Every year the NFL draft provides hope for each team around the league. Players drafted can fill immediate needs as well as depth to back-up existing starters. Some players are taken, usually later in the draft, to "see what he can become" down the road. But every team aims to get the absolute most out of each pick they make.
The 49ers wasted no time in going after their biggest need in the 2010 draft by taking two offensive linemen, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, in the first round. From there they had to be relatively shocked that Taylor Mays, projected by some as a guy teams in the bottom half of the first round might "fall in love with", was still available at pick 49 in the middle of the second round.
While the 49ers traded up to grab Davis in the first round at pick 11, they employed the opposite strategy in the third round, trading down to gain an extra sixth round pick, and nabbing NaVorro Bowman with the 91st pick.
I have to admit that I viewed the 49ers' three-sixth round picks, as well as their seventh rounder, as "who knows" picks. Thus far though, ALL of the 49ers 2010 draft picks are making impacts (or have) nearly six months later. After the jump we'll explore each player's current status with the team as well as the impact they've been able to make.
1 (11) Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
Davis was a questionable pick where the 49ers were originally picking, at number 13, let alone a guy to trade up for. While he is large and agile for his size, there were questions about his work ethic and his maturity. However since reporting for duty the big tackle has worked very hard, spending time at the facility while other players took vacations, in order to hone his craft.
Davis was named the starter at right tackle in training camp and has never looked back. He's had an up and down season thus far, what you'd expect from a rookie, but he's shown flashes of why the 49ers drafted him. He's very good in the run, quick on his feet with a nasty streak once engaged with defenders. This is what the 49ers needed in the run game after last year saw the team struggle mightily on the right side.
1 (17) Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
Iupati was arguably one of the most dominant players in the NCAA in 2009, often tossing defenders to the turf with just one arm. However he played in a fairly weak conference at Idaho and some saw issues with his technique that would not go unnoticed in the NFL against superior competition.
Iupati put in extra time alongside fellow rookie Anthony Davis and was named a starter at the same time as his O-Line comrade. Since then he's shown what a force he can be in the run game, particularly pulling from his left guard spot on the 49ers favorite G-power plays.
Iupati is strong and overpowering once engaged, but occasionally struggles in pass protection due to stunts and pass rush moves he did not see much of in college. Still he has definitely upgraded his position and shows promise that could make him a Pro Bowl caliber player in a year or two.
2 (49) Taylor Mays, S, USC
Mays was a bit of a question mark coming from a USC defense that rarely asked him to cover any receivers...favoring the big ball-jarring hit after the catch. Still, he was an athletic freak at 6'3" 230lbs running a 4.43 40-yard dash (depending on the stop-watch, some clocked him lower than his official time...as low as the 4.3's). Was Mays just a product of Pete Carroll's strange defensive scheme or was it that he didn't possess the skills necessary to cover passes in the NFL?
It was these reasons that caused Mays to slide in the draft to pick 49. Personally I think Mays "fell" to the 49ers much like Michael Crabtree did in the 2009 draft when the team found Crabtree, projected a top five talent, available at pick ten. Mays was too talented of a prospect to pass up here and the 49ers pounced on the chance to draft him.
Since arriving Mays has "bugged" his coaches at all hours of the day and night, probing them for information, insights into the defense he's learning. He regularly spent reps he wasn't directly involved with talking with secondary coaches deep behind the defense, taking mental reps. It appears that has all paid off for Mays.
While some of us thought Mays might end up on the field in 2010 as the starting strong safety, I personally wasn't sure how it would all go down. I assumed injury might be his ticket onto the field knowing how much Mike Singletary and Greg Manusky prized tough, physical safety Michael Lewis. But Lewis' lack of speed and athleticism caused the team to consider giving Mays some reps that would eat into the veteran's playing time. Lewis wasn't happy and asked for his release, which was later granted.
Mays became the starter and since has not made many errors while on the field. In fact he came up with the recovery of a blocked punt in the end zone against Atlanta, toeing the line for the touchdown. Against Oakland Mays nearly had an interception in coverage of tight end Zach Miller. He's also a key contributor on special teams, playing gunner on the kickoff and punt units.
Bowman was a guy who could have been drafted much higher (in fact, the Cowboys had Bowman as first round talent but needed WR Dez Bryant more) had it not been for a few off-the-field issues. However the 49ers and Mike Singletary decided they had seen enough in the young man to give him a shot in the third round.
With an inside linebacker corps that includes Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes it was hard to see a way that Bowman would make it on the field much as a rookie. But when backup ILB and key special teamer Scott McKillop went down with a knee injury, Bowman moved up the depth chart and became the backup at both ILB positions.
Since then the same speed that was going to reduce Michael Lewis' playing time has been identified as a mismatch at times at the "Ted" LB position, allowing Bowman to periodically substitute for Spikes. The rookie shows great instincts and a nose for the ball to go along with his quickness.
