The San Francisco 49ers did a great job in the 1980s of building their talent through draft picks. In the era prior to free agency, drafting and trading were critical to developing sustained success. The 49ers had their share of misses in the 80s, but they also hit on a lot of big picks.
The 1986 draft was one such time, as they landed five starters and three important reserves from what at the time was a 12-round draft. Peter King was embedded with the 49ers on draft day, and he put together a great rundown of the team's maneuverings those two days. I am not a huge Peter King fan because of how close he can be to the league, but that relationship has opened numerous doors for him to get some great insight. I don't care for his attempts at analysis, but his stature allows him to get facts a lot of people just can't get access to on a regular basis.
The article was written in 1990 leading up to that year's draft, and is saved in the SI.com vault with all sorts of great content. Someone tweeted it out earlier this week, and I thought it would be fun to share it.
The 49ers 1986 draft class resulted in the following players:
2 (39) - Larry Roberts, DE
3 (56) - Tom Rathman, RB
3 (64) - Tim McKyer, DB
3 (76) - John Taylor, WR
4 (96) - Charles Haley, DE
4 (101) - Steve Wallace, OT
4 (102) - Kevin Fagan, DE
5 (131) - Pat Miller, LB
6 (162) - Don Griffin, DB
8 (203) - Jim Popp, TE
9 (240) - Tony Cherry, RB
10 (267) - Elliston Stinson, WR
10 (270) - Harold Hallman, DT
King's article details the extensive maneuvering the 49ers did to acquire all these picks. The 49ers entered the draft having dealt away their picks in rounds 5, 6, 7, 11 and 12, and acquired picks in rounds 6 and 8. They also gave up their eighth round pick in making a pick in the 1985 supplemental draft (Roosevelt Snipes).
On draft day, they ended up doing all sorts of dealing that Trent Baalke would enjoy. The team opened at No. 18, and moved back two spots to the Dallas No. 20 pick, in exchange for the Cowboys 5th round pick. They then traded No. 20 and a 1987 10th round pick to the Bills for Buffalo's 2nd and 3rd round picks.
That trade moved them down to No. 29 (second pick of the second round - there were 28 teams, and Buffalo used their first on Bernie Kosar in the supplemental draft). The 49ers then traded that to the Lions in exchange for a second (No. 39) and third. With that second round pick, they finally selected defensive end Larry Roberts.
According to King, the 49ers had their eye on three players with pick No. 18, but they all went in the three picks leading up to the 49ers. The 49ers did not sufficiently value the other players on the board to use a first, so they made their move down. The movement netted them a defensive end in Roberts who would spend eight seasons with the team and contribute to their defensive line.
The 49ers were due up six picks later with their own second round pick. Washington had their eye on some guys, and eventually gave up a 1986 10th round pick and a 1987 first round pick to use the 49ers second round pick. They would follow that by dealing away backup quarterback Matt Cavanaugh to the Eagles for a third and a 1987 second. At that point the 49ers had four 3rd round picks. They would deal the Lions third round pick to the Rams for two 4th round picks, and the rights to quarterback Jeff Kemp.
That's just a small portion of all the moves the 49ers made during the 1986 draft. The article goes into their thinking on some of these players. The John Taylor section was interesting:
Walsh made Taylor, from Delaware State, his next choice. The college film on Taylor, Walsh recalls, ''was primitive. You couldn't tell much by it.'' But aside from a plodding off-the-line start, Taylor was a gem. He was a terrific leaper and quick in the open field.
Taylor had a horrible training camp that summer, and McVay started checking to see if he had market value. He found no takers, but late in the preseason, someone in the 49ers organization quietly advised Taylor that it would be best for him if he suddenly developed a bad back. He reported to the training room complaining of pain, and he spent the season on injured reserve. Yet he continued to practice, and by December, Walsh thought he might turn into quite a player.
Now, Jerry Rice and Taylor are the best one-two receiving threat in the game.
Give it a read when you get a minute. I don't know that it will tell us anything we need to know about the 49ers moving forward, but history is an interesting subject. And 49ers draft history can be fascinating.