Sunday, April 29, 2012
First impressions: 2012 49ers draft
By Mike Sando
First impressions on the San Francisco 49ers' performance in the 2012 NFL draft:
What I liked: The 49ers, having already kept together one of the NFL's most dominant defenses in free agency, made a concerted effort to improve on offense. Their first three picks went for a receiver (A.J. Jenkins), a running back (LaMichael James) and a guard (Joe Looney). The team is now in better position to succeed with quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore. Likewise, if Smith struggles and age catches up to Gore, the 49ers are in better position to succeed offensively with younger players at their positions. The team also fared well in trading back to acquire additional picks, including for next year.
Question marks: It's quite possible none of the 49ers' draft choices will win a starting job this year. A roster without many holes is partly responsible. The 49ers' low standing in the draft order was another factor. Whether Looney bounces back from a foot injury well enough to challenge for the starting job at right guard could be a key variable. Mostly, I'm interested in seeing what the 49ers saw in Jenkins, a relatively low-profile player who has nonetheless received high marks from personnel evaluators I've polled on other teams.
Trending: The 49ers have drafted only one defensive lineman over the past three years if we count 2011 first-rounder Aldon Smith as an outside linebacker. That is understandable given how well Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are playing. But with Smith turning 33 this season, McDonald having overcome serious knee injuries and 2008 first-rounder Kentwan Balmer long gone, the time is coming for San Francisco to address the position. The 49ers did find promising prospects in 2011 undrafted free agents Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs, taking off some of the pressure.
Veteran put on alert: Gore would be the logical choice here. He turns 29 in May, past the age when teams start looking for replacements. The 49ers have now drafted four running backs over the past three seasons, including James and 2011 fourth-rounder Kendall Hunter. San Francisco also signed veteran Brandon Jacobs in free agency. Gore started 15 games last season and topped 1,200 yards, but he peaked in November. This position has gotten more competitive.