Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: San Francisco 49ers

But first....

The league owners have got together for a meeting in Indianapolis and have voted to pass three new rules. For those that are already wondering; no, none of them is a fix to the tuck rule.

Instead we have:

1) 15 yard penalty for "launching", where a defender leaves both feet and makes contact with a defenseless receiver either helmet to helmet, or shoulder to helmet. As I understand it, if the defender "launches" but makes contact in the stomach of a receiver then there is no penalty.

2) The definition of a defenseless receiver has expanded to include any receiver who hasn't had time to protect himself or hasn't clearly become a runner, regardless of whether his feet are on the ground or not. In addition, the following players will receive special protection as defenseless players, and thus cannot be struck in the head or neck with either the helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm (but presumably the hand is ok?);

- Players throwing a pass,
- Players attempting to make a catch but without time to avoid contact,
- A runner whose forward progress has been stopped,
- Kick off or punt returners while the ball is in the air (weren't they already covered?).
- Actual kickers and punters during the course of a return,
- A quarterback during a change of possession (but everyone else is not important enough and fair game? WTF?),
- Any player who is blindsided by a blocker who is moving towards his own endzone. It doesn't specify which of those two is moving toward their own endzone, but there you go.

3) Finally, one decent change, contact to the helmet of a QB with the hand or arm will now be judged on a case by case basis by referees, instead of the previous automatic penalty. So contact that appears incidental and without malice can be ignored at the officials discretion. Which means you can expect Brady and Manning to be protected like the President and everyone else to be told to shove it.

And don't give me all that "it's not like that..." bullshit. I live in a country where the richest and best soccer teams are renowned for getting favourable decisions from referees, while the small teams get crapped on consistently. I've also noticed that teams like the Colts and Patriots can get away with bloody murder as far as things like "offensive pass interference" and so called "pick plays" go.

Mark my words, this will work in the favour of teams like the Patriots and Colts.

Anyway on to happier and more innocent things, like me ripping the 49ers a new one over their draft class. Well, I would but I'm actually warming to various aspects of it. We start with Aldon Smith, the DE from Missouri. Now I'm just going to come right out and say it from day one. I love Aldon Smith.

The kid is great. He's quick as a flash off the line, he works really hard every play and never gives up. From a technical standpoint he uses his hands really well to defeat blocks and his footwork is very good. Tracks beautifully from sideline to sideline and just generally has a lot of utility against both the run and the pass.

That last aspect makes me wonder about just how the 49ers will use him. The expectation in the media world is that he will play as a stand up outside linebacker in the 49ers 3-4 scheme. But given his skill set I wouldn't be surprised to see them try him out as a 3-4 end opposite Justin Smith, who lead the team in sacks last year. Together I think they would make a great combination, but it's all speculation right now.

Regardless, I think he's gonna be a great player, a worthy top ten pick and a firm part of the 49ers franchise in the coming years. He also addresses a big issue with the 49ers which has been consistent pass rush. While that defense isn't exactly slacking in that area, it has been a bit of a struggle to make it happen with creative scheming being the word of the day. Hopefully the combination of Smith and Smith, in whatever form that takes, will bring some foundation to the pass rush.

On to round two and QB Colin Kaepernick from Nevada. Now I've always been sceptical of "running quarterbacks". Needless to say that I called the 49ers draft team, and I quote myself - "dicks" - for drafting Kaepernick.

But I've mellowed out a little. Or more specifically, I've been back and watched a broader spectrum of  Kaepernick's games. He's growing on me now. His footwork is ok. It lacks a little polish but it's very close to where it needs to be. His throwing motion is hideous, but then so was Brett Favre's and so is Mike Vick's, and I don't complain about them. It is what it is.

It does however throw up (pun not intended) (wait, what am I talking about? Err, pun absolutely intended) a good question mark that I have on him. His arm strength is great, he can sling that ball with the best of them. But at short ranges he doesn't demonstrate the touch needed. He seems to have one power setting and that's "stupid quick". At long ranges it's not a problem as the combination of gravity and air resistance bleed off some of the speed.

But at ranges under say, 12 yards from the Line of Scrimmage, there isn't enough time for those factors to take some of the zip off the ball, so frequently you see receivers cursing Kaepernick under their breath for taking their fingertips off. The good news about this is that it's coachable. It's something that can be fixed with a little bit of practice, as long as it's recognised and addressed.

The other big question I have is over the range of passing. By this I mean the types of throws made, not the distance of them. What I saw was a heck of a lot of short throws and not a lot else. I saw dump offs, I saw out routes, I saw hooking patterns, I saw some 15 yard ins and outs, even a post route or two. But I didn't see what I would call a full gamut of passes.

