The 49ers Draft
So, it’s been a little over a week since the NFL Draft, and while I don’t have an inordinate amount of insight into the players the 49ers drafted, I thought a little bit of my brilliant commentary was in order…
First of all, it’s weird when the big news is that the team you root for drafted someone with the same name as someone you know. I went to business school with a guy named Patrick Willis, but while he was a really good golfer, I’m not sure he’s the “tackling machine” that everyone keeps describing this linebacker as. Going into the off-season, the consensus was that the 49ers really needed to secure their defense, and a big part of that was signing cornerback Nate Clements. With Willis, who I assume will be an immediate starter, those are two big holes that have been plugged.
The 49ers then traded next years first round pick to New England so that they could draft offensive tackle Joe Staley. Most reports seem to applaud this move and goodness knows there’s almost nothing as important as a good line. While this isn’t the defensive stalwart I expected Nolan to continue going after, protecting and blocking for Alex Smith and Frank Gore is pretty much the offense, so…thumbs up!
Not picking until the third round, the team picked up Jason Hill from Washington State who I hear is a very capable if not dominant (see: Johnson, Calvin) prospect. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about the other receivers the 49ers brought in this offseason - Ashley Lelie and Darrell Jackson, the latter costing a 4th round pick during this years draft. I’m not crazy about Lelie – he seems like a primadonna and has never shown nearly enough to warrant an attitude. He’s like Koren Robinson to me, but without (one assumes) the off the field problems. And at least K-Rob had a 1200 yard season. On the flip side, I love the D-Jack acquisition. While he’s not a kid anymore, Jackson has been one of my favorite receivers for the last few years. He’s underrated and should provide a much more stable veteran presence than the departed Antonio Bryant. The concerns with Jackson – as evidenced by the fact a division rival would trade him to the 49ers – are a few things. He’s never fully healthy, he drops a decent amount of passes and apparently wants a fat new contract. The health thing is a real concern, but I’m less concerned about his dropsies. That may be specific to D-Jax, but it plagued the entire Seahawk offense so it’s hard to really know. Besides, great receivers generally have a lot of drops because they have a lot of balls thrown their way. As far as the contract goes, I have no idea what is being promised or negotiated, but I honestly don’t care. I can’t see them signing him to some idiotic multi-year contract that hamstrings future moves, so if they pay him a lot for the next two or three seasons, and they can afford it, go right ahead.
Three of the next four picks were defensive ends, and I know nothing about any of them. However, this is clearly the biggest area of need and if just one or two of these guys pan out, and give the 49ers an actual pass rush, the team can really do something. It’s been years since they’ve had a legitimate pass rush, and that’s a main reason the record has been sub-optimal. A nice thing they all share is coming from big-time programs, so all of these guys are used to a relatively fast paced game and working against (largely) pro-style offenses. ESPN also talked about the work ethic of McDonald and Moore being very strong, and that is really important for players who aren’t mortal locks for stardom.
Adding two more defensive backs in safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Tarell Brown adds needed depth and lord knows, the 49ers have found some gems in late rounds in this area. Finally, the last pick was for Thomas Clayton, a running back from Kansas State who should provide some special teams help and depth behind Gore.
Overall, I am really happy with this off-season – the 49ers added some strong veteran presence in Clements, Lelie and Jackson, as well as safety Michael Lewis and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. While I don’t know if they are necessarily a favorite to win the NFC West, it’s certainly no longer a huge stretch to see them competing for it – after all, they hung in the division until Week 16 last season.
Nice work, Coach Nolan.