Why the 49ers Are Missing the Playoffs

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The 49ers ended a three-season playoff streak on Sunday, falling to the Seattle Seahawks for the second time this year. They sit at 7-7, and have very little to play for other than self-respect. The ever-eager local media has pounced on the 49ers and the fans have followed suit, calling for some kind of retribution against a team that has fallen far short of preseason expectations.

Watching the anger and the subsequent blamefest unfold has been equal parts fascinating and depressing. As with any subject debated in the public forum, most fans’ conclusions were hopelessly reductive, excoriating Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman or the bad karma brought on by the much-maligned move to Santa Clara. As with any subject worth discussing, the ‘reason’ that 49ers fans are looking for is far more complicated than any single player or coach; blame should be spread in varying layers across all parts of the 49ers franchise.

However, the most under-discussed factor is, in my opinion, the most obvious reason the 49ers failed to return to the playoffs, or even come close. Last season, I wrote a short piece summing up what I thought was holding the 2013 49ers from dominating: injuries. By the 13th week of the 2013 season, the 49ers had ruled individual players out of games a collective 68 times, an average of 5.6 per game, hampering their ability to produce on offense. This year is even more dramatic.

I put together an edited 2014 roster, eliminating injured players that were never meant to play this season (Brandon Thomas, Marcus Lattimore) and other players buried in the depth chart (Kaleb Ramsey, Keith Reaser). I also omitted Aldon Smith from the list, given the circumstances of his absence. Of this pared-down roster of 43 ‘impact players’, the 49ers have missed a collective total of 135 games, an average of 9.6 players per game. The offense had 58 absences, while the defense struggled with 77. Of those 135 games, Pro Bowlers missed 27. Only 18 players on my roster have gone the whole season without missing a game. Some of those 18, like Chris Borland, Carlos Hyde and possibly Frank Gore, could miss Sunday’s game against the Chargers.

There isn’t any explanation for this, there isn’t any blame to go around. The very simple reality is that this team was missing many, many pieces. They lost team stalwarts like Patrick Willis, and quality backups like Michael Wilhoite and Derek Carrier. They lost players from every corner of the roster, and still managed to stay in the playoff hunt through 13 games. The fact that a team this battered still has a shot at a winning season is, quite frankly, remarkable, and stands in my mind as the best argument for giving Harbaugh another chance in San Francisco.

People spent a lot the 2014 season (and every other season, if we’re being honest) deriding Roman for his predictable and mostly ineffective game plans, but it is crucial that we examine his choices, along with everything else, with these injuries mind. It is easy for me to say that he isn’t dialing up enough run plays, but in so doing I am willfully ignoring the tremendous turnover on the offensive line and at the tight end position. Vance McDonald has failed to impress as a passer but has become one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. He missed 7 games. Losing any player, even a role-player like McDonald, limits what the coach can do.

There are also the lingering injuries, the ones that the 49ers were forced to play through. It’s no secret that Vernon Davis has been a major disappointment this season, but very little consideration is given to how injuries to his ankle and back have limited him. It is so easy to blame his ego, his work ethic or his preseason holdout, but the most obvious reason has been present almost all season. His lack of speed and execution might be the number one reason the 49ers’ passing game struggled so mightily, and his injuries are the only tangible reason I see for his rapid decline.

The poor health of the team is not an excuse as much as a deflating reality. The 49ers could have been coached better. Kaepernick could have worked on his patience and accuracy. Special teams could have un-trainwrecked itself. Roman STILL could have called more run plays. But none of that is really as compelling to me as the numbers listed above. To ask why the 49ers are missing the playoffs and fail to consider the effect injuries have had is simply foolish.

Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde and Tempering Our Post-Draft Hopes

Carlos Hyde, John Lowdermilk, Anthony HitchensAP Photo/Jay LaPrete

The weeks after a good draft might be the most hopeful time of the year for NFL fans. Eventually, reality sets in, and you remember that no amount of Mike Mayock praise can un-bust a poor draft pick. That isn’t to say that the 49ers drafted poorly in the last few years. Indeed, quite the opposite. However, for this year’s haul to be called a ‘good’ one, only half of the 49ers’ 12 picks need contribute.

