In my opinion, I believe that the San Francisco 49ers were a borderline playoff team entering the 2015 NFL Draft.
For any team that is a marginal contender for the postseason, a few plays here and there could be the difference between 10-6 and 6-10. That’s why I made the assumption that while the 49ers would look to make picks that would help down the line, they would also make it a point to get some impact players who could step in and make a difference right away.
I guess GM Trent Baalke had other ideas.
With every pick the 49ers made, it seemed like they were thinking about 2016 and beyond, rather than this upcoming season. The approach was surprising, and gave the impression that San Francisco believes (or is at least really hoping) that they can get one more good year out of veteran players like TE Vernon Davis, WR Anquan Boldin, DE Justin Smith, etc.
Baalke will have to hope his gamble pays off, because many of the players in the 2015 draft class look to be projects, or at best will be buried on the depth chart at other positions.
No pick epitomizes this notion more than the 49ers’ first round selection, Oregon DE Arik Armstead. Pro Football Focus had Armstead on their buyer beware list, and said he “has first round tools and barely day two tape.”
With any prospect like Armstead who is drafted more for his physical tools than what he did on the field, there’s heavy risk involved and it increases the possibility of the player being a bust.
Armstead will get his chance at end in the near future however, because even if Smith does come back it will only be for one year, and DE Darnell Docket is 34-years old and coming off of an ACL injury. DE Tank Carradine and DE Quinton Dial are at best unproven, while DE Tony Jerod-Eddie is seen as more of a rotational player. NT Glenn Dorsey could also be an option to play end, but he may be the team’s starting nose tackle if he beats out NT Ian Williams.
It’s difficult to envision how Armstead can get much playing time in 2015 though, and we’ll have to wait and see if he can harness his potential and become a disruptive force up front.
Samford S Jaquiski Tartt in the second round was the pick that really had me scratching my head. Obviously, the 49ers are set at the position with SS Antoine Bethea and FS Eric Reid penciled in as unquestioned starters. When you look a little deeper though, you could see a need arising soon. Bethea will be 31-years old in July and Reid has already had two concussions.
Did that play a part?
It’s possible, but the pick is odd regardless. That’s not to say Tartt won’t be a good player. He’s a big (6-1, 221 pounds), physical safety who will play the run well and hit hard. He could be a starter, but when? If Bethea performs like he did last year and Reid stays healthy, Tartt could be on the bench until 2017.
Business did pick up there after, and as much I questioned the first two selections, I thought Baalke did a better job in rounds three and four (where it makes a little more sense to draft for down the line).
You can never have enough pass rushers, and Virginia OLB Eli Harold could end up being a steal. He’s an explosive edge rusher who fits the 49ers’ scheme well, and with the future of OLB Ahmad Brooks and OLB Aldon Smith up in the air, it’s a good selection. Again though, barring injury, Harold probably won’t see the field much in 2015.
Baalke finally got offensive in the fourth round, taking Oklahoma TE Blake Bell, South Carolina RB Mike Davis, and Georgia Tech WR DeAndre Smelter.
Bell is a converted quarterback and at 6-6, can be a big target is the passing game. He’s without a doubt another project, and if the 49ers are patient with him he could provide positive returns in the next season or two.
Davis may be the most intriguing pick the team made, and could also be the only one who gets somewhat regular snaps this season. RB Carlos Hyde looks to be the unquestioned starter, but Davis fits the 49ers’ power run scheme and is a solid in-between the tackles runner. Davis could get short yardage carries in his rookie year and take on more of a complementary role in the years to come.
Smelter is Baalke’s annual “ACL pick,” and he will be shelved this year as he recovers. He’s extremely athletic and, at 6-2, will give QB Colin Kaepernick a big target in the passing game. Smelter could be a steal, but we’ve seen the 49ers take a chance on mid-round receivers before. Obviously, the track record hasn’t been great.
After a good run of selections, Baalke made another questionable one by picking Clemson P Bradley Pinion. Maybe they see Pinion as legitimate competition for three-time Pro Bowler P Andy Lee, or maybe they see him as a kickoff specialist. Either way, it’s likely they could have addressed this with an undrafted free agent signing. Just not sure this made sense.
Baalke made safe picks in rounds six and seven by taking a shot on two offensive lineman, Boston College G/T Iam Silberman and Florida G Trenton Brown. With G Alex Boone in the last year or his contract and a lot of unknowns on the other side, you never know who can step up and win a roster spot.
The 49ers final selection was South Carolina TE Rory Anderson, and with so many question marks behind Davis at the position, you can see why they would take a chance on someone who has the ability to stretch the seams and create matchup problems in the secondary.
For me, 2015 will go down as the “wait and see” draft as we won’t know much about any of these selections for a couple of years. To me, it was a surprising and strange approach when the team could have used a player or two to help right away.