVNV_49erfan
    "a Deion-like corner we'll face twice a year for a decade or more." Yes I wanted Patrick Peterson however I think he and Aldon have a great upside and I would think that a former Raider CB might be in the mix. But outbidding Phil, Dallas yuck, Washington, and Houston might not be an option. So they need a plan b c and d for that too. As for Alex Smith that's another story...
    May 3, 2011 at 2:55 PM
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  • Jack
    So many football talent experts including Kaplan!!!! WOW not sure why they have to hire someone like Trent B. when all you experts are available. BRADY AND MONTANA picks were questioned too. Let them play 11 on 11 before you run your mouths.
    May 3, 2011 at 11:58 AM
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  • Oahuan
    A number of bloggers seem to think handling a draft is easy. If you need someone above your spot, just trade up. If you don't like your spot, just trade down. Seeing what Atlanta gave up to move up to 6, do you really think the 49ers could have moved up to 3 or 4 without giving away their 1st and at least a 2d and maybe a 3rd or maybe next year's 1st? Are you sure Peterson is really that good? Look at it this way. Do you think it would have been better to get Peterson than Aldon Smith AND Colin Kaepernick? As for trading down, how do you do that, unless someone wants badly to trade up? And even if a trade down had materialized, how far down do you think the 49ers should have gone, and for whom? Baalke/Harbaugh obviously looked very closely at Amukamara, Quinn, Fairley, Taylor and others, including all the quarterbacks. Harbaugh obviously did not want Gabbert, and by the way all of those players fell, it seems that their assessments vis a vis Aldon Smith were pretty accurate. One thing that limited the 49ers' choices in this draft was the "gold star" thing. That kept them away from guys like Jimmy Smith, Kendrick Ellis, and Jerrell Powe. But that's not dumb. That was policy.
    May 3, 2011 at 10:46 AM
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  • Ron
    Plan C @ 7 was either Aldon or Quinn and they felt Smith was a better fit. If you can't trade back, you pick the player you want...can't fault that. Culliver obviously impressed them on his pro day. His background doesn't stand out, but he could be a find. It's not a safe pick though. The running back is a safe pick and should be productive. What they did at the back of the draft confuses me as well. Hopefully, it will work out. As MB wrote, this draft will be judged a success if CK becomes a stud...even if the rest of the class busts out. I don't think that will happen. I think Aldon and Kendall will be impact players...not immediately (which says something about tb/jh's job security). I think this wonky season has been written off. They hope for the best, but don't expect anything but improvement as the team becomes more familiar with the new offense, defense, and coaches.
    May 3, 2011 at 10:29 AM
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  • Terry B.
    niner, I generally agree with your comments, but you can't include Shanahan in that group. If there's a worse drafter in the modern NFL, I cannot imagine who it is. Jarvis Moss, Willie Middlebrooks, George Foster, Paul Toviessi, Terry Pierce--the list (and the busts) go on and on. Indeed, the reason Shanahan was canned in Denver was that his brilliance as a coach was not enough to overcome his utter incompetence as a general manager.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:40 AM
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  • shobbrobb
    Clearly Trent Baalke is in over his head as is the entire front office. If Mike Singletary led last year's draft he did a hell of a job, but clearly failed as a head coach. The last thing Baalke wants to do is compare this year's draft against last year's draft. 4 or 5 players started for the team and performed well or showed promise. More than likely none of this year's picks will start unless Aldon Smith steps up.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:32 AM
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  • louie
    If Jed York had the talent or courage to be a legit NFL owner he would have hired a REAL GM long ago. Instead he has continued to avoid bringing in people who are not going to kiss his ass for the opportunity to serve him. It is truly astounding how he continues to promote the in-house people who were brought in by the failures that came before them. If what you say is what happened on draft day, it's absolute proof that without at least one NFL heavy in the building, the 49ers will never be able to pull off the backroom deals that are necessary for success. We all knew that final win last season was a mistake, but not having a trade lined up when they lost Peterson (no surprise to everyone except Baalke) is inexcusable.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:30 AM
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  • Dan
    I like the Aldon Smith pick. He was the obvious choice in that situation, since no one was trading up. If Aldon Smith can get into the backfield from the outside linebacker position as well as he can from the DE, he will be a great weapon. We can bring him from all over the place. He's a disciplined player, and has good feet, good balance. I bet he starts impressing people right away. I like Baalke too. I think the coaches should have some say in who they think they can work with. All the best management techniques include input from the people actually doing the work. All the draft picks had a common theme. The picks highlighted possibilities. These were researched and thought out, but targeted guys who were thought to be unfinished. Guys that need to learn a little more, change positions, or guys that are just fast on their feet and can learn. Including Kaepernick. Camp, if there is a camp, is going to have a decidedly different personality to it from last year. There's nothing to be mad about in this draft. I don't think Aldon Smith is someone you should feel like you had to "settle" for. Most people commenting on these drafts are borrowing their opinion from someone else anyway.
    May 3, 2011 at 9:17 AM
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  • niner
    I think a lot of us are sick of Baalke. He was a nobody and continues in the tradition of the yorks doing things on the cheap. This is another incompetent wannabe a la donahue, scotty, NOlan, and sing. All the fans are getting that sick kentwan balmer feeling again. You mean you couldn't have figured out this was a 6-man draft? Peterson was known to be one of the best players and expected to go high in the draft and your contingency plan is somebody named aldon smith at the 7th spot??????? Tell me Newsome, Belichick, or the Steelers would be caught with their pants down like that. (Don't even mention Walsh, Holmgren, or Shanahan.) I liked last year's draft but it's obvious it was Sing's draft. Disgusting!
    May 3, 2011 at 8:45 AM
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  • Kakita Brown
    Amen.
    May 3, 2011 at 7:22 AM
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