Why the weak endorsement?
Kiper liked some of the 49ers' picks, including first-rounder Aldon Smith, but he thought the team reached for quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round. The 49ers traded up nine spots to draft Kaepernick because, in their view, they could not have drafted him later.
"Three, four teams were diving in to get him and we got him one pick before we couldn’t have gotten him," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Kaepernick is the key variable for San Francisco in this draft. The better he fares, the better this draft class is going to look. Harbaugh deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating and developing quarterbacks. His ability to do those things stands out as the No. 1 reason the 49ers hired him. His background suggests he should know the position better than the analysts handing out grades. The glass is half full on Kaepernick.
Overall, the 49ers hit upon a couple of themes in this draft.
They wanted versatility and got it in Smith, a player they think can play multiple positions. They got it in Bruce Miller, who will play fullback after becoming the all-time sack leader at Central Florida. The 49ers see running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Ronald Johnson as four-down players. They project offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person as interior players, but both have experience at tackle. Cornerback Chris Culliver has played safety.
The 49ers, burned by Glen Coffee's retirement last year, were particular about getting players with unquestioned passion for the game. They placed gold stars next to roughly 45 players they considered meeting every aspect of all the criteria, on and off the field. They tried to target these players more heavily and said they came away with roughly twice as many as any team in the draft. Their own needs and biases slanted those evaluations, of course, and other teams might have singled out a different set of players. But you get the idea. This should be a lower-risk class if the 49ers were right.
Like Seattle, the 49ers did not come away with an interior defensive lineman (the Seahawks' Pep Levingston projects as a five-technique player along the lines of Red Bryant). Like Seattle, one of the 49ers' key veteran tackles is headed for free agency. General manager Trent Baalke joked that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula might have to suit up if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin does not re-sign. Baalke's Seattle counterpart, John Schneider, likewise admitted there's more urgency to re-sign tackle Brandon Mebane after the Seahawks did not address the position.
No draft goes perfectly. The 49ers said they tried and failed to land fullback Owen Marecic, a player Harbaugh coached at Stanford. It's sometimes tough to know whether a coach is being generous in his praise for a former player. Seattle's Pete Carroll said nice things about Taylor Mays, but he clearly preferred Earl Thomas. In this case, the 49ers drafted Hunter at No. 115, then watched Cleveland take Marecic nine spots later. The 49ers had already traded the 141st pick in the move to get Kaepernick. After missing on Marecic, they traded up into the 163rd spot for Kilgore.