The 49ers shouldn’t look for a WR on the first day of the draft. Since the 2008 draft, the year Trent Baalke became Director of Player Personnel, the 49ers have drafted one bona fide number one productive receiver: Michael Crabtree.
It’s not fair to put this all on Baalke, and I’m not. Coaches, other front office guys, scouts, other members of the 49ers organization have input, surely, and sway, for better or for worse. Taylor Mayes was Singletary’s guy. Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s.
But, for whatever the reason, the 49ers have not done a wonderful job drafting wide receivers in recent history. At least not while Baalke has been in a position of prominence within the personnel side of the organization.
Again, this is not Baalke’s problem all to himself. But I am using his tenure as a figure in charge of personnel decisions because he is in charge now. He’s in charge now, and the organization has promoted him twice in the past five seasons for a reason. They must trust him and they must, for the most part, be ok with the decisions he’s made in the draft, in free agency, and with player contracts.
Since Baalke became a Director of Player Personnel in 2008, he has also served as the team’s VP of Player Personnel, and as the team’s GM the last three seasons. Here is a look at all of the receivers the 49ers have drafted since the 2008 draft.
2008: 6th round, Joshua Morgan. Stats while with the 49ers: 49 games played. 131 receptions. 1,764 yards. 9 TDs. After breaking his leg early in the 2011 season, he was signed as a free agent by Washington. In 2012, he played all 16 games for them, recording 48 receptions, 510 yards and 2TDs. In 2013 he began the year as the starter, before ceding time to Leonard Hankerson and finishing with just 20 receptions. Ho hum.
2009: 1st round, Michael Crabtree. Stats while with the 49ers: 63 games played. 279 receptions. 3629 yards. 22 TDs. With Kaepernick under center, he’s been effective in the postseason as well. 6 games. 35 receptions. 488 yards. 3 TDs.
2010: 6th round, Kyle Williams. Stats while with the 49ers: 38 games played. 47 receptions. 574 yards. 4 TDs. After proving ineffective as a kick returner and receiver, the 49ers cut Williams in November of 2013.
2011: 6th round, Ronald Johnson. Who?
2012: 1st round, A.J. Jenkins. We don’t really have to go over this, right? Right? 3 games played. 0 receptions. 0 yards. 0 TDs. Traded to the Chiefs before the 2013 season. With Kansas City, he’s suited up for 16 games (1 game while the entire starting offense rested) with 8 receptions, 130 yards and 0 TDs. I wouldn’t sweat his departure (though Jon Baldwin hasn’t exactly performed in Jenkins’ stead).
2013: 4th round, Quinton Patton. Stats while with the 49ers: 6 games played. 3 receptions. 34 yards. 0 TDs. This past postseason, Patton suited up for all three games, where he posted two receptions for 34 yards. The jury is still out on Patton. He’s shown some promise – already outperforming Jenkins’ 2012 season in only 6 games – and he’s shown a knack for making big plays. But 34 yards on the season isn’t exactly anything to write home about. However, Patton nearly equaled that output in just three postseason games, so perhaps his arrow is trending up.
To be fair, the 2008 and 2009 49ers seem to be an example of total draft ineptitude, not just receiver ineptitude. The only player remaining on the 49ers from either of those drafts is, ironically enough, Michael Crabtree.
But since then, the organization has fared well at just about every position but receiver. Some of the names drafted since 2010: Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, NaVorro Bowman, and Eric Reid. While the 49ers personnel department isn’t always firing on all cylinders – the 2012 draft seems to be a bit of a bust altogether – they’ve produced a pretty solid track record with Baalke since the 2008 and 2009 abominations.
Their track record with wide receivers, however, is gruesome. Only one third of the receivers drafted since 2008 are still on the current roster.
Though many (accurately) conclude the 49ers must look for receiver help this offseason to help fill roster holes, it should not be a priority position in this year’s draft. It seems the organization would benefit more from choosing players at less volatile positions. They need a replacement for Justin Smith soon, Patrick Willis eventually.
Fill out the first, second, and third rounds of the 2014 draft with depth at positions with more certainty. If a fourth, fifth, or sixth round wide receiver pick doesn’t pan out, that’s to be expected. If they turn into the next Stevie Johnson or Pierre Garcon, that’s a low risk, high reward possibility.
It seems the current regime is more unlikely to hit on a receiver than it is on other positions. They can’t afford to waste another early pick on position it seems their personnel evaluators might be weak at gauging.