The 49ers appear to be a team on the rise despite losing their general manager six weeks before the draft. For the first time since the team fired Steve Mariucci following the 2002 season the 49ers finished their season without a losing record. The Mike Singletary era looks to be off to a good start and the team is beginning to reap the rewards of a near decade picking in the early part of the draft. Continuity has been the catch phrase of the new regime and the 49ers stayed true to that mantra on draft day eschewing big name players at quarterback, a team need in the eyes of many. Instead they added players at less glamorous positions that will help the team become more physical. Brent Foshee grades out the 49ers draft.
The teams first selection, Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis, was not a surprise to folks who follow the team. The 49ers seemed to be beguiled by Davis’s physicality, athleticism, and overall upside potential as the draft neared. Indeed Mike Singletary himself spent a great deal of time making sure that Davis would be able to buy into the teams no nonsense approach. Why the 49ers felt the need to give up a 4th round choice to move up two spots to select him is anyone’s guess. Davis will be expected to solidify the right tackle position which has seen inconsistent play in recent years.
The 49ers went for another helping of offensive linemen in round one when they later selected Mike Iupati. Easily the best guard in this year’s class, Iupati is a mauler that excels run blocking. Equally adept in pass protection, Iupati’s biggest hurdle will be adjusting to the talent level in the NFL, no small feat for a guy who played collegiately at Idaho. This pick sent a clear message to the league that the team believes in Alex Smith and that the 49ers are committed to giving him the tools he needs to succeed.
Taylor Mays was arguably the most physically gifted player in this year’s draft. Considered by many to be a first round choice on measureables alone, Mays never made enough plays at USC to be considered in the same class as Eric Berry or Earl Thomas. When lower ranked safeties like TJ Ward and Nate Allen went off the board before him, one wondered how far Mays would fall. Enter San Francisco who was all too happy to select this athlete with amazing upside and a chip on his shoulder. Known as a big hitter who struggles in pass coverage, Mays will have to learn to play the ball better and further develop his route recognition. Fortunately the team is not counting on him to play much this season, if at all, so Mays will have time to learn rather than being forced into the starting lineup.
San Francisco traded down in round three, following their recent trend, then came up with a great value pick in Navarro Bowman. Bowman had off-field baggage but has the skill set and athleticism needed to play inside linebacker in the 49ers scheme. Another rookie not expected to start immediately, Bowman has time to watch Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes handle themselves. Bowman might not be the best fit to play inside yet offers the tenacity and speed to defend the run sideline to sideline and his skill in coverage will make the transition easier for him.
If there were any questions remaining about whether or not the 49ers intend to run the ball on offense they were likely answered when the team took Anthony Dixon in the 5th round. Dixon is a giant at tailback and pounds the ball in between the tackles. While he lacks the ideal speed needed to be a breakaway back, he’ll be brought in to give Frank Gore a few plays off each week.
Nate Byham was among the best blocking tight ends in this year’s draft but dropped after an injury riddled senior season. With Vernon Davis finally meeting expectations and Delanie Walker filling in nicely as a receiving tight end/H-bac,k Byham will have an opportunity to get on the field in short yardage situations with instructions to open up holes for Frank Gore and company.
The 49ers continued their run of value by selecting Kyle Williams in the 6th round. Williams offer potential as a slot receiver and a return specialist at the next level and his presence on the roster could spell the end of Brandon Jones, last year’s free agent bust. Williams looked like he finally put everything together as a senior and the team hopes that he will continue to develop. Like several of the players selected ahead of him, Williams has time to develop.
The 49ers ended their 2010 draft by selecting cornerback Phillip Adams of South Carolina State. Adams is a better than average athlete that will likely find a home on the team’s practice squad for a year or two while he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game.
Grade: (B+) It’s difficult not to like this draft. Clearly the 49ers had a plan to get better on the offensive line while adding developmental depth at other key areas. Both Davis and Iupati should start this season with Mays, Bowman, Dixon, and Byham contributing in certain situations. Should Bowman and Mays take over starting jobs in 2011 or before, this will be a top rated draft. If even one of the two develops into competent starters the team will still be ahead of the curve. Giving up a 4th round pick unnecessarily is enough to keep them from getting a grade of A but they did find value with their first 7 selections and appear to be in the driver’s seat in the NFC West in 2010.