Are You Smarter Than A General Manager?

May 15, 2011 at 8:28 AM


It's odd, you know.

You could watch your team suffer for nearly a decade. You could watch your team's draft picks go bust after bust. You could watch your team hire a completely unproven general manager.

And still, when someone dares to question the wisdom of that general manager's inaugural draft...you could go nuts.

A couple of weeks ago, I questioned Trent Baalke. I wasn't alone, of course; among the media types who award such things, his median "grade" was roughly a C. But judging by some of our readers' comments, you'd have thought that I'd taken on Bill Walsh himself. "The world is simple when you live in your parents' basement," said one. (Unfairly, I might add; I'd moved out of there by my early thirties.) "[N]ot sure why they have to hire someone like Trent B. when all you experts are available," said another. (Sarcastically, I suspected.) And a third, quite simply, asked me where I got the nerve: "do you guys actually think that you can evaluate talent better than [Baalke] 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?" (Um...is this a trick question?)

These comments are interesting not as much for what they say as for their various implications. One is, I'm less qualified than Baalke as a general manager. (And this of course is true.) Another is, because I'm less qualified than Baalke, I've got no right to criticize him. (And this of course is false; we're the Niners' consumers, and thus we're entitled to question how they're run, even though we'd have no business running 'em ourselves. Indeed, if these readers ever criticized, say, John York, their implication is not only false but also hypocritical.) A third is, because I'm less qualified than Baalke, his draft would turn out better than mine. (And THIS of course....)

Wait a minute. Is this true, or not?

It certainly SHOULD be. After all, as I've recently heard, a GM spends "literally thousands of hours" assessing a draft. But we know that those hours don't guarantee anything. Terry Donahue's drafts, you'll recall, were deplorable, and I'm sure it wasn't for lack of hours. On the other hand, success in a draft isn't based on mere luck; Walsh, of course, is Exhibit A.

Think about that. Walsh and Donahue: a master, and his handpicked apprentice. Both were qualified, and both spent "literally thousands of hours." Yet one was perhaps the greatest drafter who ever lived, and the other would've been better off if he'd simply drawn names from a hat.

So here's what we know. For most jobs, qualifications and preparations are reliable predictors of success. But for NFL general managers, they aren't. All GMs are qualified--or at least they're more qualified than WE are--and they all prepare. Yet for reasons unknown, some do better than we would, and others simply don't.

Let's see whether Baalke does.

Now understand, not only am I not a general manager, but I'm not even a draftnik. Baalke spent "literally thousands of hours" preparing his draft; on mine, I spent literally two. Baalke watched hundreds of hours of tape of his picks; I'd never even HEARD of half of mine. Baalke read dozens of official scouting reports; I Googled names while drinking beer.

No contest, right? For the Niners' sake, I hope so.

Here's what Baalke did with his picks, what I would've done with those same picks, and where my picks eventually went:

#7
Baalke: Aldon Smith, defensive end/outside linebacker, Missouri
Kaplan: Prince Amukamara, cornerback, Nebraska
Went: #19 (Giants)


Though Smith wasn't nearly the reach he initially seemed--he would've been gone by pick 11--he'll be switching positions, and that means he's more of a risk than I would've taken with such a high pick. Sure, plenty of college DEs make the switch, but Smith might literally outgrow his new spot, forcing him back to a four-man line. Meanwhile, Amukamara's drop was misleading, chiefly a product of the quarterback frenzy. He was only slightly behind Patrick Peterson--whom Baalke most wanted with pick #7--and he would've been, right from the start, the shutdown corner we've needed forever.

#36
Baalke: Colin Kaepernick, quarterback, Nevada
Kaplan: Kaepernick


I said it before, and I'll say it again: Baalke's crucial task was to draft Jim Harbaugh's quarterback, no matter the price. Not only did Baalke accomplish this task, but he gutsily waited until the last moment, keeping the price as low as he could. On THIS pick, at least, Baalke was perfect.

#80
Baalke: Chris Culliver, safety/cornerback, South Carolina
Kaplan: Sam Acho, defensive end/outside linebacker, Texas
Went: #103 (Cardinals)


Since Dashon Goldson seems unlikely to ever take that awaited next step, it made sense to pick a free safety like Culliver (though not necessarily this high). But sticking him at corner, where he started all of seven college games, is a monumental risk. Acho might lack Smith's upside, yet he would've been SAFER: not any less likely to make the switch, and sure to be solid both stopping the run and rushing the pass. Put it this way. We needed a corner/OLB combo, but which of these combos sounds better to you? Culliver/Smith, or Amukamara/Acho? I would've taken the latter. (Though the Cardinals' combo of Peterson/Acho? Better still.)

#115
Baalke: Kendall Hunter, running back, Oklahoma State
Kaplan: Owen Marecic, fullback, Stanford
Went: #124 (Browns)


I know, I know. Hunter was widely thought to be Baalke's best pick. But which was more important: a proverbial third-down back (though Baalke of course expressed higher hopes), or the one player who best embodied Harbaugh's heart and soul? Marecic wouldn't have been just an emotional pick, mind you; he'd have filled a position of need as both runner and blocker, and he'd have been an ace on special teams. Most importantly, though, you KNOW that Harbaugh ached for him. Baalke did well to deliver Kaepernick, but Harbaugh deserved to have Marecic too.

