The 2015 NFL Draft still resonates in the sports world, as the next generation of potential NFL superstars begin their professional careers.
And, in the wake of the post-draft afterglow, the various franchises were judged by their relative performances. Some received high marks for their picks – teams like the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars were lauded by a majority of NFL draft analysts from around the interwebs.
As for the San Francisco 49ers – a team that was praised by many pundits for their draft in 2014 – their assessment was not as kind, by analysts and fans, alike.
Judged from anywhere from a B+ to a D-, Trent Baalke’s first post-Harbaugh draft seemed to send one particular message, at least, if conspiracy theorists (and 49ers ESPN Reporter Paul Gutierrez) have their way:
The roster is just fine. The 49ers will sink or swim based on their coaching staff.
It sure is a wicked statement – and a bit of a damning one – if translated to the team’s previous regime.
In any case, the 49ers’ supposed draft strategy did seem to reflect such a philosophy. After all, with the number of supposed projects taken by San Francisco, the onus will be on head coach Jim Tomsula, defensive coordinator Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst to coach up the prospects and have them ready for 2016, rather than 2015.
Furthermore, what many considered to be the 49ers’ greatest needs – players at inside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver – were either addressed late in the draft, or not at all. The team seems to be confident that their current depth was apparently addressed in 2014 (4 CBs taken) or in free agency (Torrey Smith; Philip Wheeler).
With that in mind, there were many different opinions on how, and who, the 49ers drafted in 2015. Let’s take a look on the general pessimistic, and optimistic, views on each of their ten draft picks, in the order in which they were drafted:
1st Round, Pick No. 17: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
Pessimism: Widely berated by the 49ers fan base, Armstead is essentially a developmental player with first-round measurables. Despite being mocked to San Francisco by a number of NFL Draft experts, it was still a consensus that, even with his huge potential, it is still simply that – potential. With such a small resume, in terms of production (4.0 total sacks in three seasons at Oregon) that didn’t warrant a third-round pick, let alone a spot in the first round, the risk might be too great for a guy who didn’t look like he had much of a motor as a Duck. With the biggest boom-or-bust potential, this is a high pick that could easily blow up in Baalke’s face.
Optimism: There’s no denying that Armstead is a raw talent – one that committed to football only recently in his college career. But he has all the makings of a quality defensive end – his most common comparison is Calais Campbell. His measurables (6’7″, 292 lbs) are ideal for the kind of DE the 49ers want to employ, and he will likely learn under a stellar former defensive line coach in Jim Tomsula, and the man he will likely replace (if he doesn’t retire), DE Justin Smith.
The sky is the limit for Armstead, and come 2016, he could shape into one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. As for those “motor” concerns? Armstead admitted to playing hurt most of his final year. If he is healthy, imagine the possibilities.
2nd Round, Pick No. 46: Jaquiski Tartt, SS, Samford
Pessimism: “WHO?!” was probably the consensus reaction when the pick was announced. After all, not even the man who announced it knew how to pronounce his name. On top of that, he is a strong safety out of a small school. I’m sorry, but didn’t they do that with a high pick last year (*cough-cough* JIMMIE WARD *cough-cough*)? With dire needs at other positions (WR and ILB chief among them), why would the 49ers go with a pick, essentially, for depth?
One would expect a team’s first two draft picks to make some measure of immediate impact. With the combination of Armstead and Tartt, that didn’t seem to be the case. And that’s not to mention they could have gotten him two rounds later if they really wanted him.
Optimism: Let’s forget, for a second, the fact that Jimmie Ward was originally drafted to be the team’s slot cornerback (and apparently, many people did). Tartt was a heavy hitter while with Samford, and that was regardless of his “small-school” pedigree – scouts were saying that when he played at the Senior Bowl.
Again, while raw, he will likely serve as the backup/successor to incumbent SS Antoine Bethea. He already has the requisite tools to serve as an asset in both pass and run coverage. If he develops well under the new coaching staff (and if FS Eric Reid stays healthy), he and Reid can potentially be the safety duo to fear for years to come – the Bay’s version of the “Legion of Boom”, if you will.
