Sakamoto: 49ers Should Not Bank On Player’s Potential, Bank On Results, Bro!

Potential. A word often used to describe a young NFL player who has the ability to develop into something more in the future.

Every NFL team has a number of “potentially good players” on their roster. Players who have a “high ceiling” but for some reason haven’t reached their full potential. Why? Some blame it on poor coaching, while others blame it on players being late bloomers (immature). Whatever the case may be, every NFL General Manager at some point will bank on a player’s potential, in hopes that player will pan out to be something special.

If you religiously follow the San Francisco 49ers then you would know by no means are they exempt from drafting ‘potentially’ great players. This roster is filled with them. From rookie first-round pick (No. 28) OG Joshua Garnett to second-year SS Jaquiski Tartt, the 49ers have no shortage of ‘potentially‘ great players when it comes to evaluating the team’s 53-man roster.

But let’s face it. Potential means nothing if the players don’t live up to the hype! It’s just an empty word. Just like an empty promise your ex-girlfriend makes when she says, “I’ll never leave you!”

Two prime examples include a pair of first-round picksDE Arik Armstead and DE DeForest Buckner.

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Both players were drafted to ease the pain of a weak, struggling, aging, defensive line. Armstead was drafted No. 17 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft to be the heir apparent to DE Justin Smith. How’s that going so far? I’ll tell you. Through 21 regular-season games, Armstead has recorded just 26 tackles and 3.0 sacks. And while 3-4 defensive ends don’t generally boast eye-popping stats, there is no excuse for Armstead’s shaky play as the team’s edge-setter.

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Last year, DT Darnell Dockett went on record saying that Armstead had a ‘higher upside’ than two-time Pro Bowl DE Calais Campbell. But again, having a ‘higher upside’ means little if it doesn’t translate on the football field, and we are witnessing that now.

One would think Armstead would easily beat out college teammate DE DeForest Buckner for the starting right defensive end spot– having one more year of NFL experience under his belt. But I said all along that wasn’t going to be the case due to his inconsistent play throughout training camp.

Which turns our attention to the team’s ‘other’ first-round pick (No. 7) Buckner. At 6-7, 291, Buckner has all the physical tools to be an All-Pro player. Through four games this season, Buckner has recorded 21 tackles. A high-volume number, one would think he’s doing a good job with his gap integrity in the team’s base defense. But the film-room grades would indicate otherwise.

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Bucker is too slow disengaging from his blocks, while he appears to be lost in whether to turn plays back inside. I caught up with Buckner and he admitted that his stack-and-shed needs some work.

“I need to do a better job of knowing when to disengage. Sometimes I make a move here and the runner goes the other way, so I need to do a better job on that,” Buckner said. 

Rookie mistakes? Yes. But let’s keep it 100! Baalke used the shotgun approach in investing two high first-round picks (back-to-back) in hopes of yielding one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. Not the 31st ranked run defense they see today.

From a physical standpoint both players possess proto-typical size for the position. They are what many NFL scouts consider eye-candy from a HWS (Height, Weight, Speed) perspective. Both look intimidating coming off the team bus, but on the gridiron it’s a different story.

I strongly felt that Baalke should’ve rolled the dice on Kansas City Chiefs CB Marcus Peters with their first-round pick in 2015. Going as far as to say that no cornerback was worthy of being drafted in the first-round other than Peters.

Fast forward to today, and Peters not only made the Pro Bowl his rookie season, but is following that up with a stellar sophomore season- leading the NFL with four interceptions.

Through 20 regular-season games, Peters has amassed 75 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 34 pass break-ups. And if you’re wondering if Peters is a scheme-fit, I would say yes, as his go-to coverage skill-set is man-to-man.

While everything is in hindsight, this was no surprise to me, as Peters was clearly the better player of the two (regardless of position).

While almost every NFL General Manager falls into the love/hate relationship of a player’s potential, they better be sure more often than not, that the player can make some sort of an immediate impact. No longer can teams wait 2-3 years for first-round picks to pan out, because at the end of the day, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.”

Forever Faithful are going to say, “Buckner has only played four games, give the kid a chance.” Just like we did with Armstead last year, right? How’s that going so far, as he’s [Armstead] now in his second season? I’m not saying that Buckner or Armstead won’t pan out to be good players because they have the ‘potential’ to do so.

But at the end of the day, the Forever Faithful deserver better! A storied franchise with five Super Bowl rings to boot– talk is cheap as it’s all about results, bro! True story!

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.