#163
Baalke: Daniel Kilgore, tackle/guard, Appalachian State
Kaplan: Pernell McPhee, defensive end, Mississippi State
Went: #165 (Ravens)


Though it'd take another position-switch, we could certainly use some new blood at right guard. (Switching to center, though, seems a bit much.) But I would've bolstered our defensive line. If, as expected, Aubrayo Franklin departs, and Isaac Sopoaga moves to the nose, McPhee could've backed up--or even started--at left defensive end. A potential first-rounder before a drop-off last season, McPhee could've been coached into an outright steal. (And he was picked by the Ravens; what ELSE do you need?)

#182
Baalke: Ronald Johnson, wide receiver, USC
Kaplan: Jordan Todman, running back, Connecticut
Went: #183 (Chargers)


Johnson's got talent, but did we need another slot-receiver without the speed to stretch the field? Though I would've passed on Hunter, I know we need a change-of-pace back who can get to the edges. Todman--Hunter's virtual clone--would've done just fine.

#190
Baalke: Colin Jones, safety, TCU
Kaplan: Greg McElroy, quarterback, Alabama
Went: #208 (Jets)


Jones was drafted to be, primarily, a special-teams ace; I would've filled a more pressing need. With Kaepernick having to watch and learn, with Alex Smith our most likely vet, and with David Carr likely on his way out, another QB is an absolute must. Though Kaepernick's our future star, McElroy would've been his perfect foil; though of course he lacks Kaepernick's jaw-dropping talent, he's solid, polished, and pro-style ready. A back-up passer's no luxury spot, and McElroy would've put some minds at immediate ease.

#211
Baalke: Bruce Miller, defensive end/fullback, Central Florida
Kaplan: Lee Ziemba, tackle/guard, Auburn
Went: #244 (Panthers)


Having taken Marecic, I don't need a fullback, especially one who's converting from defensive end. NOW'S the time for a tackle who'll move inside. A star on the line for the national champs, Ziemba was deemed a third-rounder at worst. Then teams discovered a knee injury--two years in the past--and proved that sometimes they think too much. Despite his plunge, Ziemba might've beaten out Chilo Rachal--by late September.

#239
Baalke: Mike Person, tackle/guard, Montana State
Kaplan: Chris Neild, nose tackle, West Virginia
Went: #253 (Redskins)


With Sopoaga no sure thing, it would've been better to take an NT than to add more depth on the offensive line. A proven space-eater in West Virginia's 3-3-5, Neild too should've gone much higher.

#250
Baalke: Curtis Holcomb, cornerback, Florida A&M
Kaplan: Deunta Williams, safety, North Carolina
Went: Undrafted


Holcomb seems like he isn't much more than a shot in the dark. There's no reason to waste a pick like that, even at the end of the draft. Williams was on his way to becoming a second-round pick when he suffered a gruesome broken leg in his last game. If he hasn't recovered, he'd have been cut, as Holcomb likely will be. But if he HAS, he might well have been the playmaking centerfielder that Goldson isn't. Instead of joining the free-agent frenzy--assuming free agency ever begins--we should've just kept Williams all to ourselves.

So. What do you think of my inaugural draft?

If you're planning to join the chorus of those who question my qualifications--"what makes you think you're better than Baalke?"--please don't bother. I understand that I've got NONE. My draft SHOULDN'T be better than his; and on behalf of Niner fans everywhere, I truly hope that it's not.

But here's the thing. Though I desperately want to believe in Baalke--and though his landing of Harbaugh certainly helped--he carries the stench of an era of failure. And to me, at least, he's got no choice but to prove it away.

The good news, though, is that proving himself just couldn't be simpler.

He's the Niners' general manager. I, by contrast, am nobody. And in our little contest here--with early returns coming this time next year--all he's gotta do is win.
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.


40 Comments

  • Your Favorite BM
    BW, excuse me for not reading your comment in a timely manner. But I noticed you are a chemical analyst and a former platoon leader so I thought you would be a good person to ask. I was a little confused with your comment. Where exactly are you retreating to, who exactly are you regrouping with, and who are you advancing on, Tonto? If you think we should adopt the draft strategy of the Patriots, they have drafted mostly garbage the last five years. Because they retreat, regroup, retreat, regroup, and never advance. Thank God for Brady/Belichick because they have no one at OLB, CB (exception McCourty), DE, WR, and RB and this yr. they wasted a 2nd and 3rd. The best teams in the draft every yr., steelers, ravens, eagles, and packers, load up on off. line and def. line early in the draft and pick up talented players that fall later in the draft. Don't mistake a winning team for a successful draft strategy because the Pats don't qualify.
    Jul 26, 2011 at 4:36 PM
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  • Lotharun
    Your whole premise is flawed. Do not read Sporting News, ESPN Scouts Inc or any other draft reference, then try to build a draft based on your own film study and scouting moxie. Yeah, no adopting other people's opinions as your own. Now, how do you think you'll do? Right...!
    Jul 25, 2011 at 4:04 PM
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    Response: Loth, you've completely missed my point. It shouldn't matter how many draft references I read. If it turns out that I was able to rely on those sources and outwit an NFL general manager with an entire scouting department at his fingertips, something is very, very wrong.
  • Richard
    I've hesitated to respond to this article. I just want to say that all these people who are not journalists, or beat writers, or football experts can come to this fan page and write opinions. Well, it is a free country. Jeff, most of the stuff you wrote in this article about this draft was rehashed over and over all over the web and sports pages. I myself like Aldon Smith, as I got the chance to watch a Mizzou game earlier this year and caught a glimpse of his skills. Yes, Aldon Smith will need to become stronger at the point of attack in the running game, but his pass rush skills are there. As far as Prince Amukamara being a shutdown corner as you stated, I would like to know how you came up with that assessment? For one, Prince got beat a lot, has poor ball skills, and did not register one interception in 2010. Yes, he played the whole season, but he did not register an interception not because no one threw his way, it was more because he is not as good as advertised. I caught the game against Oklahoma State and he got torched most of the game, and if you look at highlights he got torched a lot throughout the season. Not even close to Patrick Peterson's level!!
    Jul 17, 2011 at 2:44 PM
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    Response: All I can say, Rich, is that I haven't seen a single scouting report that shares your assessment of Amukamara. Leaving aside the obviously subjective components of any scouting report, the stats are that Amukamara was thrown at 52 times, and he gave up 18 receptions. Those numbers don't suggest to me that he had gobs of opportunities for picks or that he was "beat a lot." Time will tell, of course. But if you're right about Amukamara, a whole bunch of scouts are gonna look like outright dimwits. (Which, I grant, they might actually be.)
  • gf
    Well, i guess we'll see right? and i'm damn good on the franchise mode in madden.
    Jul 7, 2011 at 12:54 AM
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  • Kaycee
    This forum needed shaking up and you've done just that. Great post!
    Jun 4, 2011 at 6:44 PM
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  • Dan
    I don't know if I would put too much meaning in the assertion that 2nd-round quarterbacks historically are worse than other quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick was not only a second-round pick but he was also pick 36, a higher pick of the second round. If you specifically look at quarterbacks picked around position 36 it doesn't look as bad as you put it by including all second-round quarterbacks. Our new list includes Kevin Kolb pick #36 in 2007, Drew Brees pick #32 in 2001, Brett Favre pick #33 in 1991, Mike Elkins pick #32 in 1989, Randall Cunningham pick #37 in 1985, Boomer Esiason pick #38 in 1984, and Neil Lomax pick #33 in 1981. Most of these guys were actually pretty good. But really it means very little. Kaepernick was also the sixth quarterback selected. Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, and Matt Hasselbeck were all pretty good quarterbacks who were the sixth quarterbacks selected in their respective drafts, but that doesn't mean Kaepernick will be as good as, better than, or worse than those guys. He has just as much chance to be good as any other guy who was drafted at this point. I don't see how you can predict how good a guy will be based on what round he was picked in. We all know some of the greats have come from later rounds than that.
    May 24, 2011 at 3:02 PM
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  • BW
    If the rumors are true, supposedly Baalke tried to trade the 7th overall pick and then tried to trade back into round one to get Kaepernick. If true, then actually he failed on both accounts. In the last 20 years, 22 QB's have been taken in round 2 and only 2 of them ever did anything: Favre and Brees. The other 89% were mostly wasted draft picks that could have been invested elsewhere. I still don't think that there was a QB in this draft worthy of going in the top 20, and maybe not in the 1st round. I would have traded out of pick no. 7 and started stockpiling picks for 2012 like the Patriots did, and get a QB next year. In 2012, teams won't have to invent reasons and look for "potential upside" when it comes to taking a QB in the top 10 as there will be THREE deserving of a high 1st-round draft pick. Am I smarter than a GM? I'm an analytical chemist and in my profession it's about seeing things for what they are and then taking action, not basing decisions on emotional hype. As a former Army platoon leader, I learned that sometimes the best course is to retreat, regroup, and then advance when the time is right.
    May 24, 2011 at 1:45 AM
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  • overthemiddle
    There is a lot of first-round picks that do not pan out for all teams. There is no scientific solution to unknown variables. The reason I like Aldon is I think he has a huge upside with him. Also has a huge downside if he fails or is no better than Lawson. Prince is probably going to be a good player which is nothing wrong but I don't see him being a superstar like I do with Aldon. It's not the end of the world if he doesn't pan out. There is a huge risk with any first-round player. As far as Prince being the safe pick I personally am tired of being safe. Being safe is what Nolan and Sing brought to the Niners and quite frankly I am tired of that. Let's get creative and let's take some chances. I think Harbaugh is going to bring that. By the way, there is no way of knowing if Harbaugh is going to be good. Time tells for all.
    May 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM
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  • Al
    The reason Prince fell was because he isn't as good as people think. He got beat like a drum against good competition more than once, had only good (not great) measurables, and is not a playmaker in the slightest. He's a 2nd/3rd round talent living on hype from people who don't watch film. The Giants will regret taking him.
    May 21, 2011 at 4:28 PM
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  • Oahuan
    You certainly have the right to believe that Amukamara is a "surer" bet to be an outstanding player than is Aldon Smith, but YOUR opinion is hardly a sound basis for roundly criticizing Baalke and company for reaching a different conclusion. What your criticism appears to suggest is that the 49ers either failed to do their homework on these players or somehow missed something obvious even to someone like yourself who only did a few hours of study, and/or that the 49ers failed to heed some abstract but basic principle of drafting that is obvious to anyone who knows what they are doing, even a writer like yourself. Your obvious uneasiness and maybe even fear over Trent Baalke's being appointed GM of the 49ers is not hard to understand. It is the total lack of respect and utter disdain for Baalke as reflected in your writings that I believe is unwarranted at this point. Your disagreement with most of Baalke's draft and your reasons why are certainly within your rights to write about and could have made for interesting and provocative reading. It is that you chose to use your differences of opinion as a platform to take cheap shots at Baalke that I find - well, disagreeable.
    May 21, 2011 at 11:55 AM
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    Response: I'm sorry you think I'm being unfair, Oahuan, but I simply don't see it. Sure, if I were Jed, I would've hired a different GM. And sure, if I were Baalke, I would've drafted different guys. But I'd like to think that I've provided logical reasons for both those positions, without taking "cheap shots." And good heavens, I don't have a "total lack of respect and utter disdain for Baalke." I've never even MET the guy. He just hasn't earned my trust, and I'll continue to question him--pointedly, but reasonably--until he has.
  • Area49NV
    I like most of your picks, but Baalke and staff may have been looking for more explosive and versatile players than yours. Though I like McPhee and Neild as much as you. Example: Kilgore more athletic than Ziemba who can't transition to center. Hunter more explosive and capable of running through tackles than Todman. To me, Culliver is the wildcard. As a big gamecock fan, he was one of my favorites and has shown up big since his freshman year. He can appear every bit as talented and explosive as their two 5-star db's, Holloman & Gilmore. He plays as fast as he times and is fearless. I think you will like him and he will become a big factor. Just another opinion of course from one who has seen a lot of him. And he did it against the best talent in the nation. I like the idea of grabbing Williams with a 7. Big talent and Walsh rolled the dice with Carter, Fagan, and Fuller who all dropped because of bad leg injuries.
    May 21, 2011 at 11:02 AM
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    Response: I really tried to get a center into my draft, but I couldn't give up any of the guys I picked. I'm counting on our re-signing of Baas--reportedly our top remaining priority--with Heitmann signed as his (hopefully healthy) back-up.
  • Oahuan
    I get it that some people, actually quite a few people, think Prince Amukamara would have been a better pick than Aldon Smith at #7. What I don't get is all this talk that Amukamara would have been the better pick because he would have been a "safer" pick. What has "safe" got to do with anything? For that matter, what is a "safe" or "safer" pick? What the 49ers were looking for at #7 was a difference-maker, a player who will have a significant positive impact on the team's performance. They weren't looking to avoid a mistake. I know, I know, what you Amukamara fans are really saying is odds are better that Amukamara will step in and take a starting corner job away from Clements or Spencer or Brown sooner than Smith will step in for Lawson or Haralson or whomever. Moreover, you think Amukamara's play at corner will likely have a greater effect on the team's pass defense than Smith's stepping in at pass rusher/edge setter. Those are two very big assumptions that evidently Baalke et al. did not share. And all this "Smith having to convert" stuff is a red herring. Yes, great pass rushers are hard to find. Guess what? So are great corners. Is a so-so CB "safer" than a so-so OLB?
    May 21, 2011 at 12:41 AM
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    Response: If both Amukamara and Smith indeed turn out "so-so," then clearly I'll have no right to complain that we took Smith over Amukamara. My opinion, though, is that Amukamara is more likely than Smith to be much better than "so-so," especially in the short term. Even Baalke seems to acknowledge this: "[Smith is] raw and he's certainly going to be raw when it comes to playing on his feet and learning his position, but [we] feel good, once again, about the potential in that area." (Note too the acknowledgement of the position-switch issue.) This is why, in my view, the best course would've been to take the surer thing (Amukamara) in the first round, and save the pass-rushing "project" for the third. Address both needs, but foreclose the possibility of the sort of first-round miss that can cripple a team for years (as the Niners, of course, know all too well).
  • Gmoney
    Terry, I think you are confusing OLB with pass rusher. There are two OLB's in a 3-4 defense. One of whom rushes the passer, and one who has more of a coverage role. Kinda like Keena Turner and Charles Haley. Those that don't play the elephant, pass rusher role generally did play linebacker in college. I am talking specifically about the pass rushing OLB's which Smith happens to be. I can tell we are not going to agree on this so I'll leave it at that, luckily (hopefully) a season will be had next year and we can compare notes at the end of the year. I am very confident no one is going to be complaining about the Smith pickup. And you keep comparing him to Manny, I watched both Manny's and Aldon's highlights many times, Aldon Smith is clearly a superior pass rusher. You have to judge prospects individually, not by who else was picked in a similar situation. I can tell you, with zero hesitation, that Smith is already a far superior pass rusher to Manny and Parys simply by watching him play.
    May 20, 2011 at 5:17 PM
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  • Dan
    I looked up a few other well known Outside Linebackers' college careers and I'm actually surprised how many of the 3-4 Outside Linebackers started out as defensive ends in college. The Cowboys' Anthony Spencer played Defensive End at Purdue. Dumerville played DE at University of Louisville. Dumerville is back at Defensive End now but in 2009 he lined up at outside linebacker and recorded 17 sacks. Calvin Pace played Defensive End at Wake Forest and benefited from the move to Outside Linebacker under Wisenhunt. He might be better if he wasn't failing drug tests and getting suspended, but that's another matter. Shawne Merriman played Defensive End at University of Maryland. Joey Porter was Defensive End at Colorado State. Adalius Thomas was Defensive End at the University of Southern Mississippi. He was an All Pro when he played Outside Linebacker for the Ravens. He was good as a Defensive End as well. Greg Ellis moved to Outside Linebacker with the Cowboys and recorded 12.5 sacks in 13 games, that's pretty impressive. Mike Vrabel played Defensive End at Ohio State. Vrabel is a special case however because he also has played Inside Linebacker and caught touchdowns in the Super Bowl.
    May 20, 2011 at 4:56 PM
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  • Terry B.
    O.K., Gmoney, I checked your assertion and you are indeed wrong by a wide margin. The vast majority of NFL OLBs were OLBs in college. Anyway, we've strayed pretty far from the relevant question, which is whether Amukamara was a safer pick than Smith. Without a doubt, he was. You have not addressed yourself to the astonishingly high bust rate of first-round pass rushers, which I think is necessarily connected to the position-change issue. For every DeMarcus Ware, there are a ton of Manny Lawsons. The odds are against finding a Ware. And is that the same Bill Parcells who passed on Matt Ryan and spent a second-round pick on Pat White? Just asking.
    May 20, 2011 at 10:26 AM
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  • Gmoney
    Terry, if you aren't going to check my claim, then you also probably shouldn't jump to the conclusion that it is absurd on its face. The thing that you seem to be missing here is that colleges predominantly run the 4-3 and not the 3-4. This is fairly common knowledge. In a 4-3 defense, outside linebackers aren't the primary pass rushers as their role is run support and coverage. Instead, it's the DE's that rush the passer in a 4-3 scheme. Logically then, the best pass rushers in college play DE by necessity of design. When you plug in a DE as your pass rushing OLB, it's a change in name only. Most of the time he will be doing what he did in college, line up over the tackle and rush the passer. It really isn't much of a conversion and as Dan points out, it's been done quite often and quite well in the past. Is it a sure thing? No of course not, nothing is. Another thing you should take into consideration, Bill Parcells, long regarded as one of the best identifiers of pass rushing talent, was extremely high on Smith. All I am saying is, wait to see what this kid does on the field before knocking the pick.
    May 19, 2011 at 5:13 PM
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  • Dan
    I found a few outside linebackers who played DE in college. Terrell Suggs, Tamba Hali, Shaun Phillips, LaMarr Woodley, Brian Orakpo, and Kamerion Wimbley of the Raiders played defensive end in college. Cameron Wake and Clay Matthews would line up there occasionally. The two positions are practically interchangeable. The undersized defensive ends that convert seem to be sack specialists, which is probably what Baalke is hoping. I would love to check the outside linebacker rosters of every team to see just how interchangeable this position is, but there seems to be enough success historically to warrant converting these guys, so I'm convinced. The rest of you will have to make up your own minds.
    May 19, 2011 at 11:04 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Gmoney, I question your assertion that "most NFL OLBs are converted ends." I'm not going to sit here with a roster of every NFL team and check your math, but your claim seems absurd on its face. I think it's fairly safe to say that "most" OLBs in the pros were OLBs in college. What do you think is happening to all of the college OLBs if their jobs in the pros are being taken by DEs? Your comments on Smith ring hollow because the same things are said every year about other supposedly great pass rushers. Indeed, first-round pass rushers have an astonishingly high bust rate. Between 2002 and 2008 (we'll give the 2009 and 2010 picks a little more time), 40 first-round pash rushers were taken, and only 7 (John Abraham, Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney, DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman (prior to all of his injuries), Mario Williams, and Tamba Hali) became NFL standouts. That's an 18% success rate. On the numbers alone, Smith has an 82% chance of being a bust. Now factor in the fact that he's also being asked to switch positions. Can it be done? Sure, but there's a reason that everyone always points to DeMarcus Ware. They have trouble thinking of anyone else.
    May 19, 2011 at 8:03 AM
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  • Gmoney
    Ramit, I wouldn't put too much stock in the fact that Smith is being moved from DE to OLB. Most NFL OLB's are converted ends simply because college programs don't run the 3-4 much. Baalke also addressed the fact that when Aldon is in there, he will rarely be asked to drop into coverage. His main roles will be to set the edge on the run and rush the passer on the pass, both things he has excelled at thus far in his career. Finally, had Smith had a similar season his sophomore year as his freshman year (i.e. not been injured) he would have been a consensus top 10 pick and perhaps a top 5 talent. Pass rushers are born, not bred, and Smith has more pass rushing acumen already than Lawson and Parys combined. He also has the perfect frame. I am bullish on his chances to be an impact pass rusher in this league and I felt that was, by far, our biggest weakness last year and for years before that.
    May 18, 2011 at 5:37 PM
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  • RamItOn
    I also question the merit of choosing Aldon over Prince. Aldon is yet another DE to OLB conversion, three of which (of any note) the Niners have had in the past 10 years or so (Andre Carter, Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson); as well as scads of linebacker to fullback, quarterback to receiver, and other placeswapping nonsense that has had suspect results at best. Amukamara seemed a better bet at corner than converting Smith to OLB from DE. I don't follow college football much, so I can't comment on the rest of the picks. The point is, how often do the perennial playoff contenders draft a player at one position with the intent of changing that player's position come training camp? In short, I agree with you: 1st-round picks should be sure things, not gambles. This team is breaking my heart. I sure hope Baalke knows what he's doing.
    May 18, 2011 at 1:42 PM
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  • Nate T
    I would have to agree with you on your draft, it looks a lot better than what we actually did. I also love the McElroy pick, I wanted him so bad! It would've been nice to develop two quarterbacks that would push one another. I hope you and I are wrong however. Go NINERS!
    May 17, 2011 at 10:17 AM
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  • Terry B.
    One of the better football writers around, Dan Pompei of National Football Post, wrote that there is a bias in the NFL against Nigerian players. According to Pompei, they are viewed as soft, not tough enough (but see Okoye, Christian), and too highly educated. He speculated that this might have cost Amukamara. Hopefully this isn't true, but Pompei is pretty plugged in, so the bias he describes is likely real.
    May 16, 2011 at 5:14 PM
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  • Gmoney
    Perhaps saying he was NEVER discussed as a shutdown corner was a bit strong. That being said, if you simply search his name and scouting report as opposed to shutdown corner, you get a far more balanced view of what kind of corner people think he will be. Obviously, if you do a search of Prince and shutdown corner you are only going to pull those that think he is one, a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will. But I wholeheartedly agree, only time will tell. But if he truly had shutdown-corner possibilities would he have fallen that far? Again, if Rodgers fell as far as he did, anything is possible, but I see Prince's slip as a collective recognition that he isn't of Peterson's caliber, as such, I still think taking him at 7 would have been a stretch. I take it you don't think Aldon has the potential to be a disruptive force and QB harrasser? I am enamored with his ability to juke, then club, and finally finish once he gets into the backfield. He reminds me a bit of Haley the way he uses his hands, swim moves, and quick-twitch fakes. If we can get to the QB I think we will be surprised at how good our current corners look.
    May 16, 2011 at 5:13 PM
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    Response: Of course Smith has that potential, G. But he also has risk: more risk, in my opinion, than Amukamara. And like I said below, if you want to win, you shouldn't take unnecessary chances with first-round picks.
  • Gmoney
    From all accounts, even when Prince was being hailed as the second-best corner in this draft, he was NEVER discussed as a shutdown corner. In fact, all reports seemed to indicate that Prince was a far lesser talent than Peterson and not worthy of such a high pick. If you take a corner as high as 7, he would have to be a consensus, great shutdown corner. When you look at history, the 7 spot is littered with players like champ, woodson, etc. etc. Prince was never mentioned in that same category. As for Aldon, the more you watch this kid play, the more you realize what a potentially integral piece he will be to this defense. A great pass-rusher always trumps a great corner because a great pass-rusher can make all the DB's on the team significantly better. When you factor in Fangio's preference for trickery and versatility you see where Aldon fits in. Bottom line, if Smith ends up putting pressure from the edge for the next ten years, this is a great pick. Until the season starts and we see what he has, pointing to what pundits have to say is an exercise in futility. If the Niners hit on Smith, Kap, and Hunter, this will go down as a tremendous draft.
    May 16, 2011 at 4:18 PM
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    Response: Gmoney, try Googling "Prince Amukamara" and "shutdown corner" and let me know when you get tired of reading the hits. For just one example, DraftCountdown said this: "With an impressive blend of physical tools and intangibles, Amukamara possesses everything you look for in a shutdown corner and when it comes right down to it there really isn't that much separating him from Patrick Peterson." Meanwhile, as far as being worthy of such a high pick, FFToolbox's scouting report said: "Any doubts that he should be a top ten selection and the second corner to only Peterson should be long gone and it is possible that Amukamara could go as high as fourth overall." Of course, time will tell whether this talk bears fruit. But in response to your point, he was discussed as elite a lot more often than NEVER.
  • BodyRocker
    I will say that from the third pick on, you make some very salient arguments for every pick, and for that you cannot be faulted. The one pick though that I do focus on is the Prince suggestion. I too was a fan of Prince but I tried to read and understand, which do you take, a corner or a pass rusher? or how do you build a defense? Most answered from the line out, so D-line, LB's, then secondary. But as I kept trying to figure out for myself, Robert Quinn or Prince, the more bits and pieces I started to read negatively about Prince. Then on draft day, as Prince fell, Wes Bunting from the National Football Post tweeted that the reason for Prince's fall was because "he's not as good as everyone thinks." That was a shocker and 18 teams did pass on him. So for your pick of Prince, I kindly ask, were you swept up with Prince due to media hype and all the TV draft gurus or what really drove your decision that Prince should have been our pick?
    May 16, 2011 at 1:43 PM
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    Response: It's really quite simple, Rocker. Once Peterson was gone and we couldn't trade down, pick #7 needed to be a QB, an OLB, or a CB. As we know now, Harbaugh wanted Kaepernick, so 7 wasn't gonna be a QB. As for OLB vs. CB, I'm willing to buy that you go with rush over coverage, all else being equal. But all else wasn't equal here. If you want to succeed, you can't miss with your first-round picks, and thus you go with the surer thing. And Amukamara was more proven at CB than Smith (or Quinn) was as an OLB. Sure, Amukamara dropped to 19, but the million-dollar question is whether he dropped because he's "not as good as everyone thinks" or because of something else. Given what I've seen and read, I think something else, i.e., the multitude of outlandish reaches that went on above him (see, e.g., Ponder, Christian). Regardless of the drop, though, he was indisputably a close second among the CBs in the draft, and, in my view, he was much, much safer than Smith (or Quinn).
  • WildBill
    All GMs will be beholden to ownership--ALL. Does anyone remember Joe Thomas? He was an experienced and proven GM till he came to the niners and set them back years. Prospects slide but turn out great like Rodgers, prospects are taken what some deem as too early but turn out worthy of the pick as Tyson Alualu did. Is a GM supposed to pick players that are known by the fans through media and pundits and just select a player that was good at his school and make him fit the system or should they pick players that fit the system? There is no guarantee in picking a GM, or a person who would be in charge of player selections, experienced managers have blown up and new ones have succeeded and vice versa. It's every fan's right to state their opinion, but at the same time let us realize the truth, everyone will rail on someone if the other person doesn't follow their thinking or belief.
    May 16, 2011 at 12:19 PM
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  • jason howard
    I think it's a lot easier playing monday morning qb because u know where everyone went. I don't have any problems with Aldon Smith and there was a reason Prince dropped all the way to 19th. It's more important to get heat on the QB. 3rd round pick for Owen seems way too high and we didn't think he was going to go this high. I agree Culliver seems like a reach but the more that I read about him, the more I like him. He's as tall as Prince and faster than him, and he's physical too. I like that he's played safety, u need to be versatile in the nfl. Kendall was a no-brainer...A+ pick. You can't debate that. Kilgore was dominant in college, and he's played guard, center in hs, and left tackle. Kilgore can also pull well. Chilo can't pull, and needs to go or improve. R. Johnson was a value pick, the new receivers coach has the inside scoop on him. We need good route runners plus he can return punts. Bruce Miller is an interesting pick. He looked like a beast on film, but obviously at a lower level. He runs a 4.65, and he played TE in high school. He can help on special teams. Colin Jones has a lot of upside & is superfast. Person is a great pick in the 7th. I bet he makes the team.
    May 16, 2011 at 11:36 AM
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    Response: Point of order: Marecic went to the Browns not in the third round but in the fourth, which is also where I would've taken him--with or without hindsight.
  • louie
    A traditional NFL GM is responsible for a lot more than the draft. It's not just picking players from college once a year. Dealing with the NFL, working with and dealing with other teams' GMs, free-agent choices and their contracts, salary-cap issues, being the business "face" of the organization, helping to set a tone or image of the club, etc., etc. If you appreciate what a successful GM does (just think of the best teams in football) you understand why so many of us are outraged by the Yorks' obvious refusal to bring in an experienced, battle-tested GM to get the 49ers back to respectability. There are no sure answers to picking the right GM, but one has to wonder why the Yorks always promote people from within who will have to be beholden to them for the opportunity of having one of the best jobs any of us can imagine.
    May 16, 2011 at 9:03 AM
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  • Darrell G
    Draft pundits are no different than media pundits. They have their own opinions, priorities, and ways of evaluating their subject matter. Some are right, some wrong, some clueless and they generally will follow the media consumer's line of thinking. What I don't like is that players' stock will rise and fall and long-term opinions are formed by fans based on what Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper say before we even see the guy play. Furthermore, if Mayock and Kiper really were the "gurus" that everyone thinks they are, if they were THAT good at evaluating talent, they'd be in somebody's front office and not just some talking heads on TV.
    May 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Yeah, a prospect sliding must mean that he's bad. Just ask Aaron Rodgers.
    May 16, 2011 at 7:46 AM
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  • WildBill
    Everyone is entitled to their opinion. With that said, even Bill Walsh failed in his second tenure of calling the shots. There is no guarantee that a known general manager is the answer, look at Charley Casserly, Lombardi, or Schramm. They are known, yet why has nobody hired them--maybe their time has passed? Then look at Atlanta's GM, he was unknown and there are others both past and present. Walsh as coach was known, as a person in charge of player decisions he was an unknown. Not to say we shouldn't question and wonder why Baalke and Jim picked the players they did and why not the players we covet. However, to assume that a player will succeed more readily 'cause we have heard of the name is presumptuous. The picks in the 5th round and beyond have oftentimes been used on picks of players from small schools. Just because 3 quarterbacks were taken after the niners picked, doesn't explain why Prince slid 12 spots, a team like the Patriots who picked Dowling in the 2nd could have easily picked him up with the amount of extra picks they had or any of the other myriad of teams that needed a DB. Obviously the OL picks are deemed more important than DL 'cause of the players not signed.
    May 16, 2011 at 5:11 AM
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  • jeuSF49
    Let's wait and see how this turns out. I remember Mike Mayock drooling 'bout Jamarcus Russell when the Raiders picked him. Fact is if Smith and Kaepernick turn out well the draft will be regarded as brilliant, if they fail it will be a failed draft. Since no one has a crystal ball to look into the future let's wait and see.
    May 16, 2011 at 2:06 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Montana1, was that the same Mel Kiper who said that Jimmy Clausen was a great QB and scoffed at people who said that Jay Cutler was better than Matt Leinart and Vince Young?
    May 15, 2011 at 6:57 PM
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  • Team York
    Jeff, I'm glad you wrote a follow-up article. Gives us kids another two weeks to squabble back and forth under the comments section. My guess, you will get about 50 responses for this one. Let's hope we can all share our opinions with a little respect for one another. Well, here goes my opinion. After reading the comments from last week, it got a little chippy but I expected that. But whatever team you choose to follow, there isn't a fan out there that would agree with a majority of the picks their team has made. Unfortunately, I tend to agree with you Jeff. I believe most knowledgeable fans wouldn't do a worse job than a lot of the GM's in the NFL. I hope you are wrong this yr. Jeff. I want to believe the Niners had a better draft than you. We will see in a few yrs. But I like the Neild and D. Williams picks especially in the latter rounds. Why we didn't address NT and safety doesn't make much sense. My draft would have probably been Quinn, Kap, K Ellis, M Cannon, Etc. Bottom line I don't know more than anyone else. But I'm hoping Baalke and Harbaugh do.
    May 15, 2011 at 5:12 PM
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  • louie
    Amen. Excellent post.
    May 15, 2011 at 3:03 PM
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  • Nick S.
    A lot of teams passed on Amukamara... not so sure if he's the "shutdown corner" everyone thinks he is. Your draft makes sense though. One thing you and I can agree on--Baalke's Culliver pick smells really bad.
    May 15, 2011 at 12:21 PM
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  • Stevenking57
    I think you make a solid point for every pick. I too would have picked Prince A. at 7, but if A.S. gets ten sacks this year it'll be a good pick. I do like most of the other picks EXCEPT we did need to get a huge N.T. Sometimes a few Zoners aren't very accepting of others' ideas no matter how well thought out. The draft is a huge crapshoot even for the pros, we should try to cut each other some slack. Keep on writing and try to tone out the small-minded critics!
    May 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM
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    Response: Thanks for the encouragement, Steve.
  • the dude
    While I appreciate the idea and even agree with some of the picks, I don't think your draft would have near the ceiling or floor for that matter. Amukamara was a product of a great D who put a lot of pressure on the QB. His best year was 2 years ago when Suh was terrorizing QBs. I disagree with the thought that Aldon Smith will outgrow his position. I give you Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs as examples of bulky, yet athletic all-pro OLBs. He was widely considered a top 5 pick after his redshirt freshman year, but understandably was slowed by a broken leg as a sophomore, producing even with the injury. I think he will be a star. Robert Quinn is the only other player I would've considered at 7. I think Kaepernick and Hunter were amazing picks. I think Kap has as much potential as Newton, just didn't have the same surrounding talent or national stage to create as much buzz and attention. In fact I think he has better intangibles and a better drive to be great than Newton. Hunter like Aldon Smith had his stock hurt by injuries, but more than produced when healthy. The rest of the picks have great upside, which I'm hopeful our staff can tap into.
    May 15, 2011 at 11:40 AM
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  • Jack
    Well said - the primary point is that NO one can tell who is going to succeed or not UNTIL they play 11x11. Anyone can speculate (it's easy and there is no accountability). BTW Walsh didn't initially want to draft Montana (not sure who, maybe Steve Dils out of Stanford).
    May 15, 2011 at 10:39 AM
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  • Montana1
    I was stunned that when asked which draft pick would have the biggest impact on the NFL this year, Mel Kiper said without hesitation, "Aldon Smith of the SF 49ers." Just because he's not a media star doesn't mean he's not a great pick. Wait and see.
    May 15, 2011 at 10:39 AM
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