Expectations for San Francisco 49ers’ 2012 Draft Class
2012 Draft Class Looks to Help San Francisco 49ers
The NFL Draft is now just hours away, and the San Francisco 49ers have a league-leading 13 picks. Some incoming pros hope to make an immediate impact, while others have to fight tooth and nail just to make a roster spot.
In 2011, head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke conducted their first draft together. By having the eye to select the likes of Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Kendall Hunter, the duo has hit a grand slam in their first at-bat. Six of the 10 players drafted are still with the 49ers and have played an instrumental role in the team’s success thus far.
As it goes for any draft, each pick presents its own risks and rewards. Based on the 2011 results, Baalke and Harbaugh clearly know how to spot talent, so many fans and analysts were eager to see what the tandem would do for an encore in the 2012 draft. Let’s just say that the results did not come anywhere near their first go-around.
While San Francisco enjoyed a standout campaign last season, its draft class barely made any noise. In fairness, though, the 49ers did feature a lot of premier veterans on the roster. But with the nature of free agency, veterans come and go, roles change and young prospects get an opportunity to distinguish themselves. This season, certain members of the 49ers’ 2012 group could finally show the NFL why they were worthy of being chosen.
2013 marks a fresh start for everyone, so what is in store for last year’s crop of rookies?
A.J. Jenkins was taken with the 30th overall pick last April. Using his speed and athleticism, he was supposed to be one of the 49ers’ deep threats. But, a slow start in training camp combined with the team’s depth at receiver meant that Jenkins saw a total of 47 snaps and did not record a single reception.
However, with the turn of a new year, we might see a brand-new wideout. By adding Anquan Boldin, Jenkins is now third on the depth chart at best. That does not mean he won’t be used, though. Boldin, along with Michael Crabtree, are possession receivers, whereas Jenkins can stretch the field.
While receptions may be hard to come by for the second-year receiver, the 49ers can certainly put his ability to use. Jenkins has the wheels to threaten opposing secondaries, which should help free up his fellow wideouts. Overall, his impact would be felt more on the field than on the stat sheet.
Standout Oregon running back LaMichael James was by far San Francisco’s best rookie. Playing in seven games last season, he was the team’s change-of-pace back to Frank Gore. James averaged just over five yards a carry, while scoring his first career touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.
Entering his second season, the 49ers should use him a lot more, especially with Gore turning another year older and the uncertainty surrounding Hunter.
James is also a contributor on special teams. Though the sample size is relatively small, he averaged 29.8 yards per kick return. Unless San Francisco selects a premier returner in the draft, expect James to be the lead candidate for the job.
Giving up their fourth- and sixth-round picks in last year’s draft, the 49ers moved up (in the fourth round) to select Wake Forest guard Joe Looney. With his season cut short in training camp due to a Lisfranc injury, he spent the whole year as a reserve.
But Looney could finally see the first snaps of his professional career, as backup guard Leonard Davis is a free agent. In run-heavy formations, he has a shot to take over Davis’ duties. If forced into the situation, Looney is capable of filling in at any spot within the interior line should one of the starters suffer an injury.
Linebacker Darius Fleming’s rookie season ended before it really began. During his first rookie mini-camp practice, the Notre Dame product tore his ACL. He did not play at all last year.
Regarded as a strong pass rusher at Notre Dame, the 49ers can certainly use help in that area. But with virtually no experience in the pros, Fleming will probably contribute solely on special teams and play sparingly in passing downs.
Trenton Robinson’s fate will rest on how he performs in the offseason and what happens in the draft. Having only played on special teams last season, a jump to free safety would mark a major leap in his role. He’ll have to earn his spot though, as free-agent pickup Craig Dahl and a possible early-round rookie are in the mix as well.
Cam Johnson is slowly working his way up. After missing most of the 49ers’ offseason program due to knee surgery, Johnson was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster in Week 16. He participated in 11 defensive snaps over the final two games of the regular season.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, Johnson has ideal size and quickness to play, but the coaches need to see more out of him if he wants a larger role in 2013.