We were talking NFL Draft last night, and a few questions came up like: “What if the Green Bay Packers had taken so and so?” From there, I started digging through the San Francisco 49ers draft history over the last decade. Hindsight can make anyone look smart. In some cases, it’s obvious. The Oakland Raiders shouldn’t have taken Darrius Heyward-Bey in the top 10. If you watch Trent Richardson at Alabama, you see a star. There’s no way the Cleveland Browns could have seen him turning out the way he did.
Here are four “what if” moments in each ound for the 49ers during the last decade. Let’s work our way back from the fourth ound.
These are the players the 49ers have selected in the fourth round since 2009, save Mitch Wishnowsky from this past draft: Kentavius Street, Joe Williams, Rashard Robinson, Blake Bell, Mike Davis, DeAndre Smelter, Bruce Ellington, Dontae Johnson, Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore, Joe Looney, and Kendall Hunter.
The hit rate once you get past the third round of the draft is probably somewhere in the teens. There are plenty of people that say the draft isn’t real after the third round. Yes, there are outliers every year, but you get the point.
The 49ers had three fourth-round picks in 2015. That was one of the infamous Trent Baalke drafts where the former general manager rolled the dice on a player coming off an ACL injury. DeAndre Smelter was a big-time talent coming out of Georgia Tech. Twelve picks later the Minnesota Vikings selected Stefon Diggs.
Diggs was a star as a freshman at Maryland. Diggs was no stranger to injuries himself. He missed six games to a broken leg as a sophomore and two games to a lacerated kidney as a junior. He entered the draft after his junior season. Diggs has been electric in each of his four NFL seasons. Imagine him on the 49ers offense this year?
The Niners didn’t have much firepower on offense heading into the 2009 NFL Draft. It was Frank Gore, and 36-year old Isaac Bruce leading the way. They addressed wide receiver in the first round by selecting Michael Crabtree. In the third round, they took Glen Coffee.
Ten picks later the Pittsburgh Steelers took Mike Wallace. It’s fair to say Wallace wouldn’t have been the same player out of the gate in San Francisco, but his speed would have opened things up underneath for Crabtree and Vernon Davis. When Wallace has been healthy, he’s proven to be a threat.
Wallace and Crabtree on rookie contracts would have been fun.
A world where the 49ers didn’t draft Colin Kaepernick crossed my mind. The second round of the 2013 draft was too good to pass up. This was the Tank Carradine special. Carradine was excellent at Florida State. Many draft experts felt like he was one of the ten best players in the draft.
We’re going to talk about the other second-round pick by the Niners that year. Vance McDonald had a career year with the Steelers in 2018 with 50 receptions for 610 yards. In four seasons with the 49ers, McDonald had 866 yards. The next tight end selected in 2013? Travis Kelce, eight picks later.
That one stings. Kelce has been over 1,000 yards the past three seasons. He is the best tight end in football. Let’s pretend Kelce is in the offense this year for five seconds. In one word: fun.
If you take a guard in the first round, you are saying that he’s a Pro Bowl caliber player. It’s just not a wise investment. This isn’t hindsight. The 49ers traded into the first round for an interior lineman. I cringe when teams do that, as the value doesn’t add up. Joshua Garnett never stood a chance.
The 49ers next two picks were Will Redmond and Rashard Robinson. The Miami Dolphins took Xavien Howard ten spots after Garnett was drafted. The 49ers could’ve had a premier talent with a fifth-year option. The Niners could’ve added an interior lineman like Joe Thuney in the third round.