I get it. You’re Marty McFly from the future and you’ve been sent to the past to correct Trent Baalke’s draft mistakes. You had to ditch your self-lacing Nike Mags in a nearby dumpster and you’re still a little baffled by the lack of functional hover boards.
Oh. That’s not you? Then DON’T PANIC. No one knows how this draft class is going to turn out. No matter how often late picks make it and sure things flame out, people still act like they have their very own Delorean and can see into the future with certainty.
Draft grades are irrelevant. Remember the 2011 draft? It was probably Trent Baalke’s best draft as the GM. We drafted a franchise quarterback, a premier pass rusher, a starting corner, a change of pace back, a starting full back, and an interior lineman that provides depth and might even start in 2015.
Yet, after the draft, Mel Kiper gave the 49ers a C-plus.
Don’t panic about reactionary draft grades. Don’t panic that some arm-chair GM you follow on twitter hates the Armstead pick. None of that is relevant until we hear the AJ Jenkins trade-him-for-a-ham-sandwich rumors.
Instead, look through the noise and see those nuggets that comprise Trent Baalke’s thought process.
Arik Armstead, DE (Oregon)
This is all about the future. Yes, Armsted is raw. But the fact of the matter is that the San Francisco 49ers need better play at the defensive line. They’ve been able to get away with average depth because the starters, and inside line backers, were so good. The team no longer has that luxury after releasing Ray McDonald, the retirement of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, and the potential retirement of Justin Smith.
Jaquaski Tartt, S (Samford)
Antoine Bethea is another safety on a list of safeties Vic Fangio made famous. From Goldson, to Whitner, to Reid, safeties have enjoyed success in Fangio’s system. As soon as they leave the Fangio cocoon these safeties seem to return to their natural state. Tartt is insurance against a potential Bethea regression, now that Mangini is the defensive mastermind. At worst, Tartt is a special teams contributor this year. At best he is a longtime starter beside Reid. He’s a big, strong safety that might even signal a shift towards another defensive alignment.
Eli Harold, OLB (Virginia)
First or second round talent in the third round? This is the definition of value pick. Especially with the news that Ahmad Brooks is being sued for sexual assault, Harold fits the need for a 4th outside linebacker on a team that traditionally only carries four players at the position. Even if Brooks is cleared, he will likely be a cap casualty in 2016. And even if the 49ers find a way to keep Brooks, Corey Lemonier regressed in his sophomore campaign. Either way, this was a perfect need meets value pick, and might end up being the pick of Baalke’s draft.
Blake Bell, TE (Oklahoma)
You don’t give fat contracts to 31-year old tight ends that rely on their speed to make plays. Vernon Davis is a one-of-a-kind tight end, but rather than replace him with another athletic freak, Trent Baalke chose to replace him with a more traditional, albeit large, tight end. Equipped to excel at seam routes, Bell can provide a more traditional tight end target for Colin Kaepernick. Bell is a natural pass catcher that can develop into a Heath Miller-type safety blanket.
Mike Davis, RB (South Caronia)
Hyde is used best in a zone scheme. Hunter is a change of pace back. Bush is the veteran presence as well as insurance. If the 49ers are going to continue with their gap scheme, and I think they will, then they need a patient runner with the ability to maximize gains from power runs. That back is Mike Davis. While he slumped a bit in 2014, his style is more akin to Frank Gore than any other back on the roster.
DeAndre Smelter, WR (Georgia Tech)
Anquan Boldin will eventually get to the point with the 49ers that he did with the Ravens: Expendable based on his cost of services. When that happens, the 49ers will need a big wide receiver that will make contested catches and attack the underneath zones, complementing Torrey Smith’s deep speed.
What does it all mean?
Once you get into the 5th round, you’re really getting into best-player-available. If you don’t believe me, ask Bradley Pinion. In other words, we won’t get into Baalke’s thought process past the 5th round.
If you look at the 49ers GM’s picks, he seems to be preparing for the future. He doesn’t seem to be looking for year-one impact players or starters. That tells me he really does think that, in its current state, the 49ers roster is sound. He’s effectively betting on himself. He’s betting on Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker, Bruce Ellington, and Brandon Thomas. Perhaps more importantly, he’s betting on Jim Tomsula.
So don’t panic. Check back in three years to see if the gamble paid off. Or pull out your Gray’s Sports Almanac and let u s all know how it turns out.
Fooch's note: This video is always fitting