Trent Baalke and the “All-ACL Team”
General manager Trent Baalke hasn’t shied away from drafting injured players in the NFL Draft.
It’s not hard to look back at recent 49ers draft classes and pick out more than a few players coming off collegiate injuries. Guys like Marcus Lattimore, Brandon Thomas, DeAndre Smelter and Tank Carradine are just a few. Cornerback Will Redmond is the latest addition to Baalke’s “All-ACL Team.”
On one hand, drafting an injured player usually means his draft stock has slipped considerably. Therefore, the value can be maximized if the team is willing to sit on a prospect’s recovery time before he’s fully able to contribute.
But what if that player never materializes or, as was the case with Lattimore, isn’t able to fully recover?
Room for Hope
In many injured players’ cases, the level of talent simply didn’t just disappear because of an ACL, MCL or whatever-CL injury in college. These guys are still talented. There was merely a setback.
Let’s look at two examples here — Carradine and Smelter.
Carradine, whom the Niners selected in Round 2 of the 2013 draft, probably would have been a first-round pick had it not been for his own injury. And one could make the argument his early pro struggles were due more to his better fit in a 4-3 system rather than San Francisco’s 3-4 scheme.
Moving to a strict edge-rusher role in 2016, maybe this year will be the one Carradine finally reaches his potential.
Smelter, who also could have been a high-round draft pick in 2015, was redshirted last season. San Francisco has plenty of wide receiver questions, so Smelter’s natural skill set could come in handy.
Room for Concern
To date, the overwhelming majority of Baalke’s collegiate-injury picks haven’t panned out at the pro level.
Wrote Eric Branch of SFGate.com:
"The 49ers, however, could grab injured prospects at least a round later than they would have been selected if healthy and start reaping the rewards a year later. It made sense. And it hasn’t worked. Consider: From 2013-14, Baalke used five of his 23 picks on players coming off significant knee injuries, spending second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round selections on those rehabbing prospects. Last year, two of those players (RB Marcus Lattimore and FB Trey Millard) weren’t in the NFL and the remaining three (DL Tank Carradine, G Brandon Thomas and CB Keith Reaser) played an average of 103 snaps for the 49ers."
Branch’s assessment tells us everything we need to know about this approach. 2016 could be different but, so far, the previous results don’t leave a lot of room for hope.
Next: The Pass Rush