As the San Francisco 49ers get ready for their NFC Championship Game matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, it is always interesting to take a look at how the team got to their current position. Earlier today, I wrote about the 49ers last game against the Falcons back in 2010. At the bottom of the post I added a list of 49ers roster changes since that game. Obviously the team will change from year-to-year, but it is interesting to see the mix of draft talent and free agent talent that was part of that change.
This 49ers team has built from the ground-up with a combination of strong drafting and great free agent signings. If the 49ers are able to win this weekend we'll have a more thorough "How the 49ers were built" post. For now, I wanted to point to two of their Draft classes in particular. No one transaction was the make-or-break move for these 49ers, but the 2007 and 2011 NFL Draft classes have been critical to the 49ers success.
The 49ers 2007 draft class was broken up as follows:
1 (11). LB Patrick Willis
1 (28). OT Joe Staley
3 (76). WR Jason Hill
3 (97). DE Ray McDonald
4 (104). LB Jay Moore
4 (126). FS Dashon Goldson
4 (135). DT Joe Cohen
5 (147). CB Tarell Brown
6 (186). RB Thomas Clayton
I can't find any info on the 49ers undrafted free agent signings after the 2007 NFL Draft, but even still, this draft class on its own is quite impressive. You could qualify it as a boom or bust class as players either panned out extremely well, or went in the tank. From this class, Willis and Goldson were both named first team All-Pro this season. Joe Staley was named second team All Pro. Ray McDonald and Tarell Brown are a bit more under the radar on a national level, but both have been key contributors on defense the last two seasons.
The 49ers 2011 draft class was broken up as follows
1 (7). OLB Aldon Smith
2 (36). QB Colin Kaepernick
3 (80). CB Chris Culliver
4 (115). RB Kendall Hunter
5 (163). OG Daniel Kilgore
6 (182). WR Ronald Johnson
6 (190). DB Colin Jones
7 (211). FB Bruce Miller
7 (239). OG Mike Person
7 (250). DB Curtis Holcomb
UDFAs: QB Scott Tolzien (sort of), NT Ian Williams, DE Demarcus Dobbs
This class is only in its second year, and it's already looking like a great one. Aldon Smith had led the way, earning an All-Pro nod this season, after setting the 49ers single season sack record. Colin Kaepernick has busted out in a big way, and could have some Pro Bowl and/or All Pro nods coming in his future. Chris Culliver has been the 49ers third cornerback since day one, and has a good chance of moving into the starting lineup next season, depending on the team's plans with Carlos Rogers.
Kendall Hunter was off to a great start this year before tearing his Achilles Tendon. It's a tough injury but hopefully he is able to get back at some point in the 2013 season. Daniel Kilgore is a reserve offensive lineman, but could very well get a crack at the starting center role next season. Bruce Miller missed out on a Pro Bowl nod this season, but has been stellar in his conversion to fullback these last two seasons.
Even the undrafted free agents could provide big down the road. Tolzien is going to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Kaepernick next season. Ian Williams is learning the nose tackle role, and will likely get an opportunity to compete for some significant playing time next year. Prior to a season-ending injury, Demarcus Dobbs had emerged as the team's leading special teamer in total snaps. He has also worked in behind Ricky Jean-Francois at defensive end. He'll get a chance to compete next season for a utility spot along the defensive line.
All in all, those are two excellent draft classes. It'd be great to hit on every pick in a draft, but that is almost never going to happen. Even with some busted picks, these two classes have been incredibly strong. They have helped set up a base from which the 49ers have continually built. The team has made some incredibly huge signings in free agency, but without the draft base, free agency can turn into a case of chasing wins. That is not the case with these San Francisco 49ers.
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