3rd Round, Pick No. 79: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
Pessimism: There is no denying that Harold – graded to be a first-round talent in this year’s draft – was a steal with the 79th overall pick. And it was lauded as one of the 49ers’ best picks of the draft class.
However, he plays outside linebacker and defensive end – two positions the 49ers are well-stocked in. Not to mention that Harold’s game might need some coaching, depending on which position he primarily lands with. A good value pick, but, ultimately, it can be seen as somewhat unnecessary, considering their more important needs.
Optimism: Grabbing a first-round talent in the third round is hard to be seen as anything but good – especially for a team that was essentially looking to stockpile talent for the immediate future. He will likely work behind the likes of Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch, and, if he plays his cards right, he could be an impact contributor as early as this year – more likely 2016.
But where would he play? Well, considering Aldon Smith’s final year on his contract – and assuming he’s too much trouble for his own good – that would likely be ideal for Harold to step in. The potential for a trio of Armstead, Harold and Lynch would be scary in the not-too-distant future.
4th Round, Pick No. 117: Blake Bell, TE/QB, Oklahoma
Pessimism: In a 49ers draft that shaped up to be dominated by “project” players, Blake Bell – a converted tight end at Oklahoma – is probably the pinnacle of a project prospect. Drafted as a tight end, for a team already teeming with tight ends (see Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald), the choice makes little sense for a team that had more pressing needs elsewhere.
Optimism: The “Belldozer” was an effective offensive weapon on the ground and as a pass-catcher, despite joining the Sooners as a quarterback. His first two years saw him amass 24 rushing touchdowns. His senior season showed his potential as a receiver, finishing with 214 yards and 4 TDs on 16 catches – a 25% touchdown conversion rate.
While he is still very raw as a pass-catcher, his massive size (6’6″, 252 lbs) and knack for succeeding in goal-line packages could make him a valuable asset. And, if he exceeds expectations, he could be a potential replacement for Davis and McDonald as the team’s main TE.
4th Round, Pick No. 126: Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
Pessimism: Considering the 49ers already have four running backs in their current roster (Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, Jarryd Hayne), it was peculiar even for run-minded San Francisco to take another potential impact RB. He also has had injury problems in the past – while it was probably a good reason he fell so far, it is still a concern for a team that already lost one South Carolina RB (Marcus Lattimore) to lingering injuries. The fact that he can’t really cut is also a concern, even for a spot starter. Was this pick really necessary, given his limited skill set?
Optimism: To be fair, Lattimore’s injuries were to both ankles, and were much worse than anything Davis has had to deal with. Furthermore, while Davis has a limited skill set (read: little to no lateral movement) in the run game, it is fair to say that the man who Davis may essentially be replacing – franchise rushing leader Frank Gore – was also a straight-ahead rusher. His career – as a third-rounder with an early history of ACL problems – turned out pretty well. If the Jarryd Hayne experiment goes awry (or the RB depth thins out due to injury), Davis can play a vital role for the 49ers’ greatest strength on offense.
4th Round, Pick No. 132: DeAndre Smelter, WR, Georgia Tech
Pessimism: The 49ers finally address the wide receiver position. Unfortunately, they address it with a guy who tore his ACL in December. For a team desperate for pass-catchers, it made little to no sense taking another player that is up for the now-infamous “redshirt” tag.
Optimism: Well, for one thing, some reports say that Smelter could be ready to play as early as the 2015 regular season. Sure, it’s an overly optimistic outlook, but it’s nonetheless possible. Even if it isn’t, it’s not the worst thing in the world to groom a WR with ideal size (6’2″, 226 lbs) for 2016. After all, he will likely be replacing a guy who will be turning 35 in October, with similar measurables (6’1″, 223 lbs). What’s his name again? Hmm ….
Oh, that’s right. Yeah, Smelter can learn from that guy, and eventually replace him at the WR1 spot – that is, if he can be developed properly.