Carlos Hyde might never adjust to Greg Roman’s system. Jimmie Ward could struggle to cover anyone, let alone Tavon Austin and Percy Harvin. Aaron Lynch’s ‘character concerns’ might linger, Brandon Thomas’ ACL could never heal right. I am not trying to bring anyone down. I feel plenty hopeful too, but I think it is important to recognize that even Trent Baalke cannot force a college player to play well in the NFL, or a tendon to heal perfectly.

The extraordinary amount of talent on the 49ers frees Baalke up to make some interesting decisions, like drafting injured players in the later rounds, or signing British olympians with no gridiron football experience. Baalke can run parts of the team like Google X, experimenting with low-cost players and hopefully harnessing talent that can be used on Sundays. However, it is important to keep in mind that the success rate for this is, at best, pretty low.

When Marcus Lattimore was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL draft, the pick was widely praised. Not only were the 49ers getting tremendous value from a 4th round pick, but they were addressing a future need by finding a replacement for the aging Frank Gore. The story was almost too perfect; just like Gore, Lattimore was recovering from a devastating knee injury. Like Gore, Lattimore had been a huge part of the offense at his school, and for the limited time he played, he was arguably the best half back in the SEC. It was really hard not to be hopeful.

Things got a little more realistic in the 2nd round of of the 2014 Draft, when the 49ers took Ohio State’s resident battering ram, Carlos Hyde. This baffled more than a few fans. Was Lattimore not the second coming of Gore? Wasn’t the running back corp deep enough? However, if you really thought about it, the pick made a lot of sense.

We must recognize that even athletes like Lattimore sometimes never turn the corner. Doctors are getting better and better at helping athletes recover from injuries, but this doesn’t mean they necessarily can contribute in the NFL. We are all rooting for Lattimore, Thomas, Tank Carradine, Lawrence Okoye, Keith Reaser to get healthy, but the chances of that happening are slim.

 

2014 NFL Draft: All the Rest

 

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The later rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft were decidedly more exciting than the first, which saw the 49ers calmly wait as the high-profile picks were made, and eventually select a Safety from a small school. Trent Baalke was a little more spry after the first round, making multiple trades to move up and down the draft board. On top of that, the 49ers announced before day two began that they had traded a conditional 4th round pick in 2015 for Buffalo Bills wideout Stevie Johnson. In typical Harbaalke fashion, the 49ers added depth and talent, picking up players that had inexplicably fallen and filling roster holes for now and in the future:

Carlos Hyde, running back, Ohio State University

This was a bit of a head-scratcher, but after it sunk in it made a lot of sense. Hyde was a monster for the Buckeyes, picking up 1521 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. He fell out of the first round because of character concerns stemming from assault allegations leveled against him last year. I did not have running back as a position of need for the 49ers, but it isn’t hard to see the logic of this pick. Marcus Lattimore is the heir apparent, but there is no guarantee that he can perform after two brutal knee injuries. Should he struggle to produce, Hyde can step in and spell Gore while he learns the 49ers’ system. Hyde has the power and versatility to help drive the 49ers’ offense.

Marcus Martin, center, University of Southern California

This was my favorite pick by far. Martin was seen by most as the best center in the draft, and the 49ers managed to snag him in the 3rd round. He is a big, strong interior lineman, standing at 6′ 3” 310 lbs. He has long arms and, despite his youth, could be the 49ers’ starting center in 2014. He will compete with interior lineman Daniel Kilgore to play center, but is most likely the 49ers’ center of the future.

Chris Borland, inside linebacker, University of Wisconsin

This was a depth pick, as the 49ers need someone to replace an injured Navorro Bowman for the first half of the season. Borland was a prolific linebacker at Wisconsin, picking up 111 tackles as a senior. He fell a few rounds because of his size, which is not typical for a linebacker, and his short arms. Despite these shortcomings, Borland was highly functional at Wisconsin and showed plenty of ability as a run stopper. He will compete with Michael Wilhoite to play next to Patrick Willis at inside linebacker.

