49ers let good picks slip away


It took a few days to digest everything the 49ers did in this year’s NFL Draft.

And I still believe the team could have done much better.

That’s not to say that they didn’t make some dynamite picks. They did, but they also missed on their biggest need.

The 49ers were a single jump-ball-touchdown away from winning the Super Bowl for the 2012-13 season, and were left in the same predicament last year.

They had a legitimate shot at nabbing Kelvin Benjamin, a six-foot-five freak of nature with exceptional athleticism, yet didn’t make a move.

After drafting safety Jimmie Ward in the first round, they had a shot at redemption. Benjamin was gone, but another big man was available, the six-foot-four Martavis Bryant was left hanging until the fourth round.

Yet, nothing.

For that reason alone the 49ers draft shouldn’t be graded any better than a B+, and they won’t.

But that’s not the only knock.

The 49ers made 12 selections, despite already having 74 players under contract. Only 46 players can be active on gameday, and, excluding the kicker and punter, only 53 can be on the regular season roster.

That didn’t keep the team from drafting three defensive backs on day three, after already drafting two earlier in the draft. Not to mention, the 2013 draft was virtually the same.

By the end of this year’s draft, the team had 86 players. They waived three by Monday morning, and announced the addition of seven more, giving the team a full 90-man roster.

There were so many players that went undrafted—thanks to more underclassmen declaring that ever before—that 49ers general manager Trent Baalke could have traded up multiple times, and still had a decent shot at guys he drafted after the fifth round.

For that, I can’t justify giving the team any better than a D+.

Then there’s Stevie Johnson. Baalke gets a bump for that, though fans must temper their expectations. The Buffalo Bills, the team that traded Johnson to San Francisco, were in no sort of salary cap purgatory.

Moreover, they also aren’t loaded with talent, and are even further void of experience. Sure, they drafted Sammy Watkins. And yes, they drafted Robert Woods last year. But it would be shocking that the Bills’ general manager would mortgage his future on that.

Two players, with a combined one year NFL experience, who will be receiving the ball from a second year quarterback. Nuh-uh, there’s something murky going down.

So the trade helps the grade back into the solid C range, though that means absolutely nothing in reality, because fourth round pick Bruce Ellington might be the next Randall Cobb.

Who knows. I sure don’t. But neither does Trent Baalke.

To Baalke’s credit, he played the numbers game. It works in almost every setting, the draft being no different.

For that, the grade goes back to a B.

And value?

Picking at the tail end of a draft doesn’t allow for a whole lot of value. Especially not when there’s positional runs on receivers, running backs, you name it, every hour.

So that’s not entirely applicable until the third round. Center Marcus Martin, drafted 70th overall, is the definition of value. Chris Borland, who was projected by some to be an early pick and not so much by others, is a solid and gutsy player. So they break even.

Tom Brady almost went undrafted, and he didn’t turn out so bad. Borland might be the greatest linebacker in history. The next Ray Lewis, which brings us to some closing thoughts.

The team had a major need in a jump ball player, but have gone after guys who run solid routes and have reliable hands. They’re trying to beat the Seattle Seahawks, their only true competition at this point, with numbers rather that bulk.

That’s understandable. John Elway tried that in Denver, signing Wes Welker last spring, to go with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. They added running backs and linemen. How’d that work out this past February?

Another point of reason, there’s the simple fact that the team did get better. How much better will be decided a few year from now. But the addition of two offensive linemen, running back Carlos Hyde and Jimmie Ward isn’t going to hurt. That’s certain.

So for that, their draft grade moves up a notch, to a B+.

That’s where it ends, though. Ensuring Benjamin would be on the 49ers roster and moving up to the 20th overall pick would have been the difference. Two jump balls away from at least one Super Bowl victory, and quite possibly two.

That’s worth a first round pick, even if that’s all it’s good for.

Follow @SFBay and @JLeskiwNFL on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Francisco 49ers.

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