Trent Baalke’s proven drafting acumen, coupled with the fact that the San Francisco 49ers did not have many spots for rookies on their already loaded roster, gave the general manager some room to take chances and look to the future in 2012. The team did, however, need a wide receiver to eventually groom into a starter considering that there were not many long term options past Michael Crabtree. Unfortunately for the 49ers, the 2012 draft was full of bad decisions and the selection of players who didn’t necessarily fit into the the team’s offensive system. It could have cost a general manager with a lesser track record his job.
A.J. Jenkins, wide receiver, Illinois
That was then: After a productive senior season, Jenkins moved his way up the receiver rankings and was considered one of the top 10 wide outs in the draft. He caught 90 balls for 1276 yards in 2011 after only gaining 1,156 combined in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons. He was able to get separation from defenders and showed good speed. The negatives on Jenkins seemed to be more between the ears than on the field. He had a tendency to take plays off and round off his routes. He also held the ball too far away from his body which resulted in it being stripped away. Jenkins had some issues with the Illinois coaching staff which was a red flag in terms of character concerns.
This is now: The Jenkins pick was a train wreck in every way imaginable. Initial reports out of rookie camp were that he was out of shape and had trouble keeping up. During the season, he couldn’t find his way onto the field despite injuries to the receiving corps. When he was in the lineup, he was almost invisible. He did not record a catch in 2012. When Crabtree went down with an Achilles’ injury early in the 2013 offseason, the initial thought was that Jenkins would play a big role moving forward. Once again, he could not seize the opportunity and was jumped on the depth chart by pedestrian players like Marlon Moore. Jenkins was ultimately dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs for Jonathan Baldwin during the preseason, only one year after the 49ers used a first round pick on him. For some general managers, the Jenkins situation could have been a ticket out of town, but Baalke built up enough credit with the 2010-2011 drafts that he was allowed a first round swing and miss.
LaMichael James, running back, Oregon
That was then: James was a star for the Oregon Ducks, running for 5,082 yards and scoring 53 touchdowns during his collegiate career. His 6.6 yards per carry average over 771 totes showed evidence of a player who was electric and could break a big play at any moment. He did have fumbling issues in college and there was some critique of his size (5’8, 190 pounds). In the right system though, James looked to have the ability to be a play maker at the next level.
This is now: James did not see any playing time in his rookie season until Kendall Hunter was injured in Week 11. After being inserted into the lineup as a change of pace running back to Frank Gore and kick returner, James showed he could make an impact. He ran the ball 38 times for 190 yards and a touchdown over seven games (regular season and playoffs) and also provided some big plays in the return game. In 2013, James was slowed by a sprained knee he suffered in the last preseason game and had a hard time cracking the lineup again upon his return. He only carried the ball 12 times during the 2013 regular season for 59 yards. He did provide a spark in the return game once he was re-inserted into that role around midseason, averaging 26.8 yards per kick return and 10.9 yards per punt return. Despite his talents, James’ future with the team is in doubt as he doesn’t appear to have a role. Whether that’s because of James himself or the 49ers reluctance/inability to use him is up for debate.
4th round (the team did not have a 3rd round pick)
Joe Looney, offensive lineman, Wake Forest
That was then: A four-year starter at Wake Forest, Looney earned second team All ACC honors in 2011. Looney had the size (6’3, 309 pounds) to be a powerful force in the running game and was also agile enough to get to the second level. He tended to get to high in pass protection which made him vulnerable when blocking smaller, quick defensive lineman.
This is now: After not seeing the field during his rookie year, Looney was thrust into action during Week 13 of the 2013 season. The reason was that left tackle Joe Staley was hurt and had to leave the game versus the St. Louis Rams. With starting right guard Alex Boone forced to move to left tackle, Looney stepped in and played guard like a seasoned veteran. The performance came only a week after he made his NFL debut for three plays against the Washington Redskins. While Looney will most likely find himself in a reserve role again in 2014, there is the possibility that he could take Mike Iupati‘s spot at left guard in 2015 and beyond should Iupati not resign with the 49ers.
Best of the rest
There’s not much here to write home about. Only fifth round pick, linebacker Darius Fleming, is still with the franchise and he’s been on injured reserve in each of his first two seasons. Both of the team’s sixth round selections, safety Trenton Robinson and offensive lineman Jason Slowey have been cut. The final pick, seventh round linebacker Cam Johnson, was traded to the Indianapolis Colts before the 2013 season.
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