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One of the common refrains when it comes to NFL Draft discussion is that you have to wait three years before you can really evaluate a team's draft class. Obviously the three year figure doesn't apply to all players, but it's certainly a good place to start. While some players will emerge after that, for a lot of players, you know what you're going to get going forward.
Given that we're three full seasons removed from the 2007 draft, I thought it'd be fun to take a look back at that class. The timing is particularly good given Patrick Willis' five year contract extension yesterday. Additionally, the timing works because Pete Prisco of CBS Sports recently put together a re-grade of those classes. To complete the circle so to speak, I found his original 2007 grades. I've posted both grades after the jump. He actually gave the 49ers an A both times, but for some slightly different reasons.
2007 Draft Class
|1||28||Joe Staley||OT||Central Michigan|
|3||76||Jason Hill||WR||Washington State|
|6||186||Thomas Clayton||RB||Kansas State|
Best pick: I love the pick of Jason Hill in the third round. He will be a starting receiver by mid-season.
Questionable move: Moving back up into the first round to get tackle Joe Staley. He's a good player, but was he worth the picks?
Second-day gem: Corner Tarell Brown from Texas is a good player who should have gone higher than the fifth round, but character issues drove him down.
Overall grade: A. They drafted a lot of really good football players. The scouting staff deserves big props.
The 49ers had two first-round picks and nailed both of them. Pro Bowl middle linebacker Patrick Willis came with the 11th pick, while tackle Joe Staley came with the 28th pick. Both have been starters since their rookie season. Third-round picks Jason Hill and Ray McDonald are both backups. Fourth-round safety Dashon Goldson started 16 games last season at safety, giving him great value as a second-day pick. Corner Tarell Brown, a fifth-round pick, started four games last season.
In looking over Prisco's efforts, there's a couple things that stand out. There's really no need to say anything about Patrick Willis. We know that pick has been a homerun. Prisco questioned moving back into the first round to get Joe Staley. Staley hasn't been a lock down left tackle, but he's been very solid, and is a guy the 49ers have committed to building their offensive line around. There has been some talk that Anthony Davis could eventually take over at left tackle, so it will be interesting to see how Staley is utilized in the coming years as Davis hopefully proves himself.
Back in 2007 he was obviously way off on Jason Hill. Hill has struggled to find playing time, and 2010 looks to be a big year for him in terms of figuring out where he fits in with the 49ers. At best he's the #3 receiver, but he could very easily be the 4th or 5th receiver depending on how training camp plays out. He's had his moments where he appeared to flash some serious skills. Unfortunately, he's been wildly inconsistent as he's battled to get out of Coach Singletary's dog-house at times.
Prisco was high on Tarell Brown, or at least thought he should have gone higher if not for character concerns. Brown has certainly shown a good deal of talent, but he's reached the point where it's a matter of providing a bit more consistency week in and week out. He took over the starting CB role, bumping Nate Clements to the bench, but he was unable to hold on to it. This year's training camp will be quite interesting as we see him battle with Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer for starting time. The 49ers have several other cornerbacks in camp, but at this point they'd be battling for nickel and dime roles. Brown is battling to become a full-time starter.
McDonald has settled into a backup role with the 49ers as a situational pass-rush threat. His numbers through three seasons haven't been spectacular, but given his ability to block kicks, he's looking to be a quiet playmaker for the team. I don't think he'll ever be a starter with the 49ers, but if he can continue to develop his pass-rushing skills, I think he could be invaluable to the defense. You might like more than that from a third round pick, but it's better than some of the busts out there. McDonald is a free agent after 2010, so it will be interesting to see what the 49ers decide to do with him long term.
Prisco's comment was understated, but as he put it, Goldson has brought great value as a second day player. He couldn't emerge as a starter through two seasons, but then busted through in a big way last season as the starting free safety. He has plenty to work on to improve his game, but if the 49ers can work out a long-term deal, Goldson could be the team's free safety for the foreseeable future. The idea of a potential Mays/Goldson safety duo is really quite exciting.
The 49ers didn't hit on every pick, but at this point, they've come away with at least three full starters in Willis, Staley, and Goldson. Tarell Brown could be a fifth, but even as a full-time nickel back he's a solid value from the fifth round. McDonald and Hill were drafted 19 picks apart in the third round, and yet the expectations would seem a bit different. McDonald has settled into a pass-rushing role. Whether that disappoints folks or not, he is what he is. Hill on the other hand has not been able to latch onto a particular role. He's flashed some skills, but never consistently. Given that, it's a bit easier to get frustrated with him. 2010 will be a big year for Jason Hill's future with the 49ers.
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