With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, we are provided with a great opportunity to take a step back and look at some former 49ers draft picks; good and bad. Looking at some of the past drafts, the 49ers have brought in some real value players as well as some colossal busts.
CSN Bay Area released a piece on the three best and worst draft picks for the 49ers since 2000. Matt Maiocco put together a pretty decent list, but mine varied slightly enough to be worthy of sharing. Instead of naming just 1st round choices, the value acquired in later rounds that are still on the roster today really means something.
Patrick Willis, LB - 1st Round (2007)
In the 2007 Draft, the 49ers selected linebacker Patrick Willis from the University of Mississippi. Since Willis' arrival, the entire team has molded themselves around his approach to the game; that's saying something. He changed the entire San Francisco defense and at this pace, is absolutely a future Hall of Fame linebacker. Willis now leads the league's No. 1 defense and hasn't missed a Pro Bowl since he entered the NFL.
2. Vernon Davis, TE - 1st Round (2006)
An elite tight end, arguably in the top-3 in the league today. When Vernon Davis joined the 49ers from the University of Maryland, he didn't click right away but the physical talent was apparent. Davis is a hybrid talent with a combination of size, speed, strength, hands and explosiveness that just doesn't come along often. He's been the number one target for the 49ers, and recently proved to be a clutch playoff performer.
3. Ray McDonald, DL - 3rd Round (2007)
As someone who's always liked Ray McDonald, it's thrilling to finally see him start for the 49ers. As a later round pick, he earned his way to a starting position after years of minimal gameday reps. In 2011, McDonald had a great season as a 3-4 defensive end, opposite Justin Smith. He is the unsung hero of the defensive line, which is maybe the best in football today.
4. Dashon Goldson, FS - 4th Round (2007)
Goldson joined the 49ers the same year as McDonald and Willis; a very strong defensive draft class. After last year, Goldson has emerged as a premier safety in a league that doesn't have many. And mind you, this is a passing league so a safety as valuable as Goldson is a great commodity. Not only that, but he was found in the 4th round when both Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu were first rounders.
5. Frank Gore, RB - 3rd Round (2005)
Every single 49er fan absolutely loves Frank Gore. It's pretty rare these days to find a running back as talented as Gore, that's just as humble. Since the University of Miami, Gore has battled injuries and doubt but has produced consistently. As of last year, this third round pick set a franchise record when he became the 49ers all-time leading rusher.
Honorable Mentions: Andy Lee, P (6th Round), NaVorro Bowman, LB (3rd Round), Isaac Sopoaga, DL (4th Round), Delanie Walker, WR (6th Round), Tarell Brown, DB (5th Round), Joe Staley, T (1st Round), Ricky Jean-Francois, DL (7th Round), Eric Heitmann, OL (7th Round)
1. Kentwan Balmer, DL - 1st Round (2008)
Never for a second did I think this pick was going to work out, but I can't remember a first round pick that's been more irrelevant. He did not once show a flash of his first round status. Balmer looked constantly out of shape, slow and confused at times. The 49ers finally cut their losses when they moved him to the Seattle Seahawks.
2. Rashaun Woods, WR - 1st Round (2004)
This was a very disappointing result for what most expected Rashaun Woods to be; I equate him to what happened to Chad Jackson on the New England Patriots. Woods was coming from Oklahoma State, was expected to be available for the 49ers who needed a receiver and for whatever reason, it just didn't work out. He just didn't have ‘it.'
3. Chilo Rachal, OL - 2nd Round (2008)
Rachal was another high potential guy, and most of us expect that you can find a capable guard in the second round - Carl Nicks was a second rounder. Out of USC, Rachal's stock might've been overhyped. Even when he got playing time in 2011, he just looked lost on the field and didn't know his assignments. He's brought nothing to the table but spotty back-up guard ability and finally looks to be gone from the 49ers.
4. Kwame Harris, OL - 1st Round (2003)
I felt it was necessary to mention both of these offensive linemen, Rachal and Harris. Whenever you draft an offensive lineman you expect to start, you're putting stock in that player and when it doesn't work out, it's a major setback. Everything on the offense starts with the offensive line, and that is why Kwame Harris makes my top-5. As a first round choice, he was average at best, and that's unacceptable.
5. Ahmed Plummer, CB - 1st Round (2000)
It would've been nice to have a great cornerback with this first round pick, but instead he was like Shawntae Spencer 1.0. Ahmed Plummer was Ahmed Plummer. He wasn't great, but he started for a bit until he washed out. The 49ers haven't found great cornerbacks in the past decade in the draft, and Plummer was the start of it all. For some reason, cornerbacks, like wide receivers, have eluded the Niners since 2000.
Worst Draft Year
Best Draft Year