Last week, we took a look at the San Francisco 49ers’ 2013 draft after just one season. Now we move back one more year and take a look at the Niners’ 2012 draft selections. The Niners were coming off one of the best drafts in recent history in 2011, with several key players and two franchise players found in that draft. They followed it up with an impressive run to the NFC Championship game, but they came up short. This team was riding high heading into the draft, as they needed to fill just a few needs to get over the hump. So, just how did the Niners do in the 2012 draft?
1 (30) – A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois: F
A.J. Jenkins is the poster child of failure of the Niners’ 2012 draft. Heading into the draft, the Niners’ general manager Trent Baalke said he had his first round pick already made and the name was in an envelope. The Niners then selected Jenkins with the 30th pick of the first round and the uproar from the fan base and the experts was instantaneous. Jenkins was seen as a raw player that finally put together a good year in his final season, but mainly carried a late second round or third round grade among many of the draft databases. Questions immediately popped up asking if the player that Baalke intended to draft was selected earlier and the Niners panicked and reached for Jenkins.
Jenkins was supposed to give Niners a legitimate deep threat to help open up the running game and to take the pressure off of fellow receivers Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. He gave the team a speed element that they did not possess. The caveat was that he had a slight frame and need to work on his strength. It became apparent in training camp, as he spent more time being thrown to the ground than making plays.
He finished his rookie season with zero catches, as he dropped his lone target in the final game of the season. He was traded to the Chiefs for their former failed first-round wide receiver in Jon Baldwin. He finished his season with the Chiefs with eight catches and 130 yards. He will go down among Rashaun Woods and J.J. Stokes as the top wide receiver draft busts in team history.
2 (61) – LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: C+
James was the second straight pick by the Niners to add some speed to the offensive side of the ball, but he is undersized and does not really fit what they do on offense. He was an explosive play maker in college and the Niners hoped he could add some of that play making ability to their offense and special teams.
He struggled to find playing time in his rookie season, because the Niners emphasize pass blocking in their running backs and that was a skill he was still working to develop. He would get his shot at playing following an injury to Kendall Hunter. During the regular season, he would fill in nicely with 27 carries and 125 yards in the final four games of the season. He also made a name for himself returning kickoffs and played a key role in the Niners’ victory over the Patriots late in the season. In the post season, he would add another 65 yards on 11 carries and score his first career touchdown in the NFC Championship against the Falcons.
Based on his late season production, many fans expected increased production from the speedy tailback. His production actually dropped during the season, as he only got 12 carries for 59 yards. He helped to shore up the return game, following the release of wide receiver Kyle Williams.
The offensive coaching staff and James’ skill set just do not seem to mix very well, as they do not seem to know how to properly use him. He could be the next player from this draft class to find himself on another team, after a cryptic text message seemed to be calling for his release. He claimed that it had nothing to do with football, but you cannot blame him for being upset about being misused in this offense.
4 (117) – Joe Looney, OG, Wake Forest: C
Looney was an interesting selection in the fourth round. He fits what the Niners are looking for on the offensive line, as he is a big powerful frame, but has good feet that help him move well. The Niners like to pull and move their guards in the running game, so his movement skills would fit in perfectly. He was a late second to third round type talent, but fell due to a foot injury.
Looney missed nearly all of his rookie season with the foot injury, but he never got a chance to play when he got back. He figured to get a shot to get into the rotation in the 2013 season, as the emergence of Alex Boone closed up a potential starting spot for Looney. Looney was a reserve guard for the Niners, but rarely saw the field behind Adam Snyder. He saw action in three games season after Mike Iupati went down to injury. He should figure to see more time as a reserve guard or as a candidate to step into the starting center slot.
5 (165) – Darius Fleming, OLB, Notre Dame: INC
Fleming was an intriguing player coming out of Notre Dame, as he was playing out of position in college and was not being used correctly. He was an impressive pass rusher in college and was suppose to provide the Niners with depth at outside linebacker as a situational pass rusher. He was also seen as a potential contributor on special teams coverage units, as he is an extremely solid tackler.
The Niners have yet to get any contribution from Fleming during his two-year career, as he cannot simply stay healthy. During rookie mini camp, Fleming tore his ACL in during non-contact drills. The injury stopped his rookie season before it even began. He came back during his second year and looked primed to finally make his presence felt with a move to inside linebacker. He made it to training camp, but tore the ACL in his other knee. He has had two straight seasons ended by ACL tears, so he get an incomplete with a lot to prove this upcoming preseason.
6 (180) – Trent Robinson, FS, Michigan State: D
Robinson was a skilled safety prospect coming out of Michigan State with great speed and good ball skills, but was undersized for the safety position. The Niners had a heavily criticized secondary and they needed to add depth back there, especially against smaller, speedier receivers. Rotoworld described Robinson as a poor man’s Earl Thomas with his speed and stature.
The Niners’ coaches never imagined that Robinson would become a player of that caliber, but at the least provide depth in the secondary and provide impact on special teams. He would be active in just three games during the 2012 season and not record a single statistic. He would be released prior to the 2013 season and would be signed by the Washington Redskins. Robinson would record 10 tackles in 11 games played for Washington and looks to be a special teams player for them in future going forward.
6 (199) – Jason Slowey, OL, Western Oregon: F
Slowey was your typical late round offensive lineman pick, as he had raw physical tools that you can take some time to develop. He was a big, strong physical small school prospect that raised some eyebrows at his Pro Day work out, as scouts some potential with a move to guard. The Niners needed some interior offensive line depth and Slowey was prospect for them to mold and coax some production out of his physical tools.
Slowey would not survive training camp, as he would be cut. Slowey would be signed to the Oakland Raiders practice squad for the entire year. He would be cut prior to mini camps the following season and would find himself in the Arena Football League late in year. Slowey gets an F with just a single season on an NFL practice squad before finding himself out of the league.
7 (237) – Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia: C-
Johnson was an athletic outside linebacker prospect coming out that had a third round grade coming out of college, but questions about his health dropped his draft stock and the Niners got a potential steal in the seventh round. The Niners had high hopes that Johnson could come in and be an impact type player in pass rushing situations.
After dealing with an injury all season, Johnson was active for the final two games of the season. He did not record a single stat, but you did not expect much after missing all preseason and most of the season with a knee injury. He was impressive during the following preseason, with two sacks and a blocked punt in the preseason finale. A roster crunched forced the Niners to play a numbers game and the Niners decided to trade the talented pass rusher to the Colts for a seventh round pick. He recorded five tackles in 12 games, but he has shown flashes of being a talented pass rusher. So the Niners get some recognition for seeing the talent, but the get docked for giving up just two preseasons in.
Overall, this draft is an F for the team and a black mark on an otherwise impressive resume for general manager Trent Baalke. When the best you do is two players buried on the depth chart with two picks in the first three rounds, it will be looked at as a disaster. The first round pick of Jenkins was a complete failure, as they took a player that does not fit their scheme and was not considered a first round talent by anyone other than the Niners. It hurts even more when you realize a player like Alshon Jeffery was still on the board, which is would be one of the final pieces to the puzzle on their offense. This draft was a disaster, but it should only be a temporary set back for the front office.