Contrast that with someone like Ricky Stanzi or Nathan Enderele, who threw everything from quick slants to deep bombs and all the passes in between. Particularly worrying for me was a lack of deep fade passes which are a fairly regular component of most pro offenses. One of the things people are always banging on about is the ability to exploit one on one matches on the outside, and to be honest, they're right.

But to do that you have to have a high degree of confidence in your Quarterback to throw those king of deep passes to the outside, dropping the ball in over the head of the corner and into the hands of the receiver. It was something I saw Stanzi do to perfection several times. And something I never saw Kaepernick do once. That could be a problem.

A lot depends on how coach Jim Harbaugh runs the offense. He's promised to reintroduce the 'West Coast Offense' and the spirit of Bill Walsh to its birth place, which I find amusing given that a) it was developed mostly in Cincinnati, b) Bill Walsh hated the name 'West Coast Offense', and c) the true 'West Coast offense' hasn't really existed for years now.

But I'm digressing now and indulging in my own blatant 49er passion, so back on point, if Harbaugh goes with a short passing game that includes a fair amount of play action and rollouts, then that might suit Kaepernick quite well, providing he can dial back that arm a bit. He actually throws pretty accurately on the run and the space created horizontally on the field might give Kaepernick the chance he needs to get his legs going and run for a few first downs.

But that's an "if" and a big "if" at that. I'll recant for now on my "dicks" comment, but I'm not happy enough to put it away in a draw somewhere and forget about it forever.

I've also just realised that I've had a good old waffle about Kaepernick and it's probably time to move on to the next pick, which was third rounder Chris Culliver, cornerback/safety, from South Carolina. This helps to explain why this particular post has taken so long, as previously I hadn't seen a scrap of Culliver.

And I still haven't. Beg, borrow, steal, I cannot. So for all I know Culliver is a pro bowler in the making. Though to be honest I've snooped about and it seems most people had him rated as a 6-7th rounder prior to the draft, which is usually but not always a bad sign.

On then to round four and running back Kendall Hunter, from Oklahoma State. I'm a Hunter fan, I'll come right out and say it. He's just a plain fun back to watch. Short guy, but strong and fights hard on every play, which is my kind of running back. His agility is really good and his acceleration is excellent. He goes from dead stop to full speed in a flash.

That's the thing then that I'm most looking forward to with Hunter. His speed should be a good compliment and change of pace to the more bruising style of Frank Gore and Anthony "The Golden Mule" Dixon. He also makes a great receiver out of the backfield, with his physical skills taking over when he gets the ball in his hands. All things considered, as a fourth round pick I count him as a bargain.

In the fifth round the 49ers went with another guy I hadn't seen, Daniel Kilgore, offensive guard, from Appalachian State. Well, I say guard because that's what he's technically listed as now, but really he's a right tackle. Apparently the 49ers are planning to use him as a backup center or guard, but I'm not really sure how successful that will prove to be.

The trouble is that a guy with Kilgore's body type (re: a fat bastard like Kilgore) is really more cut out for working the end of the line as opposed to the inside. Guards are supposed to be nimble guys with nifty footwork who can step back from the line and pull on power plays etc, make double reads of linebackers versus 34 fronts, and just generally be a little more finesse orientated.

Kilgore is the opposite of finesse. He's a mound of fat and gristle, as tough as a pair of Vietnam jungle boots. He's the sort of person I can imagine wrestling a grizzly bear in the mountains of Canada or pulling a truck along with his teeth. He's a powerhouse. He may not have the fastest or most technical footwork with his kick slide, but if he gets his hands on you then there's only one place you're going, and that's wherever Kilgore decides he wants you to go.

Overall I say give him a chance at right tackle. God knows that O-line needs some help and Anthony Davis isn' t providing it. If it doesn't work then he can just spend the off season in Texas with Chad Ochocinco as a travelling double act touring the rodeos. Chad will ride the bulls for as long as he can, then Kilgore will come in and strangle them with his bare hands.

In the meantime it's on to round 6 and finally a player I've had a decent look at before, Ronald Jackson, wide receiver, USC. Jackson is another guy I like. Excellent route running I thought, including the adjustments he made to his routes. He's pretty tough and has good hands as well, so overall a nice package. I think he makes a good contrast to a guy like Crabtree and I always find that useful, to have two receivers who attack defense's in different ways. One to watch.

The 49ers picked again in the sixth round courtesy of an old trade with Seattle for Kentwan Balmer, and with this pick they took Colin Jones, safety, from TCU. Another one who I hadn't seen any tape of prior to the draft, so off I went once more.