Brandon Thomas, offensive lineman, Clemson

Thomas was heralded as a 1st round pick until he tore his ACL at a workout in New Orleans. Much like Lattimore in 2013, Thomas will sit out this season and rehab in the hopes that he can bring his first round talent to bear in the future. He played all along the line at Clemson, and, as is typical for a Harbaalke pick, he has exceptionally long arms.

Bruce Ellington, wide receiver, University of South Carolina

I really liked this pick. Ellington was another steal for the 49ers, who finally added some speed to their receiver group. He was a huge weapon for the Gamecocks, lining up as a receiver and even returning kickoffs. His speed and versatility has many speculating that the 49ers are done with LaMichael James, who had a similar skill set but was largely unproductive in San Francisco. I am still not sure that Greg Roman is good at utilizing speedy players, but at the very least Ellington could see some use returning kickoffs and punts.

Dontae Johnson, cornerback, North Carolina State

Much like Jimmie Ward in the first round, Dontae Johnson is versatile, with experience as both a safety and corner. He is unusually fast for his size (6’2”, 200 lbs.), but is still raw in terms of play recognition skills. Fortunately, most of the knocks against him (reading offenses, footwork) are things that can be ironed out with the right coaching. He has the physical tools to be an excellent corner, provided the 49ers can coach him up to that level.

Aaron Lynch, defensive end, University of South Florida

Lynch is a tremendously talented pass-rusher, a physically prototypical defensive end. After a dominant year as a freshman at Notre Dame, Lynch transferred to USF and saw a precipitous fall in production. The biggest knock against him, and it is a big one, is that he lacks motivation and seems disinterested in playing up to his potential. This pick speaks to the faith Baalke has in Vic Fangio and the defensive staff to motivate and mold players. If the 49ers manage get him fired up, he could be an incredible outside linebacker.

Keith Reaser, cornerback, Florida Atlantic

Another injured player that the 49ers will stash and develop, Reaser brings decent coverage and strength to the position. He isn’t a tremendous player, and will have to come back from a torn ACL, but if he works out he will provide depth.

Kenneth Acker, cornerback, Southern Methodist University

Acker was a great corner at SMU, but will need some coaching up to learn the finer points of press coverage. Much like Reaser, he has good physical traits, but will most likely provide depth until he is proven.

Kaleb Ramsey, defensive end, Boston College

Ramsey is a high upside player with a lot of durability issues. He led all defensive lineman in bench-presses at the combine, and has a lot of burst and strength. However, he missed a lot of games in college thanks so a series of injuries. He has the ability to play the position well, or even start, but only if he can stay upright and healthy.

Trey Millard, fullback, Oklahoma

Millard is a versatile pick but will also be sitting out the 2014 season with, you guessed it, a torn ACL. He has decent pass-catching ability, and also plays well on special teams. He is a typical Harbaalke pick: tough, versatile and intelligent.

Undrafted free agents:

Kory Faulkner, quarterback, Southern Illinois University

Faulkner was a near unknown who the 49ers saw at the Northwestern Pro Day. Harbaugh took a liking to Faulkner’s tools and mindset and moved forward. He will compete with McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the 3rd string quarterback spot.

Morgan Breslin, outside linebacker, University of Southern California

Breslin is a Bay Area local with a modicum of pass rushing talent. The 49ers will most likely use him much like they used Corey Lemonier, a situational pass rusher who will spell Aldon Smith, Tank Carradine and others.

L.J. Mccray, safety, Catawba College

Another safety with experience as a corner, Mccray played Division 2 football but could be used any number of ways. He has experience as a kick returner, and, given how much competition the 49ers have in the secondary, this would seem like the primary reason the 49ers have invested in him.

Asante Cleveland, tight end, University of Miami

Cleveland is a long shot to make the 49ers roster, as he has seen very little use as a receiver. He has the physical skills to be a decent blocker, but on a team that values versatility and multi-skilled athletes, this pickup strikes me as a strange one.

Shayne Skov, inside linebacker, Stanford University

Skov was by far the most interesting undrafted player the 49ers picked up. There are legitimate questions about his durability and speed, but he was a big part of an excellent defensive unit at Stanford. He will be coached by one of the best coaching staffs in the league and could end up being a steal for the 49ers. He has the strength and smarts to prove himself at the NFL level.

