By Guest Contributor Scott Warfe
It was at just that moment when Christopher Reeve and wife Dana pressed the button that initiated an electrical charge that feed a switch that allowed the ball drop over Times Square. It was at just that moment when the specter of 2002 still lingered and when it was not yet 2003. It was just at that moment when everything was possible again.
You see, for Reeve, 2003 meant the chance to walk again, so long as stem cell research continued. For the 49ers and their fans, it meant the end of Steve Mariucci’s underachieving, and the welcoming of a new, untempered optimism.
2003 was to be the beginning of the Erickson era.
Erickson left his “Air Express” offense in Corvallis and adopted Marriucci’s West Coast Offense. That, combined with returning nucleolus of players that included Pro-Bowlers Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, gave 49er fans optimism that the a return to glory was imminent. The only thing Erickson and, then General Manager, Terry Donahue had to do was to pick up where Bill Walsh had left off: building the team through the NFL draft.
What could go wrong?
As it turns out, everything. I don’t remember specifics, but, then again, I don’t need to. Between 2003 and 2011, the 49ers were bad. Their five Super Bowl victories and countless play-off appearances became mere vestiges of a time lost. In short, the 49ers were on the bottom, looking up.
Certainly, such lulls make the pinnacles all the more sweet. And, Harbaugh’s success is an example of that.
But, what if it didn’t have to be that way?
What if we could go back in time and redo all the missteps? What would the 49ers of 2012 look like today?
Well, this is exactly what I want us to find out. While we will not revise yesterday’s free agency mistakes, we will redo every draft between 2003 to present (or at least the 1st three rounds). So, every week (from now until the Draft), I will ask you to redraft for the 49ers.
I will provide the requisite information (free agent acquisitions/losses, players drafted, players available in the draft, team needs, etc.). But, there will be a limit: the available player for any given pick cannot have been selected AFTER the 49ers next pick. However, since we will only revise the first three rounds of the draft (anything beyond three would be dizzying), you can write in any available players name for the final (3rd round) selection.
After seven days, I will check the tally. The player with the most votes will be the 49ers selection. I will then post a brief summary of the previous week’s draft (this will include your comments), along with a new draft.
If you have questions or components that you’d like to add, feel free to ask them in the comments section (or you can reach me on Twitter: @ScottWarfe).
So, without further adieu, here is 2003:
Team Needs: CB, DE, WR, T, DT, and S
In 2002, the 49ers had only 32 sacks (of which, 12.5 came from Andre Carter), ranking them 24th in the NFL. They ranked in 22 in passing yards allowed. And, they allowed opponents to convert on 46.9 percent of third downs.
In short, their pass defense was bad. And, with losing Chike Okeafor (6 sacks) to the Seahawks and Jason Webster to ankle surgery, the 49ers desperately needed to address pass-rusher and cornerback in the draft. The 49ers were also in the market for a defensive tackle, hoping to find a replacement for the recently departed Dana Stubblefield. According to Ira Miller, Texas A&M’s Ty Warren, Ohio State’s Kenny Peterson, Alabama’s Jarret Johnson, and Penn State’s Anthony Adams were all possible targets. However, he conceded that “none may interest the team enough to take with the 26th pick.”
Ira Miller postulated that “receiver [was] a concern because Terrell Owens and Tai Streets could leave as free agents after the 2003 season.” Miller predicted that, because the team was placing an emphasis on speed at reciever, they were likely going to take Florida’s Taylor Jacobs, Florida State’s Talman Gardner or Illinois’ Brandon Lloyd in the first or second round.
Because of the need for a longterm solution at tackle (the incumbent was 33 yr. old Derrick Deese), a third option would have been to draft one of the “top offensive tackles,” such as Wayne Hunter of Hawaii, George Foster and Jon Stinchcomb of Georgia and Brett Williams of Florida State, should one of them fallen to No. 26.
Finally, the 49ers needed to find a complement to Tony Parrish. In 2002, Zach Bronson and Ronnie Heard platooned at free safety.
Who they drafted:
Given that Adams, Lloyd and Battle (kind of) have enjoyed lasting careers, this would be a serviceable draft were it not for one glaring mistake: Kwame Harris.
Harris would impress during the 2003 training camp, as Miller noted: “Kwame Harris is impressing the team with his aggressiveness and with how quickly he is adjusting from the right side to the left. The knock on Harris was that he was not tough enough, but he was involved in two fights during the first week of camp and showed no inclination to back off.”
Unfortunately, this training camp was Harris’s Golden Age, of sorts. Unlike it’s Greek counterpart, Harris’s Golden Age would swiftly be followed by an Iron Age, in which all virtues disappeared. He wasn’t just bad; he redefined the word. In fact, in his tenure with the 49ers, the verb “to kwame” would rise to prominence, meaning “to consistently fail.” Or, in other words, during his career, Harris kwamed a lot.
In case you’ve blocked Harris’s tenure, here is a visual reminder.
In the end, Harris would flame out of San Francisco after four seasons and go on to earn a sport in the 49ers’ top 10 draft busts. Meanwhile, other players, such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Tillman, Anquan Boldin, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Witten (all of whom were taken after Harris) would go onto Pro Bowls and Super Bowls.
To vote for whom you think the 49ers should have drafted, click here.