After an amazing 13-3 season in 2011, being one or two plays away from a Super Bowl appearance, and in general one of the best seasons the 49er organization has seen in the last decade or more, hopes are high in the Bay Area and around the country when it comes to Niners fans. With all 11 starters coming back on defense and an offense that has been wholly upgraded throughout free agency with the additions of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, and Brandon Jacobs, the expectations are justified and more importantly, the expectations are attainable.
With the already strong team basically returning in tact, the 49ers faced a draft this year in which they didn’t necessarily have holes to fill at a lot of positions like most teams in the draft, but more than that they had a game plan to bolster an already strong team with depth and strength by drafting the best player available. After the draft was over, and the 49ers had selected offensive players with their first three picks, it was blatantly obvious that the 49ers were making all the right moves in order to take the last step they couldn’t take in 2011 and get to and win a 6th Super Bowl.
So what rookies (if any) can make an impact for the 49ers this season? Will any of them even start? Of the seven draft picks the Niners had in this years draft will any of them be able to break through on a team that is very strong at a lot of positions? Or are these players of the future?
I think it is safe to say that A.J. Jenkins (WR) from Illinois, LaMichael James (RB) from Oregon and Joe Looney (RG) from Wake Forest could all three potentially see substantial playing time. While A.J. has had less than stellar reviews during mini-camps and OTA’s so far, this is typical for 1st year wide receivers. The terminology, routes, audibles, and in general the amount of learning is usually a lot for a young receiver to grasp right away. This is not to say that young receivers can’t get it, but it usually takes a little longer.
Running Back LaMichael James is a different story all together, he is a player that could very easily come in and make an impact for this 49er team this year. There are not a lot of players like LaMichael James, he is a rare breed. Comparisons to Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, and Reggie Bush hardly do this young man justice. LMJ (my new nickname for him) is a player that can very quickly become one of the top triple threats (running, catching, return game) in the NFL. His speed, cutting ability, field vision and general athletic ability will help him greatly but if he can grasp Jim Harbaugh’s offense quickly, look for LMJ to sneak in to a lot of Rookie of the Year conversations this season.
Joe Looney was the 3rd pick of the 49ers in the 2012 Draft and at Wake Forest played Guard and Center in a pro style offense. Most people in the know will tell you that while under the radar, Joe Looney was one of the best Guards available in this draft and could very easily compete with Daniel Kilgore for the starting Right Guard spot this season. He had good test scores and a great interview at the combine, he shows great potential and could be a staple of this burgeoning 49ers offensive line for some time.
My pick for the player that can make a huge impact this season is Trenton Robinson the Strong Safety from Michigan State. With the whole Dashon Goldson “thing” hanging in the balance still, and Donte Whitner ever climbing his way to an AARP card, the 49ers could be looking to upgrade or at the very least look in another direction when it comes to the one position on defense that some would say the 49ers are lacking in, Safety. Trenton Robinson is a player that some have said is too small to play Safety in the NFL, at 5’9″ and 195 lbs. but Jim Leonhard and Bob Sanders come to mind when talking about “small safeties” and those two guys were pretty good. I am not saying that Trenton will be either of them, and maybe he doesn’t even play safety, maybe they convert him to CB (which I doubt) but who knows? I am just saying, with a 4.52 second 40-yard dash time and a 35″ vertical jump, Trenton certainly doesn’t play like a guy who is 5’9″.
When it comes to rookies in the NFL, one can never be sure where they will end up when all is said and done. Truth be told, the majority of players that get drafted in to the NFL don’t even last 4 years in the league. That being said, let’s hope that at the very least, these four players can come in whether it’s this year or next and make an impact. The 49ers as a team and as an organization are this close to a Super Bowl run and more importantly, multiple Super Bowl runs. Let’s hope that the magic that Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers created on the field last year, can translate in to that same magic in the draft room, because if it can then 49ers fans are in for a heck of a season.