5th Round, Pick No. 165: Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson
Pessimism: This may have been the most mind-numbingly odd pick of the entire draft – let alone the 49ers’ draft. After all, punters go undrafted – practically as a rule. With that in mind, the 49ers drafted one in the fifth round, when needs like cornerback still haven’t been addressed.
Optimism: Sure, they hadn’t drafted a cornerback yet in the draft – and were destined not to draft one in 2015 – but, considering they already had Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker to likely step in after little-to-no participation in 2014, drafting a CB at this, or any other, round was likely unnecessary – no matter what the experts had to say.
As for Pinion, his booming kicks were likely what the 49ers were looking for in an ideal successor to 12-year veteran Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee. If Pinion can unseat Lee, it would mean big bucks saved for the 49ers – something that the fan base can always get behind – if they end up letting him go for a younger, cheaper option.
6th Round, Pick No. 190: Ian Silberman, OG, Boston College
Pessimism: The man was projected to go undrafted. He is considered another project by many NFL Draft analysts – and this is, apparently, at a need position. After all, if this is the best the 49ers will do in replacing the likes of Mike Iupati, they are going to regret not resigning the 27-year-old.
Optimism: Well, that’s not necessarily true. Mike Iupati’s departure was a situation that already had its contingency plan in place – his name is Brandon Thomas, and he was taken in the third round of 2014. Graded as a first-round talent before his ACL injury, he was a “redshirted” player who should be ready to step into the starting line in 2015.
As for Silberman? Yeah, he’s a project. But that’s why they drafted him – to coach him up and, possibly, provide depth to an offensive line yearning for it after a sub-par performance as a unit in 2014.
7th Round, Pick No. 244: Trenton Brown, OG, Florida
Pessimism: What, ANOTHER offensive guard? And another guy who has been accused of not having a motor? While the 22-year-old is merely a seventh-round pick, there were still other positions – and I realize I’m sounding like a broken record – of need that could have been addressed.
Optimism: The man is HUGE (currently at 6’8″, 355 lbs, he is aiming to lose 20 lbs before training camp), and, if the 49ers can harness his best traits, he has the potential to be a major bruiser in the offensive line, as well as another piece for O-Line depth. And that’s for a guy who fell to the seventh round. That would be great value.
7th Round, Pick No. 254: Rory “Busta” Anderson, TE, South Carolina
Pessimism: While it was obvious that Baalke was a slave for “sticking to the board”, there was absolutely no reason for the 49ers to take yet another tight end. 1) He isn’t a receiver, 2) he isn’t a cornerback, and 3) He doesn’t even provide depth. This was an absolute waste of a pick, even this late in the seventh round. And what kind of name is “Busta”, anyway?
This was a terrible draft, it didn’t address ANY true immediate need for the roster, our GM is an idiot, and he will be the death of this team.
Optimism: Okay, for one thing, this is one of the last picks in the draft, so there’s a question if ANY player at this stage would be able to make the final roster. Second, by all accounts, “Busta” (as he likes to be called) is a great former two-sport athlete that only fell this far because of injuries to his triceps late in his college career. He could compete for a backup role if he is healthy and willing to learn the system, and could be the reprieve the 49ers were looking for when they took Vance McDonald in 2013.
And stop being so negative. Technically, York and Baalke were right – they used this draft to “reload” for the future, rather than rebuild, because they didn’t feel like they needed to rebuild anything. They realize that some established talent might be leaving, and they made sure they wouldn’t HAVE to draft based on need in the future.
After all, you only need look at the 2014 draft for answers to key position changes. Iupati left? That’s why they drafted Thomas. Culliver and Cox took off? That’s why they drafted Ward, Reaser, Acker and Dontae Johnson. Fare thee well, Frank Gore? Hello, workhorse role for Carlos Hyde. Ultimately, the front office’s drafting strategy is based a lot on faith.
But that’s why 49ers fans are called the “Faithful”.
So, how about you show some faith for 2015? After the offseason the 49ers just endured, Heaven knows they could use some.