Bonus free agency pickup:

Stevie Johnson, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills

Augmenting a really strong draft by the 49ers was the addition of Stevie Johnson. He has been a consistent producer since 2010, when he brought his excellent hands and route running to bear. He put together three 1000 yard seasons for the Bills, which is especially impressive considering how unstable Buffalo’s offense has been over the last few years. He carries with him a sizable contract, but will probably rework it to in order to free up money for the 49ers.

This acquisition is huge for a number of reasons. The 49ers now have three great receivers in Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Johnson. Last season, the lack of depth in the receiving corp stung the 49ers when Crabtree when down with a torn achilles tendon. Kaepernick will now have plenty of targets, which will open things up for the running game. In other words, the 49ers offense is now well-rounded in way it hasn’t been for a long time.

All in all, I’m pleased. The 49ers addressed every need, and picked up a lot of players that could contribute down the road. A part of me wishes that Baalke had traded down a bit more and grabbed picks for the next draft, but that could still happen. Last year, the 49ers traded Cam Johnson and Parys Haralson away for picks following some great performance by both players in the preseason. After picking up 12 rookies and signing a veteran wideout, the 49ers are loaded and in a prime position to get future picks by trading away players they do not need.

UPDATE: This is a cool article detailing the last time Hyde and Borland faced off.

 

49ers Free Agency So Far

Earl Thomas, Anquan BoldinTed S. Warren/AP

The 49ers’ front office got busy in a hurry. Most free agency decisions of the last few years have been met by loud cries of “huh?”, or “what, really?” and sometimes even “who?”, and this year was no exception. Aside from Anquan Boldin and Phil Dawson getting resigned, the 49ers have done their usual, unexciting thing, bringing in castoffs and role players to plug the gaps. The 49ers never seem keen on blockbuster trades, and for good reason. They have found sustainable success with a steady core of players, and signing a high priced star to ‘push them over the edge’ would probably do more harm than good. Let’s take a look at the moves thus far:

Anquan Boldin resigned for five years

This was easily the most important signing, thus far. Boldin and Frank Gore carried the offense last season, and having the veteran wideout back will give the 49ers some leeway in the draft. He brings a lot of stability to the position, and, provided everyone can stay healthy, will be a big part of the 49ers’ potentially prolific offense in 2014.

Phil Dawson resigned for two years

No surprise here. Dawson was excellent in 2013, helping keep the team in the lead despite some meagre offensive output. Stability at the kicker position has been one of the more important parts of the 49ers’ recent success. As long as the red zone struggles continue, the 49ers will need to be able to rely on field goals and strong defense to win games.

Safety Donte Whitner to the Browns, Colts Safety Antoine Bethea signed for four years:

This move was unexpected, and has some writers worried about the 49ers’ back field in 2014. Bethea is a solid veteran who was willing to take less money than Whitner. He isn’t great in pass coverage, but he has been a part of a mediocre defensive squad for his entire career. He will provide some veteran leadership, and will no doubt help Eric Reid grow into his position.

The crux of this deal, in my opinion, is the penalties. The 49ers have let go of two safeties in the last two years, both of whom had a reputation for laying the wood on receivers. The league has been trying to move players away from making exceptionally violent tackles, and one of the ways they have done this is to flag hard-hitting plays. Whitner was penalized 8 times last year, costing the 49ers 72 yards. Bethea was not penalized in 2013, and does not have a reputation as an especially hard hitter. Although he does not make a lot of big plays, Bethea will also not cost the 49ers yards or spot opposing offenses extra downs.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert traded from the Jaguars:

This was a weird one. Colt McCoy didn’t show much as a backup quarterback last year, but I figured the 49ers would go after a project signal caller in the draft and not in free agency. Gabbert has had a genuinely horrible NFL career, throwing 24 interceptions to 22 touchdowns during his three years in Jacksonville. If you find yourself really worried about this trade, just try to think of the potential upside. Gabbert was the 10th pick in the 2011 draft, and had a great three years leading Mizzou’s spread offense before joining the NFL’s worst team. This trade is very Harbaugh-esque; the 49ers are hoping that Harbaugh can do for Gabbert what he did for Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck.

