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Revisiting the 49ers 2011 Draft Class

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At the time, the 49ers 2011 draft class was considered developmental and consistently graded as just an average class. Three seasons later and no one using the word average anymore.

The 49ers selected LB Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick in 2011.
The 49ers selected LB Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick in 2011.
Chris Trotman

As we prepare for the 2014 NFL Draft, I'll be posting a series of three posts each taking an in-depth look at recent 49ers draft classes from 2011 to 2013.

Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke have built quite the reputation in just a few short years. Entering their fourth draft together, "HarBaalke", as they've so affectionately been coined, has developed a penchant for moving up and down the draft boards like a chess player would move his rook often times taking a best player available approach.

That approach has rarely let them down. Of course, stock piling draft picks year after year affords them the luxury of dictating their own terms. Rarely do the 49ers have to ‘reach' or select a player ahead of his perceived value. It has backfired at times (as we'll see in the next edition of this series), but they have scored some great picks in the process.

We begin in 2011 with Baalke and Harbaugh's first draft class together. At the time, there wasn't much credit given to the 49ers for how they drafted that weekend. Looking back, however, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another team that did so well.

This class was labeled as a ‘developmental' class. One that a first year head coach could build off of; it was not expected that any of these guys would make significant contributions their first year.

Note: You'll notice I'm not grading late round picks that are no longer on the team. With the low success rate of these picks it's more common than not to see these players cut or traded early in their careers. Now, a high pick that flames out?…that's a different story and another draft class…ahem…A.J. Jenkins.

First round - seventh overall: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri

2014 draft grade: A-

Smith has the third most sacks than any other player in NFL history through three seasons (42). Only Reggie White (52) and Derrick Thomas (43.5) have more. It's not crazy to think that he could be number one on that list if not for the time he missed in 2014 dealing with off the field issues. Those issues are the only thing keeping this grade below an A+.

Second round - 36th overall: Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada

2014 draft grade: B+

The 49ers moved up in the second to take Kaepernick so it was immediately clear that Harbaugh wanted him. After sitting behind Alex Smith for a season and a half, Kaepernick took control of the 49er offense and never looked back. Even with a slight regression in 2014, Kap has clearly out-valued his original second round label. Only time will tell if Kaepernick can continue developing into one of the elite quarterbacks in the game.

Third round - 80th overall: Chris Culliver, CB, South Carolina

2014 draft grade: B

Like Smith, Culliver made an immediate impact with the 49ers in his rookie year. His first two years in the league, Culliver has shown glimpses of excellence. He's also been the cause of 49ers angst on long touchdown passes. At the time, many thought the 49ers reached for Culliver in the third. Turns out, it was actually really nice value even with his injury in 2013. Just consider the 2011 cornerback class and who the 49ers passed on in the first two rounds to see what i mean: Prince Amukamara, Jimmy Smith, Ras-I Dowling, Aaron Williams, Marcus Gilchrist, and Brandon Harris. Our friend Richard Sherman was the best corner in that draft class and didn't get selected until the 5th round. Aside from Sherman, I'd maybe take Smith and Williams ahead of Culliver in a redraft.

Fourth round - 115th overall: Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State

2014 draft grade: B

Upon arriving in the Bay Area, Hunter quickly became a fan favorite. The 5'7 speedster, earned more carries his rookie year than he has the subsequent two seasons. Backing up Frank Gore almost exclusively in 2011, Hunter ran for 473 yards and scored two touchdowns on 112 carries. In the two years since his solid rookie campaign, Hunter has yet to amass more than 78 carries and has seen his attempts per game drop from 7 in 2011, to 6.5 in 2012, and to 4.9 in 2013. Still, Hunter has been a nice part of the 49ers offense when given a chance making the value the 49ers got out of the former fourth rounder well above average.

Fifth round - 163rd overall: Daniel Kilgore, OG/C Appalachian State

2014 draft grade: C+

Going into the 2011 draft, it was believed the 49ers would seek depth along the interior line early in the draft to supplant struggling youngster Chilo Rachel and possibly beat out Adam Snyder at RG. Instead the 49ers waited (or perhaps missed out on everyone else) until the fifth round where they traded up with the Packers (giving up a sixth and seventh round pick) to grab Kilgore.

Kilgore played sparingly his first two seasons in the league despite the opportunity to earn both the right guard and center positions in the offseason.  In 2013, Kilgore saw an expanded role in jumbo packages as a sixth offensive lineman. He even lined up some in the back field in goal line or other short distance downs.  Perhaps his most notable moment in 2013 was lining up at wide receiver on a play that tight end Vernon Davis scored a touchdown on against Arizona.

Considering his limited role but ability to stay on the roster and contribute even slightly makes Kilgore a very solid fifth round investment.

Fifth round - 182nd overall: Ronald Johnson, WR, USC

2014 draft grade: N/A

Currently out of the NFL.

Sixth round - 190th overall: Colin Jones, S, TCU

2014 draft grade: N/A

Currently on the Panthers roster.

Seventh round - 239th overall: Mike Person, OG/C, Montana State

2014 draft grade: N/A

Currently on the Rams roster.

Seventh round - 211th overall: Bruce Miller, FB, UCF

2014 draft grade: A+

Talk about value! Finding an offensive starter this late in any draft is always tough. All the credit goes to Baalke and Harbaugh who had the vision to turn Miller, a former defensive player, into a FB. And major kudos to Miller for making them look good.

Seventh round - 250th overall: Curtis Holcomb, CB, FAMU

2014 draft grade: N/A

Currently out of football.

The class that was supposed to be developmental became a cornerstone. The first "HarBaalke" draft was a mighty success as six of the original ten players drafted remain on the active roster and five of the six having cracked the starting lineup or playing significant downs.

2014 overall grade: A-

Notable Undrafted Free Agents:

Note: Grading UDFAs is tough so I'm sticking with the attempt at value-based grading. Finding players from the UDFA pool to fill out special teams is nothing new. Teams often sign 10-15 UDFAs immediately following the draft rarely do they end up making the team. Each year, maybe one to three of those 10-15 brought in earn a spot on the 53 man roster. In 2011, the 49ers had two UDFAs make the final roster.

Demarcus Dobbs, DL, Georgia

2014 Grade: C+

Dobbs has been a staple on the 49ers special teams since week five of the 2011 season. His versatility has allowed the 49ers to use him in a myriad of way including multiple spots along the defensive line and even lining up at tight end during training camp and preseason.

Dobbs is more than just a warm body. It's rare that undrafted free agents make a roster right out of college and even rarer for them to last three seasons with the same team. Dobbs had his best year in 2013 tallying 14 total tackles in 15 games.

Ian Williams, NT, Notre Dame

2014 Grade: C (but could be ‘I' for incomplete)

This was a tough one. It's hard to justify more than a ‘C' for a player who has only seen action in six games over his three year career. However, Williams did earn the starting nose tackle spot coming into the 2013 season but during his first start (week two vs Seattle) he broke his ankle on a controversial cut block.

Considering the injury, an ‘Incomplete' would be more than justified. But I'm going to give credit to Williams for earning the NT spot over veteran players including Glen Dorsey. Finding starting quality from the undrafted free agent pool is next to impossible.