Bowman also plays a key role in special teams and is often found near or in on the tackle on coverage units.
Anthony Dixon was a guy I didn't know much about until I put on his highlight videos on youtube. It was instantly evident that he was a large man who was very nimble on his feet. This has been his down-fall at times, believe it or not, as in pre-season he had a tendency to hit the hole slowly while dancing around in the backfield.
Still every chance he's had to get on the field (including special teams where he also plays a big role) he has made plays. He rushed for a touchdown in the game against New Orleans on a run off left tackle in his only carry of the game, and against Oakland Dixon had a nice run for an apparent touchdown that was negated by a holding penalty on Joe Staley.
6 (182) Nate Byham, TE, Pittsburgh
Byham was a bit of an unknown when he was taken in the sixth round of this year's draft. All we knew was he was a tough-nosed blocking tight end from Pittsburgh. The team had taken a blocking TE in the 2009 draft in Bear Pascoe though he was cut before the regular season began, a fate many feared Byham might also experience.
Byham did make the 53-man roster and has been a contributor as a blocker in the run-game as well as the occasional pass target. He has underrated hands for a supposed "blocking tight end", though he's no Vernon Davis or Delanie Walker in the pass-game.
6 (206) Kyle Williams, WR, Arizona State
Williams was a dynamic receiver at ASU and has quite an impressive highlight reel himself. One of the biggest needs the 49ers had going into the 2010 season was a returner for punts and kickoffs. Williams did a fair amount of returning while in college and we all began to get excited upon seeing some nice returns in his first pre-season game.
A few injuries put Williams on ice for half of preseason and also the first few games of the regular season, leaving others to the return duties, often with mixed results. Williams excels on punt returns where he is quick and shifty in traffic. Hopes to get him on the field as a slot receiver appear to be postponed as the team is already struggling to break free of Jimmy Raye's play calls involving only one or two receivers on the field at a time.
Williams recently dislocated his finger, causing him to miss a few more games. Still it's believed he is the most explosive punt returner on the team while making good choices and cleanly fielding the ball as well.
Adams was a player that had so little, and so poor game tape on him from college that it was provided on something like old VCR tapes. The footage was grainy and it was hard to isolate Adams in the shot. I honestly didn't give him much chance to make the team at first.
In one of the final preseason games Adams managed a few plays where he showed some swagger and ball skills, batting a pass away and being physical with the receiver. Adams was also asked to be a late participant in the return game when Kyle Williams went down in the preseason with a hamstring injury. He responded to the challenge by returning a punt 83 yards for a touchdown against Oakland in the third preseason game.
The team chose to roster Adams and he has remained there throughout the start of the 2010 regular season. In fact, Adams was called on as the team's punt returner when injuries to Kyle Williams and Tedd Ginn overlapped early in the season. While Adams showed some skill as a punt returner in preseason, he did have a costly muff in the New Orleans game deep in San Francisco territory.
I have to say that the reason I decided to create this post was due to the fact that currently the 49ers not only have all of their draft picks on the 53-man roster, but all of them are active on game-days and contributing (when healthy). The most surprising part of this is that four of the players in the 2010 draft class were drafted in the sixth and seventh rounds. Let's hope future drafts are able to produce that level of contribution.
Many of you have seen me racking up comments for about a year now, but maybe you don't know much else about me other than the fact that I'm hardcore into the 49ers. Consider this your history lesson:
I lived in California (Orange County) from age three to age ten. My father wasn't in my life so I guess I never had anyone watching pro sports around at that point. When I was ten my mother and I moved to Iowa after she met and married my step-father. I came into a setting with two older step-brothers and their father, my step-dad, who were all huge sports fans.
That was 1988, right around the time Joe Montana was leading the 49ers to back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Needless to say, having lived in California and watching the 49ers win two Super Bowls, I had pretty good reasons to become a fan.
Since then the team has certainly had it's share of ups and downs. In 2008 when Mike Nolan was fired and Singletary was named interim Head Coach (followed by sending Vernon Davis to the locker room, de-pantsing himself at half-time, etc.) I began to take a more marked interest in the team. Since then I have been infatuated with the intricacies of the 49ers and football itself.
I enjoy the finer points of the game. The X's and O's, roster moves, contracts (though I'm learning as I go on this especially), etc. I love to learn more about offenses, defenses and particular ways to exploit them. I hope to contribute in that vein more actively as time goes on.
I live in Florida with my wife and two sons, four and eight years old. My oldest is a HUGE 49ers fan and has an authentic junior-size Joe Montana jersey already, on top of knowing most of the key role players on the team. He knows every team's city and which teams we like and dislike (gotta start em early). My youngest is rough-and-tumble, befitting a future linebacker. He often refuses to cry even when you can tell he got banged up pretty bad.