Should everything go according to plan over the next two seasons, however, the only thing we will see Gabbert doing is handing off to Frank Gore and Marcus Lattimore.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers Released:

Although Rogers was not as bad as many people say, he was not worth the money it would have cost to keep him around. He was a solid corner during his time in San Francisco, but he gave up too many big plays and was clearly struggling to keep up with receivers last season. All in all, Rogers seemed like a pretty good guy and a leader in the secondary, but was simply not worth hanging on to.

Linebacker Michael Wilhoite tendered a contract:

Wilhoite was a solid backup last year, filling in for Patrick Willis and having some great, if unremarkable games. This is an important signing because Wilhoite will most likely be filling in for Navorro Bowman next season.

Cornerback Eric Wright resigned for one year:

This is another ho-hum signing, but one that the 49ers desperately needed. Barring another free agency addition, the 49ers will be looking to grab at least one starting-calibre cornerback in the draft. Having cornerback depth is crucial, and Wright brings a sure set of hands to the secondary.

Demarcus Dobbs tendered contract:

The 49ers’ late season run was sustained by many factors, but one of the most crucial was the team’s willingness to give their starters more time to rest. Having players like Demarcus Dobbs, who can sub in when the starters need a breather, will be extremely important going forward.

Offensive Tackle Jonathan Martin traded from the Dolphins:

The outcome of this trade hinges on whether or not Martin is on the starting roster in 2014; if he does not impress at training camp, the 49ers will lose nothing and Martin will walk. Offensive line depth is always welcome, and Martin will have a chance to play as well as he did at Stanford under his old coach. This was a smart move with very little downside, and it will be an interesting one to follow going forward.

Cornerback Chris Cook signed for one year:

Cook is another under-performer, playing corner in the NFL’s 31st ranked defensive unit. Cook is a project player; he has shown flashes of talent, but the Vikings were unable to capitalize on it. A lot has been made of Trent Baalke’s infatuation with long-armed players, and Cook brings a 32.5 inch wingspan. If he can do well at training camp, he will most likely be slotted in to provide depth in the regular season. Otherwise, the 49ers should be set up well enough to let him go.

Dawson and Boldin aside, all of these moves are classic Harbaalke. For three years, Baalke has been able to bet on the 49ers’ coaching staff to turn underperforming athletes into skilled role-players. This strategy has worked for the most part, allowing Baalke to dig in the league’s bargain bin and keep the 49ers stacked with depth. Gabbert, Bethea, Cook and Martin may not have shined in their NFL careers, but all four were parts of bad, or at least inconsistent environments. This incarnation of the 49ers franchise seems extremely skilled at bringing out the best in players. Nothing is certain of course, but we have every reason to be positive.

49ers Rookie Minicamp

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© San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers rookie minicamp has ended, and the glut of Niners draftees and rookie free agents have made their first impressions on the coaching staff and a hand full of starters who showed up to watch the practices. Although much of the media coverage was full of the standard platitudes used to describe rookies from every team, some of the major draft story lines have developed further, many along the lines the experts had predicted. The most engaging of these story lines belong to the rookies who will be tasked with stepping in and starting next season.

Eric Reid was the 49ers’ first pick in the draft, and has already received praise from those watching the practices, including Donte Whitner. What is most striking about Reid is his adoption of Jim Harbaugh’s meritocratic philosophy when it comes to the depth chart. Although it has been acknowledged that Reid is slated to fill Dashon Goldson’s shoes, he is showing no signs of entitlement when it comes to earning the starting role. Reid has impressed with his hitting ability as well as his intelligence, and will be an exciting player to watch.

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© San Francisco 49ers

Although he was not a high profile pick, Vance McDonald is the answer to the loss of Delanie Walker. He has already begun to show himself capable of surpassing Walker; he has better hands and overall receiving ability along with the versatility that allows the 49ers to place him anywhere they need him on the line. He still lacks Delaine’s blocking ability, but has shown a great deal of raw strength and should learn a lot under the league’s best tight end, Vernon Davis. Harbaugh has already spoken to the potential he sees in the rookie.

