NFL Draft Retrospective, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers 2016 NFL Draft Retrospective

How does the San Francisco 49ers 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?

The San Francisco 49ers were onto their third head coach in as many years, Chip Kelly, and were still reeling from the mass exodus of players from 2015. A wholesale lack of talent on both sides of the ball should have prompted then-general manager Trent Baalke to simply pick the best player in each round. Instead, many of Baalke’s picks didn’t jell with Kelly’s offense, which played a big role in the 49ers going 2-14 that year. Despite boasting 11 total picks, only three players — defensive tackles DeForest Buckner, Josh Garnett and Ronald Blair — remained with the team into the 2018 season.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: A-

Doug Farrar was in love with the Niners haul which certainly had the quantity to dazzle. Farrar thought they walked away not only long-term potential multiple “first day starters.”

FanSided: C-

FanSided read this right from the beginning. They applauded the move to get Buckner but then cried foul over the Joshua Garnett trade up as well as pretty much everything else that followed.

Draft Class

Round 1 (No. 7)

DeForest Buckner

DL, Oregon

Current Team: San Francisco 49ers

Buckner was a no-brainer pick for Baalke. He was arguably the best defensive lineman in the class and has been a mainstay of the 49ers defense ever since. His rookie season, Buckner tallied six sacks despite the 49ers defense being historically bad that year. While Buckner’s 2017 sack totals took a bit of a hit, he was nevertheless a pocket-wrecking presence for then first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan. Buckner’s maturation eventually led to a career-high 12 sacks in 2018 and his first Pro Bowl nod. Buckner’s sack total was second only to Aaron Donald’s among interior defensive linemen in the entire league.

Round 1 (No. 27)

Joshua Garnett

OL, Stanford

Current Team: San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers moved back into Round 1 to grab the 2015 Outland Trophy recipient from Stanford. Garnett was a run-mauling offensive lineman, yet his fit with then-head coach Chip Kelly’s zone-style offense was questionable at best. Garnett appeared in 15 games as a rookie, yet struggled in pass protection and wasn’t quite the road grader the Niners envisioned. Once Shanahan took over coaching duties, Garnett’s future became an even bigger question mark, made larger by missing his 2017 season with a knee injury and being relegated to backup duties the following year.

Round 3 (No. 68)

Will Redmond

CB, Mississippi State

Current Team: Green Bay Packers

Baalke long had a tendency to grab injured players, thinking he was getting a good player at a discounted rate. Such was the case with Redmond. Redmond’s stock took a hit with a college ACL injury. Yet Baalke infamously noted Redmond would be ready by training camp that year. Redmond landed on injured reserve again in 2017 and was released by the 49ers later that year.

Round 4 (No. 133)

Rashard Robinson

CB, LSU

 

Current Team: New York Jets

Despite limited playing time and red flags from his time at LSU, Robinson actually looked like one of the hidden gems from this draft class. Robinson started six games his rookie season, registering 28 tackles, eight passes defended and an interception in a season where he looked to be a solid starting-caliber cornerback. He was still a started at the beginning of 2017, yet Robinson’s second pro year was marred by penalties and inconsistency, which led him to be traded to the New York Jets.

Round 5 (No. 142) 

Ron Blair

LB, Appalachian State

 

Current Team: San Francisco 49ers

Blair was seen as a relative tweener coming out in 2016, yet his versatility managed to give the 49ers a nice piece of depth along their defensive line. Blair survived the purge of Baalke players by Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, having appeared now in 38 total games since being drafted and accumulating 10.5 sacks in a reserve role. He figures to have a decent role as a situational pass rusher and rotational player.

Round 5 (No. 145)

John Theus

OL, Clemson

Current Team: Retired

This pick didn’t exactly make a lot of sense. Theus wasn’t considered a strong blocker at the NFL level. His projection for being a reliable swing tackle was also premature. He did manage to start a game his rookie year before the Niners let him go in September 2017.

Round 5 (No. 174)

Fahn Cooper

OL, Ole Miss

Current Team: Free Agent

Cooper might have been a better overall prospect than Theus, yet he didn’t make the roster out of training camp.

Round 6 (No. 207)

Jeff Driskel

QB, Florida

Current Team: Cincinnati Bengals

The 49ers were dealing with a little bit of a quarterback controversy between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, so a late-round flier on Driskel made some sense. His Louisiana Tech days were inspiring enough to warrant a draft-day selection, although the 49ers elected to waive him after training camp. Driskel subsequently joined the Cincinnati Bengals and remains there today.

Round 6 (No. 211)

Kelvin Taylor

RB, Florida

Current Team: Free agent

Taylor at least had the pedigree and the reputation for not fumbling in college. That was impressive. Like Driskel, however, the Niners waived him after training camp.

Round 6 (No. 213)

Aaron Burbridge

WR, Michigan State

Current Team: Denver Broncos

Out of San Francisco’s late-round picks in 2016, Burbridge has arguably had the most success, albeit not as a traditional wideout. Burbridge appeared in all 16 games his rookie season, even starting three of them and catching seven passes for 88 yards. But his value was more on special teams, which carried over into the Shanahan era in 2017. There was a thought he could stick with the 49ers in 2018, but he was let go in November of that year.

Round 7 (No. 249)

Prince Charles Iworah

CB, Western Kentucky

Current Team: Free agent

Baalke often used the shotgun approach with cornerbacks, and Iworah was no exception. While exceptionally fast, having run a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, Iworah lacked the instincts and coverage skills necessary to crack a roster at the pro level. He was active for only one game his rookie season before being placed on IR in 2017 and was eventually waived in December of the same year.

Retrospective Grade

DeForest Buckner is the only player left on the 49ers roster with a regular role, and his Pro Bowl-level presence prevents this class from being a complete failure. The other first-round pick, Joshua Garnett, has been relegated to backup duty, and Ronald Blair is a situational defensive lineman only. Considering how much help the team needed in 2016, it’s hard to find much positive to say about this class outside of Buckner and Blair.

Occasionally it’s good enough to come away with only one impact player in a draft, particularly if that player is of Buckner’s caliber. But when you enter a season with 11 draft picks and then go 2-14 as most of those players flounder, that’s horrendous. This draft class not only spelled the end of Trent Baalke’s time in San Francisco, it ended Chip Kelly’s run after only one season. Many of the moves, such as grabbing Will Redmond, didn’t even help the 49ers’ depth issues. The fact San Francisco’s current regime of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan got rid of so many Baalke-era players shortly after taking over is the epitaph you need to know.

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