Welcome to the first installment of 49ers Draft Rewind!
In this six-part series, I’ll be digging into the archives to examine the highs and lows of 49er draft classes over the past 10 years. Let me accentuate the words "high" and "low" here, because the peaks are as epic as Scorcese or Lucas films, while the lows are akin to another "Fast and Furious" flick.
We're going to revisit the three best and three worst 49ers drafts and count down to number one on both sides of the spectrum. So today, we'll start by taking a look at (in my opinion) the 49ers’ third worst draft of the past decade…
The 2004 San Francisco 49ers
I had a hard time deciding between 2004 and 2009 as the bronze medal winner of the 49ers' worst draft class since 2003. Ultimately, I stuck with my first instinct which was 2004. The logic behind it was that the 49ers had three more picks in 2004 (ten total) than they did in 2009 (seven total). An even more compelling reason I chose 2004 over 2009 is because 2004 was an extremely crucial draft for the Niners, and the ramifications of their subpar draft yielded costly results.
During the now infamous "Great Salary Cap Purge" of 2004, the financially-strapped Niners jettisoned virtually all of their major talent. They sent Jeff Garcia, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Owens, Tai Streets, and others packing; leaving behind a roster that resembled an expansion team at best. With so many holes to fill, draft success in 2004 was necessary if the team was to overcome its dearth of talent.
Round 1, Pick 31: Rashaun Woods - Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
Round 2, Pick 14: Justin Smiley - Guard, Alabama
Round 2, Pick 26: Shawntae Spencer -Cornerback, Pittsburgh
Round 3, Pick 14: Derrick Hamilton - Wide Receiver, Clemson
Round 4, Pick 8: Isaac Sopoaga - Defensive Tackle, Hawaii
Round 4, Pick 31: Richard Seigler - Linebacker, Oregon State
Round 6, Pick 23: Andy Lee - Punter, Pittsburgh
Round 6, Pick 33: Keith Lewis - Safety, Oregon
Round 7, Pick 16: Cody Pickett - Quarterback, Washington
Round 7, Pick 25: Christian Ferrara - Defensive Tackle, Syracuse
The draft was far from the one the Niners needed. Rashaun Woods had a worthless rookie season and was off the team by 2006. Justin Smiley, a very solid guard for the Niners down the road, started nine games his rookie season but his position didn't pay dividends for a team that sorely needed playmakers. The same can be said for the likes of Isaac Sopoaga , Andy Lee, and Shawntae Spencer. All three experienced varying degrees of success with the 49ers, but outside of Lee (because the 49ers did a lot of punting that year) none of them provided what the 49ers truly needed at that point in time. Spencer would go on to have an up and down career as an intermittent starter and Sopoaga didn't come into his own until several years down the line.
The shortcomings of that draft (in conjunction with poor coaching and a multitude of other factors) showed on the field. The team finished with a league worst 2-14 record in 2004, tying the franchise low for wins in a season. If 2-14 doesn't paint the whole picture, the 49ers had the third worst offense in the league and ranked dead last in total defense. Their only two wins came against a sub-par Arizona Cardinals team; both in overtime, both by a field goal.
What went wrong:
Terry Donahue. That’s what went wrong. His nail in the coffin of this draft is clearly Rashaun Woods. There were some who felt that Woods wasn't a first round talent and, as Donahue and fans found out, those concerns shone true. A dismal rookie campaign was followed up by a year wiped out by injury, and that was it for Woods.
Meanwhile, third round pick Derrick Hamilton's failure as a wide receiver only compounded the 49ers miss with Woods. Hamilton didn't garner a single reception with the 49ers and was released in 2006. Linebacker Richard Seigler, a former player under then head coach Dennis Erickson at Oregon State, never started a game for the Niners and was gone from the team in just one year. Keith Lewis was a decent special teams contributor, but paled when thrown into the starting free safety role in 2006. Seventh round quarterback Cody Pickett proved to be a better rodeo cowboy than a quarterback. He started two games for San Francisco in 2005 (one of which was against the NY Giants, which I had the misfortune of seeing live at Candlestick). Pickett's brief stint as starter that year is more a testament to how desperate the 49ers were back then than anything else. He compiled a 40% completion percentage, 195 yards, zero touchdowns, and four interceptions during his 49ers career.
Worst Individual pick:
Rashaun Woods, with zero debate. Woods was supposed to continue the tradition of prodigious wide receivers in San Francisco, filling the shoes of recently departed Terrell Owens. Instead, Woods tallied a meager seven receptions, 160 yards, and lone touchdown in his rookie season; spent 2005 on injured reserve; and was traded for (insert sarcasm here) a 49ers fan-favorite: cornerback Sammy Davis. After being released by San Diego, Woods failed a physical with Denver in 2006 and was out of the league that same year. Despite those rumblings that Woods wasn't really first round talent, there was a consensus at the time that the Niners still got good value in trading down for a 6'2 202 lb. receiver who could be good (but not great) and step in from day 1 opposite Brandon Lloyd. Instead, all they got was 160 yards and a touchdown during their worst season in franchise history.
Up next will be 49ers Draft Rewind: Best of the best, Part 1 where we kick off the countdown of the best Niners drafts of the past 10 years.