After a stellar first year together, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh entered the 2012 draft looking to add just a few pieces to a team coming off an unexpected playoff run to the NFC Championship. Harbaalke aced the 2011 draft with six players still on the team and earning significant playing time. Not to mention two potential cornerstone players in Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
Heading into the 2012 draft, the 49ers preached a "best player available" strategy. They had identified no significant needs and were in a position to add depth to an already incredibly deep roster.
Hindsight being 20/20 it's a good thing the 49ers didn't have any major needs. Not one player from the 2012 draft class contributed significantly their first season. Additionally, only two players from the class saw time on the active roster in 2013, LaMichael James and Joe Looney.
Note: late round picks that do not make the roster or are cut after a year won't be graded.
First round - 30th overall: A.J. Jenkins, Wide Receiver, Illionis
2014 draft grade: F
The "boom or bust" selection of Jenkins didn't seem to back the best player available mantra we heard leading up to the draft. Jenkins was selected over the likes of Doug Martin, Coby Fleener, Janoris Jenkins, and Alshon Jeffrey.
There's no other way to put it they missed on this one. To their credit, the 49ers attempted to salvage the pick by trading Jenkins to Kansas City for another first-round receiver castoff in Jon Baldwin. That didn't work out either but at least Jenkins is off the roster.
Second round - 61st overall: LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
2014 draft grade: D+
Maybe I'm being too harsh with this grade. Admittedly, I don't think James' absence from the field is entirely his fault. The 49ers haven't done him any favors. Greg Roman is known for his creative run-scheme but doesn't utilize his backs regularly in the passing game. Impacting the passing game is one of James' biggest strengths. He needs the ball in space similar to how the Saints use Darren Sproles or the Patriots use Shane Vereen. There has been no such commitment from the 49ers offense to involve James in that capacity thus far. And I'm not sure there will be. Therefore, I have to be harsh with this grade.
James was inactive for 18 games in his first two years. But there may be an upside though! The grade is a D+ and not a D because James was able to provide stability to the return game in 2013. While not overly spectacular in the return game, maybe he at least found a role on this team.
Fourth round - 117th overall: Joe Looney, C/OG, Wake Forest
2014 draft grade: Incomplete
Looney was inactive the entire 2012 season. He did, however, earn significant reps in training camp and practice playing all three positions along the interior offensive line.
Looney saw his first significant game action in 2013 when Joe Staley went down in the first quarter of a week 13 game vs. the Rams. Alex Boone moved to left tackle and Looney came in at right guard. Looney impressed in a tough matchup against a talented Rams defensive line and earned compliments and respect from teammates and coaches.
With the uncertainty surrounding center Jonathan Goodwin's future in the NFL, Looney would be a likely candidate to replace him. We're just getting to see what Looney can do so the grade here is an incomplete.
Fourth round - 165th overall: Darius Fleming, OLB, Notre Dame
2014 draft grade: Incomplete
Fleming tore his ACL just days into training camp his rookie year. The 49ers moved Fleming to inside linebacker in 2013 and he again tore the same ACL in training camp. That's just awful luck for Fleming. After spending his first two seasons on injured reserve there's a chance Fleming could be given a shot to compete for a back up linebacker spot in 2014. Maybe.
Sixth round - 180th overall: Trent Robinson, S, Michigan State
2014 draft grade: N/A
Sixth round - 199th overall: Jason Slowey, T, Western Oregon
2014 draft grade: N/A
Seventh round - 237th overall: Cam Johnson, OLB, Virginia
2014 draft grade: C
The 49ers traded Johnson to the Colts for a 2015 seventh round pick. It's a wash.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents:
Garrett Celek, TE, Michigan State
2014 grade: C
Celek saw a lot of action in 2013 as the 49ers third tight end. He only had two receptions but he was used more in blocking situations.
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M
2014 grade: A
It's rare for undrafted free agents to make final NFL rosters let alone earn significant playing time. TJE did just that in 2013 starting two games and playing significantly in all but one game the entire season totaling 28 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, and one interception.
2014 draft grade for the 2012 class: F
There's really no way to spin this draft class as a success. It could get better if James and Looney contribute in 2014. But even then, this class was awful. Not many franchises can survive a draft like this. The 49ers swung for the fences in 2012 and came up short.
It wasn't all bad though. The 49ers did mange to secure three draft picks for the 2013 draft. One of those trades netted the 49ers a third rounder from Carolina, which was parlayed into starting safety Eric Reid. So, Eric Reid was basically the best thing to come out of two consecutive drafts for the 49ers. Not bad.