49ers 2015 draft class is full of projects

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San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke seems to always have a few surprises up his sleeve, but it’s probably safe to say his approach to the 2015 NFL draft was even more shocking than usual.

Even though the 49ers lost a number of players due to free agency and retirements, Baalke’s plan was clearly to draft for the future, ignoring any possible immediate needs the team might have.

Only time will tell if his plan had merit, or if this could be the beginning of the end for Baalke.

Best Pick: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia

Many though that Harold could be taken as high as the end of the first round, so the 49ers got a steal when they grabbed him in the middle of the third.

Harold is an explosive outside linebacker who is a perfect fit in San Francisco’s 3-4 scheme. He has the potential to be a disruptive pass rusher and could register double digit sacks on a consistent basis.

With the future of Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith in doubt, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Harold starting opposite Aaron Lynch in 2016.

Worst Pick: Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson

There was a number of picks that were puzzling, but none more than taking a punter in the fifth round.

Were do I start?

For one, the 49ers have three-time Pro Bowler Andy Lee already on the roster. Lee didn’t have his best season in 2015, but he still averaged 46.8 yards per punt and looks far from done. There’s always a chance Pinion could become a kickoff specialist, but why waste a draft pick on someone just for that?

Regardless of where the 49ers envision Pinion contributing, the position is something they could have addressed with an undrafted free agent. It’s a complete waste of a pick.

Most Intriguing Pick: DeAndre Smelter, WR, Georgia Tech

It seems like every draft, Baalke picks a player who has a torn ACL and stashes them away for a season while they recover. This year, Smelter was that pick.

At 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds, Smelter is a big, physical receiver who is said to have excellent football intelligence.

Best case scenario, he will eventually slide in Anquan Boldin‘s position and provide Colin Kaepernick with a large target who can move the chains underneath. That type of receiver is also a perfect compliment to speedster Torrey Smith on the other side.

Worst case scenario, Smelter goes the way of other mid-round wideouts taken by the 49ers in recent years, and never really amounts to much.

If the latter happens, the 49ers really missed to boat on a loaded receiver class. 

Biggest Project: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon

Baalke and company took a huge risk in the first round when they selected Armstead, who has all of the tools but hasn’t put it together yet.

Armstead has the size (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) and physical traits to be an excellent defensive end in San Francisco’s 3-4 scheme. The problem is, having potential doesn’t always translate into production, and Armstead is a boom or bust pick in every way.

Pro Football Focus had Armstead on their buyer beware list, and said he “has first round tools and barely day two tape.”

Even the 49ers themselves admitted they don’t see Armstead as someone who can contribute right away. Ultimately, the team is hoping head coach Jim Tomsula can get the most out Armstead, and he can eventually reach his potential.

Bottom Line

Anyone trying to grade the 49ers draft will have a hard time, since no one will know the true impact of their selections for years to come. With definite holes to fill on the roster, their approach was surprising and sometimes just plain puzzling.

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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