In this portion of the 49ers Draft Rewind series, we'll be counting down the three best 49ers drafts of the past decade. We kick things off looking at the draft class that places as second runner up on the list of best Niner drafts ...
The 2010 San Francisco 49ers
This was a pretty easy one to pick. The 2010 draft was supposed to play a large role in finally putting the 49ers back on the map of respectability. Then head coach Mike Singletary was coming off of his 2009 head coaching debut season in which the 49ers went 8-8, and he sought to build a team that was "Fysical" (with an F). The general consensus was that if the Niners could beef up their offensive line, it would propel the running game with Frank Gore and Glen Coffee (remember him), while providing much needed protection for quarterback Alex Smith. And while the Niners fell flat at 6-10 during 2010, there were some key pieces selected in this draft class that would help launch the franchise's revival in 2011 and '12.
- Round 1, Pick 11: Anthony Davis - Offensive Tackle, Rutgers
- Round 1, Pick 17: Mike Iupati - Guard, Idaho
- Round 2, Pick 17: Taylor Mays - Safety, USC
- Round 3, Pick 27: NaVorro Bowman - Linebacker, Penn State
- Round 6, Pick 04: Anthony Dixon - Running Back, Miss. State
- Round 6, Pick 13: Nate Byham - Tight End, Pittsburgh
- Round 6, Pick 37: Kyle Williams - Wide Receiver, Arizona State
- Round 7, Pick 17: Phillip Adams - Cornerback, South Carolina State
Three years later, it's clear the 49ers made almost all the right moves in this draft. The Taylor Mays pick in the second round is definitely a forgettable one but to be fair, Baalke supposedly had his hand forced by Singletary. Regardless, the Niners made up for it with their next selection of Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman in the third round. As a valuable special teams contributor and backup running back, Anthony Dixon provided the 49ers with some great value for a sixth rounder, especially considering the abrupt and bizarre departure of Glen Coffee during the 2010 offseason.
Despite his unmentionable slip-up in the NFC Championship game two seasons ago, Kyle Williams was another great find in the sixth round bargain bin. He provides speed, return capabilities (I'm not saying they're good or bad, I'm just saying he's done it before) and depth at wideout. Blocking tight end Nate Byham saw a bit of action in his rookie season, but suffered a torn ACL in August 2011 and was subsequently waived from the team a year later. Philip Adams never really made his mark with the team; He fielded a few punt returns in 2010 and was cut prior to the 2011 season.
What went right
Outside of Taylor Mays, this draft was a homerun for San Francisco. Going into the 2010 offseason, one of the main priorities under then head coach Mike Singletary was to shore up the Niners offensive line and the Niners did that in a big way. Although it may not have been flash and glam, Trent Baalke made a huge impact in his first draft by trading up to acquire Anthony Davis and selecting Mike Iupati in the first round. Davis was a raw prospect coming out of Piscataway, NJ and while some questioned his drive and work ethic, everyone knew the talent was there. Iupati, meanwhile, was considered a solid bet and projected to be an immediate contributor. Davis took some time to develop but has now played at a very high level for the past two seasons, earning him league-wide attention and a brand new contract extension this offseason. Iupati earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors in the 2012 season, and continues to be a stalwart on the line.
Kudos to Baalke for having the gumption to trade up for Davis and for taking two offensive linemen in the first 20 overall picks. The beauty of those two picks is that while they certainly meshed with the vision of Singletary at the time, any successful team needs a strong offensive line -- no matter what scheme they run. So when Jim Harbaugh came to town, he already had an established offensive line with two maulers coming into their own.
Best individual pick
While Davis and Iupati both garner serious consideration here, I'm going to go with NaVorro Bowman. If teams were afforded the opportunity to redo this draft, Bowman would be gone in the top five picks. He had to wait for his opportunity to shine, sitting behind the venerable Takeo Spikes in his first year with the team. Now, he battles with fellow teammate Patrick Willis for the title of NFL's best inside linebacker. His athleticism, power, instincts, and nose for the ball give opposing offenses fits. Last season, the 24 year-old linebacker single-handedly sealed two of the Niners biggest wins with a game-changing interception of Aaron Rodgers in Week One, and a 4th down pass deflection that crowned the 49ers NFC champs in Atlanta. In November, the team made Bowman a priority and locked him up for another five years to the tune of approximately $45 million, reinforcing his place as one of the league's best.
Part 2 of the "Worst of the worst" is up next in the 49ers Draft Rewind series. The "Best of the best, Part 2" will follow that.