There weren’t many things about the 2011 season that could’ve irked Jim Harbaugh, but missing out on former Stanford Cardinal players like Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman probably bothered him, at least a little.
“We should have drafted Doug,” Harbaugh once said.
Instead, the Seattle Seahawks signed Baldwin as a undrafted free agent, shortly after drafting Sherman in the fifth round. In a year where Harbaugh’s team swept the Seahawks, call this Pete Carroll’s one delicious slice of revenge.
Baldwin caught 6 balls for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns against the 49ers in two games, and finished the year with 788 receiving yards and 4 scores. Sherman (one of the nicest guys I’ve ever interviewed, just a shade under Madison Bumgarner in terms of friendliness) made his way into the Seahawks’ starting lineup and shined. From Field Gulls, who also examined Sherman’s trash-talking habit:
Sherman was the only member of the Seahawks secondary to not make the Pro Bowl this season but arguably has the greatest potential of the four, after Earl Thomas. Like Browner, he shows a lot of physicality in run support and tackling, frequently upending running backs or pass catchers. He should be a mainstay for years to come.
There’s a good chance Harbaugh thinks they should’ve drafted Sherman, too.
As the 2012 NFL Draft draws near, is Harbaugh in Baalke’s ear, worried sick about letting another Cardinal alum get away? Plenty of Stanford guys are out there who’ll probably be long gone once the 49ers make their first draft choice — Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. But one name 49ers fans (and writers) are seizing on is the proud owner of probably the most unique name of them all: Coby Fleener.
Matt Barrows, who I have to say has been killing it lately, makes the case for drafting Fleener at No. 30:
The biggest reason is that the 49ers emphasize the tight end like no other team west of Foxboro, Ma. In fact, you could argue that tight ends are more important than wide receivers to the 49ers. San Francisco currently has two excellent tight ends in Vernon Davis, who played 96.1 percent of the team’s regular season offensive snaps in 2011, and Delanie Walker, who played 52.1 percent of the snaps. (Walker missed a game and a half with a broken jaw).
While Davis is locked in through the 2015 season, Walker is up for free agency next year. He’s played in Davis’ shadow since entering the league – both were drafted in 2006 – and he’ll be seeking a lucrative offer. The 49ers also have Nate Byham under contract, but he’s not the pass-catching threat Walker is and probably is best suited as the blocking tight end who enters in short-yardage or goal-line situations.
Jim Harbaugh always had a large and capable stable of tight ends at Stanford, and he recruited Fleener, whom many think is the best tight end in the draft this season. The 49ers certainly could stand to draft a wide receiver no matter what happens in free agency. But the strength of this position is in the middle rounds where players like Arizona’s Juron Criner, Iowa’s Marvin McNutt, Cal’s Marvin Jones or Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller can be found. Really, it’s a huge list from Rounds 2-5.
That is, if there’s not a wide receiver worth drafting at No. 30, Fleener may be the best player available and could be a smart move for the future.
There have been people who’ve written in the comments section on this website that they’d like the 49ers to sign a tall receiver. Well, Fleener is really, really tall: 6’6″. The guy looks like a viking, or at least a typical movie version of a viking. Walter Football will probably change this pick about 50 times between now and the draft, but for now they have the Niners taking Fleener:
Umm… did I forget about Vernon Davis? No. Jim Harbaugh loves utilizing multiple tight ends in his offense. If you don’t think this can work, let me refer you to the Patriots. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez complement each other rather well.
Harbaugh needs to acquire an offensive playmaker for Alex Smith, and Coby Fleener happens to be the best one available, as taking any receiver at this point would be considered a major reach.
Pick change; previously Alshon Jeffery, WR
Although I’d rather the Niners draft Michael Floyd, most agree that the chances he’ll slip past the Chicago Bears at No. 19 are remote. And who knows, after the Patriots provided the Hernkowski template, Fleener may get drafted higher in the first round than anyone would’ve imagined before the 2011 season.
If the Niners get to choose between Jeffery or Fleener, I’d go with the tall tight end over the big (fat?) receiver who doesn’t separate. Then again, I may be overly influenced by the idea of a 4-TE offense, with Vernon and Fleener on the outside, Byham on the line and Walker in the backfield. Your move, Belichick.