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NFL Draft: The Top Five Players the San Francisco 49ers Missed Out On

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COMMENTARY | San Francisco 49ers' general manager Trent Baalke's big question mark is and always will be: Did he give the go-ahead to draft wide receiver A.J. Jenkins No.1 last year? Whose bright idea was that one?

The 49ers passed on running back Doug Martin, whom the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted just one pick later, and Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie.

It's clear why Baalke didn't want to draft Martin. Frank Gore was going to get his carries, so taking Martin would have been like drafting and red-shirting a professional athlete. Red-shirting is for college football.

But Baalke ended up drafting a red shirt, anyway. He wanted a deep-threat wide receiver, so he took Jenkins, who never caught a pass, never broke a sweat as a rookie. Jenkins didn't even suit up the first half of the season. Finally, on December 31st, Jim Harbaugh went public. He pleaded to Jenkins through the press for Jenkins to step up: "Do I think he can?" he asked. "Yes. Do we need him to? Yes. We need him to step up. Definitely think he's capable of doing it."

But he definitely wasn't. He dropped the only pass thrown to him. The 49ers would like him to contribute in his second season, but they can't count on him, a big reason they traded for Anquan Boldin. They will pay Boldin $6 million this season.

Who are five players better than Jenkins the 49ers could have traded down for and drafted last year? Here's my list, and I'm eager to read yours.

1. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International. The Indianapolis Colts drafted him with the 92nd pick. Hilton (5-10, 183 pounds), ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He is a deep threat and an underneath receiver and a running back and a punt returner. Hilton led all rookie receivers with 58 catches for 927 yards (16.0 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. He averaged 7.7 yards after the catch, which was fifth-best in the NFL, and he caught 10 passes 20-or-more yards downfield, which was tied for 15th-best in the NFL. Hilton would have been perfect for the 49ers. Instead, he'll be Andrew Luck's No.1 target for the next five-to-ten years.

2. Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt. The Green Bay Packers drafted him with the 62nd pick. Hayward (5-11, 192 pounds) was the best slot cornerback in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus. When he was covering the slot receiver, he allowed a league-low 47.0 passer rating and he intercepted two passes. If the 49ers had drafted Hayward, they probably would not have tied and lost to the Rams in their two meetings last season. St. Louis completed 22 passes to slot receivers in those two games.

3. Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest. The Rams drafted him with the 96th pick, and he was the second-best rookie deep threat last season behind Hilton. Givens (5-11, 198 pounds) caught 42 passes for 698 yards (16.6 yards per catch) and three TDs. He caught eight passes 20-yards-or-more and averaged 6.8 yards after the catch. To put that in perspective, Michael Crabtree averaged 6.4 yards after the catch last season.

4. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson. The Colts drafted him with the 64th pick. The 49ers didn't need him last year, but they do now that H-back Delanie Walker signed with the Tennessee Titans. Allen (6-3, 255 pounds) is a better blocker than Walker, and a good receiver, too. There are no H-backs the caliber of Allen in the upcoming draft.

5. Rueben Randle, WR, Louisiana State. The New York Giants drafted him with the 63rd pick to replace Mario Manningham. Randle is bigger and more durable than Manningham. The 49ers signed Manningham and he got hurt. Randle (6-3, 210 pounds) is a possession receiver and a red-zone target, but he's also a deep threat. He ran a 4.43 at his Pro Day and averaged 15.7 yards per catch as a rookie (19 catches for 298 yards and 3 TDs).

The fact that Baalke drafted Jenkins and not one of these five players will impact the 49ers for years.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers daily. He writes the "Inside the 49ers" blog for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and has written columns and features for CSNBayArea.com. Follow him on Twitter @grantcohn.

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