Quinton Patton is one of the more exciting picks; he was nabbed in the fourth round, despite his talent. Patton’s skills at route running and mobility are going to make a big impression in the upcoming OTAs, after he gets a chance to look over the playbook and use his football smarts. Patton will be even more interesting when he is stacked up next to A.J. Jenkins and some of the 49ers’ other receivers; he is going to be a wildcard in the competition for the Niners 3rd wideout. He looked strong at the minicamp, and has already endeared himself to Jim Harbaugh by showing a lot of initiative in making his own way to the Bay.

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© San Francisco 49ers

One of the less storied rookies was Corey Lemonier, who is slated to act much like Aldon Smith in Vic Fangio’s defense. Although many see him primarily as a pass rush specialist, he showed versatility as an outside linebacker, meaning he could be used next season to spell the Niners’ aggressive pass rush or to supplement their run defense.

Paired with Lemonier on the defensive line is Cornelius “Tank” Carradine, one of the injured draftees who the Niners hope will prove to be an asset filling holes on the defensive line. He has expressed confidence in his ability to recover from a torn ACL and become an valuable addition to the team, but he has not been able to show much yet. Tank has been ordained as the heir apparent to Justin Smith, but won’t be able to step up until he is cleared for practice.

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© San Francisco 49ers

Much like Carradine, Marcus Lattimore could do little during the minicamp except watch is fellow rookies and study the playbook. Though he was one of the more well-known draft picks, Lattimore has not proven particularly talkative or open. Despite this, he has expressed willingness to sit out a season, let his injury heal and absorb what he can from the 49ers’ running corps and offensive line.

Former USF quarterback B.J. Daniels has become the darling of the sports blog conjecture circuit, and not without good reason. He has been projected to fill in as third string quarterback, practice squad imitator of Russel Wilson (Although this is likely due more to 49ers-Seahawks hysteria than anything else) or even punt returner. It will be interesting to see whether he can out-hustle Colt Mccoy and Scott Tolzien and move up the depth chart, as he has the raw athletic talent to fill in as a surrogate Kaepernick should the unthinkable happen to No. 7.   Lawrence Okoye© Ap                                                                                                                                       My favorite storyline has been that of Lawrence Oyoke, who has fulfilled everything expected of him in minicamp, both in terms of insane athleticism as well as extreme inexperience. He has expressed a very healthy, appreciative outlook on his place with the 49ers, showing a great deal of appreciation for the opportunity and even tweeting awkwardly about Jim Tomsula:

I am a bit over-excited to see what this guy can do; he is in the best position possible with the best team and coaching staff to host him, and can only get better learning from Justin Smith.

2013 NFL Draft Round Three and Conclusion

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© Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Just when you thought the 49ers draft couldn’t get more crazy, Harbaalke let loose, grabbing seven more players and signing undrafted FA Lawrence Okoye, giving them a huge player haul full of potential stars. After spending their early capital adding to their defense, the 49ers broadened their scope, using their fourth round picks to grab high-upside offensive players who, at the very least, will spend the next season learning how to be a part of the 49ers’ emerging offense.

The 49ers first pick went to Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton. He is a elusive, agile and tough wide receiver with great hands and strong route-running, who looks to be the future number two wide receiver once Anquan Boldin finishes his tenure in San Francisco. He isn’t a burner or a deep threat but has great potential to be a playmaker alongside Michael Crabtree. I am really excited to see what the 49ers do with Patton; his arrival will make for an all the more interesting preseason. Their wide receiver corps is extremely deep, and I can’t wait to see who emerges from the tangle of Patton, Jenkins, Manningham, Williams, Lockette, Moore and Hastings.

Surprising no one, the 49ers spent their second pick in the fourth round on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore is a top-tier talent relegated to a lower round because of several injuries to his knees in his Sophomore and Junior years with the Gamecocks. Although some are calling this pick a gamble, the 49ers did not risk much spending a fourth round pick on a player considered to be the best running back in the draft. He is a powerful, tackle-breaking downhill runner with potential to be the 49ers next number one back. Most are predicting that he spends the next season rehabbing and learning the offense, ensuring that he will be at full strength and well-versed in the aggressive run game favored by the 49ers.

