The San Francisco 49ers fired general manager Trent Baalke last month largely due to his struggles to find significant quality talent in the draft. Baalke’s GM career got off to a strong start in 2010 and 2011, but it went mostly downhill from there.
Baalke did leave on at least one high note, however. We are a year removed from the 2016 NFL Draft, and we saw some interesting things from a few of those players. Most notably, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner emerged as a bit of an ironman on the defensive line. He was among the league leaders in defensive snaps even having missed one game. He had his share of inconsistencies, but showed he could be a very capable option on the line.
ESPN recently put together a re-draft of the 2016 NFL Draft, with their team reporters providing picks. The class has one year under its belt, and while we need a few years to judge it, we can start to assess where teams went right and where teams went wrong. They did this based on the pre-draft order, ignoring the trades that happened on draft day.
The biggest change is at the top, with Dak Prescott going No. 1 over Jared Goff. The Los Angeles Rams needed a quarterback, and this time they grab the quarterback who proved to be the best as a rookie. One has to wonder how different things might have gone in St. Louis than Dallas. The Cowboys added a dominant running back in Ezekiel Elliott, and both rookies benefited from a great offensive line. How differently would things have gone for Prescott in St. Louis?
The next six picks went the same as they did in the real draft, meaning Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey, Ronnie Stanley, and DeForest Buckner went to the same teams. They had the Browns taking Jared Goff at No. 8. Nick Wagoner acknowledged that it would have been tempting to take Goff, but recognizes the strong season Buckner put together.
It's tempting to take local boy Jared Goff to give the Niners a potential franchise quarterback, but this way new coach Kyle Shanahan can pick the guy he wants to develop to lead the franchise into the future. Buckner quietly put together a strong rookie season while playing the role of defensive iron man. Despite missing a game because of injury, he played 963 snaps, second only to the New York Giants' Olivier Vernon among defensive linemen and his 73 tackles ranked second. He also had six sacks, fourth among NFL rookies. With San Francisco expected to transition to a 4-3 under front, Buckner should have the chance to further unlock his pass-rushing ability by moving to the 3-technique.
By comparison, SI.com had a similar top of the draft in their re-draft, but had the 49ers selecting now Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones. They have DeForest Buckner slipping to No. 12, and Jared Goff dropping to No. 29. Jones had a fantastic season, finishing with 108 tackles and three interceptions. The ended up needing help at inside linebacker, so that certainly would have filled a need. Would you have taken Jones over Buckner?