And all I can say about Jones is this; somewhere, maybe on his iPod, maybe on his laptop I dunno, but somewhere Jones must have indecent pictures of his old Head Coach and possibly some of either Trent Baalke or Jim Harbaugh. Because that's the only way I can possibly see how he managed to get onto the field.

Now I accept that not everyone sees players the same way. I accept that attributes that one guy finds desirable are not so for someone else. People have certain types of quarterbacks, corners, defensive tackles etc that they're looking for. But seriously, Jones sucks. He just plain, outright stinks and I have no idea how anyone in their right mind can't see that.

He's timid, like a cat afraid of water. He's fine when it comes to chasing a running play from behind or sprinting after a defenseless quarterback, but he doesn't seem to have much appetite for any other contact. Add to that his general look during most pass plays of "What the hell is going on? Am I in a football game? What am I supposed to be doing?" and it really doesn't make good viewing.

I just can't understand how a guy like Jones makes it into the league when you look at the list of names of guys that went undrafted. You're seriously telling me that the 49ers didn't feel any of them was on the same level as Jones? Get the fuck outta here!

Anyway, onwards and upwards (I have to stop saying that) to round 7, where the 49ers had originally four picks, one of which was traded to Green Bay. The first of the seventh rounders was defensive end Bruce Miller, from Central Florida.

For some reason I covered Miller in my linebackers section when he should have gone in with the defensive linemen, but hey ho and away we go. To put it bluntly, not that I ever actually seem to sugar coat things, Miller is no more than average for his position. Primary among his problems is the fact that he's so slow off the snap. That's just asking to get yourself blocked. Which is what normally happens to Miller as it happens.

On then to the first of the compensatory selections and it's Mike Person, offensive guard, Montana State. Again, Person is another one of those players listed now as a guard but who was actually a tackle. And again, I hadn't seen a thing of Person prior to the draft. I'm beginning to wish I still hadn't.

Mike Person must be in cahoots with Colin Jones, because I shit you not ladies and gentlemen (Who am I kidding? Ladies?) Person is undoubtedly the single worst offensive tackle I have ever seen. He was just... just... I wish I could show you what I've seen.

If you wanted to make a lowlight reel to show people "This is how never to play offensive tackle. Ever," then it would just be a complete game tape of Mike Person. This guy is just indescribably bad. Balance is shocking. Footwork is terrible. Use of the hands is practically non existent. His mental awareness of the blocking schemes is terrible. Frankly I'm astounded that Montana State ever managed to score a single point with this guy on their O-line.

What's worse is this thought; if a team starts its best linemen at left tackle, what the hell must the backups on that team have looked like? It just doesn't bare thinking about. Honestly I'm still in shock. How in the hell does someone like Person end up in the NFL? There is someone on the 49ers scouting staff who needs to be out of a job.

For me personally the name Mike Person will forever more be associated with, and synonymous for - terrible. Puke inducing terrible.

Please God let 49ers final selection, cornerback Curtis Holcomb from Florida A&M, be good. Let him even just be ok. Or even poor. Just don't let him be Mike Person! Now as you've probably guessed, I hadn't seen Holcomb before the draft, which means that of all the teams in the NFL I'd safely say the 49ers, my own team, drafted the most number of players who I had never seen before.

Wait, what the fuck? Sorry, but I just noticed Mike Person received All-Big Sky Conference honors in 2011. How?

Anyway, back on schedule and Curtis Holcomb. Who I can confidently say... I still know nothing about, because I couldn't find a thing on the kid. Apparently Trent Baalke is quite high on him, largely because he was unknown and they think they dug out a diamond in the rough so to speak. As long as he's not Mike Person bad, I don't care.

So that then is you're 2011 San Francisco 49ers draft class. A mixed bag really. Some good, some bad. Some unknown. If you look at Kaepernick, he has potential. The 49ers have already said they'd like to bring in a veteran QB to start this year so Kaepernick can develop, which is probably for the best. Maybe in a year or two he'll be the guy. Patience is a virtue after all.

I love the pick of Aldon Smith and I also think the team made some good moves to bring in tools that eventually Kaepernick will get to play with such as Hunter and Johnson. That offense is slowly starting to shape together as one that can do the defense justice. All it needs is for Kaepernicks development to go relatively smoothly and then there is hope.

Maybe, just maybe, with an experienced veteran to guide the team they might make the playoffs this year, but sadly I'm not holding my breath. Seattle and St. Louis are both in stronger positions right now and have a better mix of options on both sides of the ball going into the 2011 season (if it ever gets going). The 49ers D is probably still the strongest individual unit, but the offense isn't in the right position to support it.

And we have Mike Person. Lord help us.

St. Louis is up next, then that's the NFC West done and it'll be off to the NFC North, who I think on paper might just have had the best draft as a division.

No comments: