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 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?" ( 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:

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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?)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.