After showing a little love to the offense, the 49ers returned to their defensive line, using their round five pick on Alabama defensive end Quinton Dial. He is an athletic lineman who showed a lot of adaptability playing many spots on the line for the Crimson Tide. He was considered a bit of a gamble; he saw comparatively little playing time at Alabama and didn’t show any particular affinity for pass rush OR run defense. All in all, I would consider him a depth pick, possibly backing up free agent addition Glenn Dorsey.

Showing no signs of slowing, the 49ers used their sixth round pick to add FSU outside linebacker Nick Moody. A back of all trades, Moody has played safety and corner along with linebacker, showing of potential in the defensive backfield. Although his college career was marred by injury, he has shown enough talent to merit a pick. He will probably fill a role similar to that of bizarre free agent addition Craig Dahl, adding depth in the secondary and helping out on special teams.

The 49ers began their trio of seventh round picks with USF quarterback B.J. Daniels. A highly athletic dual-threat quarterback, Daniels is yet another answer to the need for quarterback depth; he will compete with Colt Mccoy to back up Kaep. He is a talented specimen capable of running the read option. He can only benefit from Harbaugh’s quarterback whispering and could prove a better backup than Mccoy. Baalke mentioned after the draft that Daniels could also become the 49ers’ punt return specialist.

Their second of three seventh round picks went to Iowa State offensive tackle Carter Bykowski. Bykowski is 6’6” and weighs 306 lbs, and has enough agility to work as a backup tackle. He is going to provide depth for the best offensive line in the NFL, and should learn a lot from Joe Staley and the rest of the linemen.

The Niners used their last in the 2013 NFL draft to finally pick up a cornerback. Rutgers corner Marcus Cooper has a lot of promise, showing speed, strength and tackling ability. He has experience as wide receiver and could be a hard hitting safety as well. Although he came late in the draft, many look at him as an excellent addition to both the secondary and special teams.

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© David Davies/PA Wire

Unsatisfied with their additions during the draft, the 49ers signed UDFA British Olympic discus thrower Lawrence Okoye. He is easily the most fascinating player the 49ers have added, as he has never played football. This huge downside is outweighed by his tremendous physical gifts, which have been praised to the stars and obviously impressed the 49ers enough for them to take the risk. He is extremely fast and strong, and has displayed a knack for hitting, shown by his viciousness on the rugby pitch. He was a polarizing pick that could either transform himself into one of the scariest defensive linemen in football or fail to translate his gifts to American football. He is in a good position for the former, as he will be trained by Jim Tomsula and will be able to pick up the finer points of defensive linemanship from the likes of Justin Smith. He has expressed a willingness to exert himself as much as possible to learn the sport, which convinced Harbaugh. It will be exciting to see what happens with him.

This draft was even more interesting to cover than expected. We were braced for a lot of exciting moves from the 49ers’ camp, but they somehow used their thirteen picks to exceed our expectations. Baalke was aggressive and mobile, leaping all over the board and picking talented players who all seem to fit with the 49ers. This draft also spoke to Harbaalke’s vision of the team a few years down the road. It is clear that the Niners will remain a defensively intimidating team, boasting a powerful pass rush and remaining one of the league’s toughest to run against.

Constantly hearing about the Seahawks’ free agency additions was getting really old, but the 49ers have given us plenty of exciting additions to stave off mind-numbing chants of “Percy Harvin Explosive”. Although it is impossible to say what this draft will bring, the 49ers have clearly articulated a vision for the team in the next couple of years, seemingly drafting along the lines of flexibility and hard hitting talent while expanding their future options in the offense. A lot of the confidence many have expressed in their choices comes from the fact that the 49ers were already a very complete team to begin with, boasting a coaching staff capable of bringing the best out of each pick. Many of these picks will not have their presence felt next season, as they will be learning their role in the team and soaking up lessons from the veterans. While it is years to early to judge this draft, from where I sit it feels like Baalke did quite well and deserves all the recognition he has garnered over the last few years.