NFC West: Melvin Oliver

Parys Haralson and Delanie Walker departed the San Francisco 49ers' roster this offseason after entering the NFL has 2006 draft choices with the team.

Another member of that 49ers draft class, fullback Michael Robinson, was a valued contributor to the division-rival Seattle Seahawks when the team released him Friday with age and salary-cap considerations in mind.

The 2006 class has been good to the 49ers. The team continues to get top-shelf contributions from tight end Vernon Davis, one of the team's two first-round picks from that 2006 class.

Mike Nolan was coach and Scott McCloughan was general manager for the 49ers back then. Some of the personnel moves they made continue to sustain the team. Frank Gore, Tarell Brown, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Ray McDonald and Davis remain as players drafted under Nolan. All are valued contributors. Another Nolan-era pick, Adam Snyder, is back with the team as a reserve offensive lineman after spending 2012 with Arizona.

Davis is one of 10 first-round picks from 2006 playing with his original team. The list also includes A.J. Hawk, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Lewis, Nick Mangold and Mathias Kiwanuka.
The San Francisco 49ers have not drafted a true 3-4 defensive lineman since 2009.

They've taken outside linebackers such as Aldon Smith. They've taken a college defensive end and turned him into a fullback (Bruce Miller).


But when it comes to drafting and developing depth behind what was the NFL's oldest starting defensive line entering this season, the 49ers have taken their chances.

The subject is relevant now that the team is waiting to see whether Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith can play through a partially torn triceps tendon at age 33. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points over their past five-plus quarters, nearly all without Smith. The defensive end's absence wasn't the only factor in the struggles, but his absence has hurt.

Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round choice in 2009, is starting in Smith's usual spot. The 49ers think Smith will be able to play in the postseason, but they don't know whether his injured triceps will hold up. They also cannot know to what degree the injury will diminish Smith's effectiveness.

Smith's dominant play against New Orleans in the playoffs last season proved critical to the 49ers' success. His absence leaves the team with Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, Jean Francois, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie on the defensive line. Tukuafu has been playing fullback. Jerod-Eddie signed from the practice squad.
NFC West teams have drafted 22 defensive ends since 2002, a number smaller than I would have anticipated.

An even smaller number -- two! -- start for the teams that drafted them.

One, Antonio Smith, starts for another team.

A few notes relating to this latest item in a series examining various positions:
  • Kentwan Balmer appears as a defensive end because the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to play that position. Balmer played defensive tackle in college.
  • Darnell Dockett does not appear as a defensive end because the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play defensive tackle. Yes, Dockett plays defensive end in the Cardinals' current scheme, but the NFL lists him as a tackle for Pro Bowl voting and he is not a typical defensive end even by 3-4 standards.
  • Of the 22, only Chris Long and Calais Campbell are starting for their original teams. Smith is starting for the Houston Texans.
  • Six of the eight most highly drafted ends since 2002 came from teams most recently affiliated with the ACC.
  • Long was the only player on the list drafted before the 28th overall choice.
  • Will Davis and Parys Haralson were listed as defensive ends coming out of college, but both projected as outside linebackers. That is why they do not appear below. Cody Brown also projects at linebacker.
  • I've used the term "not active" loosely in the charts to describe players who weren't on active rosters during the regular season recently.

Now, on to the charts. I've broken them up with italicized comments representing what NFL teams might have been thinking at corresponding stages of these drafts.

Playing it safe and hoping those NFL bloodlines pay off ...


Defensive linemen are at a premium, and we might find out why ...


The pure pass-rushers are gone by now ...


If these guys don't pan out, it'll be a while before we take another third-round end ...


It's an upset if we find a starter at this point ...


Time to fill out the practice squad, but you never know ...

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