In losing Kyle Williams and Kendall Hunter to season-ending injuries, the 49ers didn’t just lose key backups, they lost key contributors. Both on offense and special teams, Williams and Hunter forged roles for themselves, leaving other, more highly touted reserves glued to the sidelines. With both out, it will be up to these unproven reserves to fill the production void.
While the 49ers have veterans in Ted Ginn Jr and Brandon Jacobs that can pick up the slack, the more exciting options are also the least experienced. A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James, the 49ers’ first two picks in the 2012 draft, could be in line to see their first NFL action. This of course would be a good thing. You see, General manager Trent Baalke, unlike his recent predecessors, has proven capable of drafting players that can contribute immediately.
Baalke’s eye for talent has thus far proven to be without peer–in a small sample size, at least. The 2011 draft, Baalke’s first, yielded ten players, nine of which are still in the NFL today. Of that nine, six remain with the 49ers, three as starters and three as key reserves. In all, to call the 2011 draft a success would be an understatement. A better adjective might be “best,” as in “The 2011 draft was the best 49ers’ draft of all time.” Go on. See for yourself.
Round 1, Pick 7
Smith’s stardom is obvious. He was named the PFW/PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year (not to be confused with the AP DROTY award won by Denver’s Von Miller). In two seasons, Smith has accrued 30.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, and 59 quarterback hurries. He pressures the quarterback once every 5.8 snaps–Von Miller is slightly better with a QB pressure once every 5.6 snaps.
But Smith is not just a one trick pony. He more than holds his own against the run, where he’s made 22 tackles and 17 stops (defined as when a defensive player stops offense from completing play successfully), while missing only one tackle this season. Pass coverage is a bit of a different story. Opponents have targeted Smith 11 times, completing nine passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Round 2, Pick 4
Kaepernick’s future is still largely unknown. However, in his short stint as a starter, he has flashed the ability to be a more than competent starter. His 9.19 yards per pass attempt would lead the league by nearly a full yard. When dropped passes and balls thrown away are accounted for, Kaepernick has completed 81.4% of his passes–this too would lead the league. Despite being pressured on 42% of his passes, he has been sacked only six times, while completing 15 of 25 passes–six of which were either dropped or thrown away.
Round 3, Pick 16
In two seasons, Culliver has been targeted 98 times. He’s allowed just 50 receptions for 508 yards and four touchdowns. This season, opposing quarterbacks have a rating of just 56.5 on passes thrown to receivers covered by Culliver, making him the fifth best cover corner in the league.
Round 4, Pick 18
Hunter has gained 844 yards on 184 career carries and four touchdowns. His production has enabled the 49ers to spell Frank Gore, thus effectively preserving Gore for the postseason play. This season Hunter has been particularly good. His 2.82 yards after contact per carry ranks him twelfth, a head of Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice and Arian Foster.
Hunter has also proven to be an asset in the pass game. Of the 27 catchable passes thrown his way, Hunter has caught 25 of them. His 1.27 yards per route run bests Frank Gore’s by nearly seven-tenths of a point.
Round 5, Pick 32
Kilgore hasn’t made an impact yet. This is not surprising, given his position is filled by the the highly skilled Jonathan Goodwin. Still, in his three plays this season, Kilgore didn’t surrender a pressure.
Round 6, Pick 17
Johnson is currently on the injured reserve list for the Philadelphia Eagles. His selection was ill-advised, though I blame wide receiver coach John Morton more so than Baalke. Morton was Johnson’s position coach in college and probably played a role in the selection.
Round 6, Pick 25
Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks Jones as the 493rd best special teamer in the league (He’s missed three tackles thus far). Last season, he was ranked 51st. Baalke jettisoned Jones to Carolina for a 7th round pick. Bad draft pick, but great save. Nice move, Trent.
Round 7, Pick 8
PFF ranks Miller as the second best fullback in the league, behind only the Raiders’ Marcel Reece. Reece gets the nod because of his superior run and pass-catching skills. In terms of blocking, Miller is the best. PFF scores Miller’s blocking at 9.6. The next closest, Vontae Leach, is rated at 8.2. It’s not even close.
Round 7, Pick 38
Person is currently on the Seattle Seahawks active roster. He’s yet to see the field in the three seasons of play.
Round 7, Pick 49
He was waived by the 49ers in August after spending his rookie season on the injured reserve. He remains unsigned.