The 2011 NFL draft was full of surprises, the biggest coming from the Minnesota Vikings with their selection of Christian Ponder QB (Florida State), 12th overall; A few questionable picks came from the 49ers. Though they have addressed their primary needs with their selections, there have been criticisms from draft experts suggesting the 49ers reached for their picks.
Their first pick was a reach. That being said, I believe Aldon Smith OLB (Missouri), will turn out to be a fantastic pass rusher for the 49ers. He has a variety of solid pass rushing moves, is persistent and plays hard, similar to Justin Smith. Aldon Smith will take some time to develop, but will bring the 49ers the pass rushing threat they have been longing for the last decade. The problem with this pick is that it was a reach and Smith could have been taken later in the first, possibly between the 10th and 20th selections. The smart move would have been for Baalke to trade down and stockpile picks in the later rounds. I’m sure there would have been trading partners, the Redskins to name one, looking to move up to get one of the two quarterbacks available. Had Baalke made the smart move in trading down, he would have landed Smith and then had the extra picks to offset his next move in trading up for Colin Kaepernick. Even if Smith turns out to be a franchise player, the pick was a mistake in terms of the value at number seven. It shows the inexperience of Baalke; hopefully he does not make mistakes like this again. He should take a page out of the New England Patriots book on how to draft.
His second round pick is where Baalke shined. Colin Kaepernick QB (Nevada) was a great pickup at number 36 overall considering this was the typical flow of this year’s draft. The 49ers saw the quarterback they wanted and were aggressive in pursuing him. It was believed the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins were interested in him and trying to trade up, especially the Raiders. In Kaepernick the 49ers receive a project with an incredible amount of potential.
Says Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com:
“A significant amount of Kaepernick’s jaw-dropping production at Nevada has to be credited to [coach Chris] Ault’s offense, ‘Kap’ answered any questions about his own talent with an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl and in subsequent workouts at the combine and his pro day. At 6’5″, 233 pounds, Kaepernick has the ideal height and rare athleticism for the position. He isn’t as agile escaping pressure as one might think for a quarterback who ran for over 4,000 yards and 59 touchdowns in college and timed at 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but can make defenses pay for not accounting for his ability to run.”
It will take time to develop Kaepernick, but as long as he has the time, I believe he will be a great quarterback in this league. It would be best to sign, when possible, a veteran quarterback like a Matt Hasselbeck or possibly trade for a Carson Palmer, to be a mentor and transitional quarterback for the 49ers.
Chris Culliver CB (South Carolina), the third round selection for the 49ers, will help revitalize an aging secondary. He too is considered a reach. Some projected Culliver as a seventh round pick and with all the cornerbacks drafted in the third round, the 49ers could have made a different selection and possibly chosen Culliver later. What is attractive about him is his special-teams play, which could be a major reason he was chosen early. Culliver has the explosiveness, playing speed and hitting ability to develop. Because he is a very good special-teams player, that will give him the time to learn and grow into an NFL defensive back, an area desperately needing an upgrade.
In the fourth round the 49ers selected Kendall Hunter RB (Oklahoma State). This is a pick I really liked and he will be a welcome addition to the 49ers backfield. Hunter is fast and NFL ready; he won’t take Frank Gore‘s job, but will be a great change of pace back, something the team has lacked. He’s also a great insurance policy in case Gore is injured as Gore has had injury concerns the last few years. The coaching staff will be excited to see this kid in action as he will definitely push Anthony Dixon for the top backup spot and could be their starter in the future.
Daniel Kilgore OG (Appalachian State), was the fifth round selection for the 49ers. Kilgore can be used as a backup swingman in the offensive line. Depth on the offensive line is a must.
The 49ers used their first pick in the sixth round to select Ronald Johnson WR (USC). I really liked this pick as he could be a steal where he was chosen. He is a talented prospect with a lot of potential. Johnson could be a nice compliment to Michael Crabtree. He slipped in the draft due to his size, but has big play ability.
Colin Jones S (TCU), the second 49ers pick in the sixth round, is a very instinctive player with great speed, who always finds the ball. He will be used as a Special-Teams player his first couple years, but can be a legitimate starter with the right coaching.
The 49ers had three picks in the seventh round, the first being Bruce Miller DE/OLB (UCF). Miller will be converted into a fullback. This move was a shocker to most analysts as there was a better FB prospect in Stanley Havili, sitting there for the taking. I hope they know something we don’t with this selection.
Michael Person OG (Montana State) was their second pick in the seventh round. Mostly just a depth pick; he may struggle to make the roster.
With their final pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the 49ers selected Curtis Holcomb CB (Florida A&M). Holcomb is a fast cornerback with average ball skills. With hard work, he may be able to be a steady contributor.
Overall, the 49ers did reach for some of their picks. I do believe they had a good draft in terms of selecting players who, in time, will be starters for them regardless of which positions they play. My only real criticism is the same as the draft experts in saying more value could have been had by trading down and stockpiling picks with their first pick. Final grade: B