2016 NFL Draft: 6 Simple Steps for a Successful 49ers Class
The problem with the A.J. Jenkins failure in 2012 isn’t solely due to the fact that he bombed as a receiver. It’s not entirely fair to say that Trent Baalke can’t evaluate receivers because Jenkins wasn’t as good as T.Y. Hilton or Alshon Jeffery; most evaluators had Jenkins significantly ahead of Hilton, and it was something of a tossup between Jeffery and Jenkins at the time. It was not considered unreasonable on draft day to draft Jenkins ahead of players who, it turns out, have had better careers. Sometimes, picks just don’t work out, no matter how good your scouting and strategy are.
No, the issue with the Jenkins pick was how early he was selected. Most draft boards had Jenkins down in the 60s overall; a late second or third-round selection at best. That doesn’t mean that every team has to follow that analysis; if you’re sure of your scouting and confident that they will be a good player, you should pick the player slightly earlier in order to ensure they end up on your team.
But it’s important to remember that you don’t know who will be the best player in a draft class—otherwise, there wouldn’t have been an argument between Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. You know that there will be Hall of Famers and All-Pros and Pro Bowlers taken in the draft, but you can’t be 100 percent certain who they are. If you draft someone so far out of proportion to their value, you’re gambling far too much—there’s no way you can be that certain of a pick. The wisdom of the crowds can be wrong, certainly, but putting so much resources behind everyone else being wrong is a losing strategy in the long run.
Picking A.J. Jenkins in the first round was an insane risk. Sure, it might have paid off—taking Tom Brady in the first round back in 2000 would have been an insane risk, but someone would have been happy to do so—but the odds are so much against it happening that, in the long run, your draft classes will be worse for having done so. Even taking Jenkins in the first half of the second round would have been an eye-opening risk. If the 49ers were that sure about Jenkins, and that worried that he would be gone by the time they made the 61st pick in the draft, they could have traded up six or so slots, giving up a fourth-rounder to go and grab Jenkins. He still would have been a flop, even as a second-round pick, but losing a second- and fourth-round selection on him would have been a much easier pill to swallow than wasting the 30th overall pick on him.
Trent Baalke famously entered that draft with Jenkins’ name already in an envelope. This is a terrible idea—to fall in love with one player so much that you ignore all concepts of value and need and draft one player, regardless. If your scouting says a player is the next no-miss prospect, make every reasonable attempt to draft them, but don’t mortgage the future on what is, inherently, a risk.
For 2016, that means there’s a dozen or so players that would qualify as solid value with the seventh overall pick. Either of the top two quarterbacks would count, for example, or Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley or Jack Conklin on the offensive line. Defenders like Joey Bosa, Myles Jack, DeForest Buckner or Darron Lee would be a solid value, though I’m not sure about the health or fit of Jack or Lee. Jalen Ramsey, Sheldon Rankins and Ezekiel Elliot would be fine picks as well, though none of them are at a pressing position of need for the team.
If, on the other hand, the team is convinced Connor Cook is their quarterback of the future, or Laquon Treadwell is the wide receiver that will lead them forward or Reggie Ragland is the inside linebacker who can finally replace Patrick Willis, by all means try to grab them—but do it by trading back from the first-round pick or trading up from the second-round pick. Don’t put all the proverbial eggs in the basket of your scouting being right, when history shows that a large number of sure-fire, no-miss first-round prospects do, in fact, miss.
Next: Trading Places