by Adam Fournier, Ourlads’ Intern
The San Francisco 49ers have been a perennial Super Bowl contender in the past four years with three straight NFC Championship game appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. Their success over that three-year stretch is thanks a lot to their young players drafted in the 2010 and 2011 drafts. However after a down year in 2014 and a nightmare 2015 offseason, the 49ers will need their young players to step up big time in 2015.
The 2010 draft class was a great one and was part of the foundation that made the team into a Super Bowl contender. The best pick in the class was one of the best picks by any team in that draft and that was grabbing Navorro Bowman in the 3rd round. Bowman was one of the best defensive players in the league his first four years. He played in every game over the four-year stretch and was an All-Pro 3 times and a Pro Bowler 2 times. Unfortunately Bowman tore his ACL and MCL in the 2014 NFC Championship Game causing him to miss the 2014 season. It will be interesting to see if he can return to his pre-injury form in 2015. The 49ers also found two solid starting offensive linemen in the 1st round with the selections of Anthony Davis and Mike Lupati. Both started 70+ games in five years with the 49ers; however, both departed this offseason. Davis announced he would be taking a year off from football while Lupati went to Arizona. The 49ers did have one bad pick in the draft with the selection of Taylor Mays as he was traded after just one year with the 49ers.
For a while, the 2011 draft looked to possibly be more impactful than the 2010 class with the addition of Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick took over after Alex Smith was injured during the 2012 season and led the team to the Super Bowl. Kaepernick then led the team to NFC Championship game in 2013 and received a big extension in the 2014 offseason. He had a bit of a down year in 2014 and will need to step up big time as a team leader after the disastrous 2015 offseason. Smith exploded onto the scene and was one of the best defensive players in the NFL his first two years. Smith won the PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year award and was a Pro Bowler in 2012. He was considered one of the best players in the NFL going into the 2013 season, but things started to unravel. Smith had numerous run-ins with the law causing him to miss part of the 2013 season. Then things got even worse in 2014 as he was suspended for 9 games due to more legal issues, and his production on the field was way down when he returned. The 49ers finally said enough is enough after another arrest in August of 2015 and released Smith ending a once promising career in San Francisco. Also worth noting is the great value pick in the 7th round with the selection of Bruce Miller. Miller transitioned to fullback after playing linebacker in college and has been the starter for the last four years. However if Kaepernick does not step it up in the future, this once great draft class will be considered a long-term failure due to Smith’s fall from grace.
The 2012 draft was an absolute disaster as every player has failed to produce. The seven players drafted in the class have a combined eight career NFL starts, only four of which were for the 49ers, all by Joe Looney. This is the lowest amount of starts by any draft class from the 2010-2013 drafts. The 1st round pick A.J. Jenkins as well as Trent Robinson, Jason Slowey, and Cam Johnson were off the team after only one year or less. The only player still with the team is 4th round pick Looney, a reserve lineman for 2015.
The 2013 draft has not done a lot in their short time in the league. That class had eleven players in it but only Eric Reid has played significant time. Reid has had a solid first two seasons and was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2013. However, he has had three concussions in two years and claimed he considered retirement during the 2015 offseason putting a cloud over his long-term future. The rest of the draft except for Marcus Lattimore, B.J. Daniels, Carter Bykowski, and Marcus Cooper will be reserves for the 49ers in 2015. The 49ers took a gamble on Lattimore that did not pan out, as he never recovered from his horrible injury he sustained in college.
The 2014 draft class had a solid rookie year and has three players expected to start in 2015. Carlos Hyde will have huge shoes to fill as the starting running back in 2015 as he will be replacing long-term 49ers running back Frank Gore. Marcus Martin and Aaron Lynch will be starting in 2015 after both made solid contributions in 2014. The best rookie season came from 3rd rounder Chris Borland who was one of the best rookies on the defensive side of the ball in 2015. However he shockingly retired in 2015 ending his promising career.