INDIANAPOLIS -- It's the oldest rule in the book: In the NFL, you build through the draft. But the San Francisco 49ers, who were a few plays and a couple of interesting calls from a Super Bowl victory a couple of weeks ago, are still looking for a few more on-field results from a 2012 draft class that has was underwhelming at best in Year 1. The good news from an organizational perspective was that the 49ers did not need any of its seven draft selections to start a single game in order to succeed.
The bad news, from a draft value perspective, is that it's exactly what happened. Not a single start for a draft class? No matter how stacked you are, that's bad news. Especially following a 2011 class that featured several key starters -- end Aldon Smith, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and fullback Bruce Miller. The follow-up group, led by receiver A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James, pales in comparison -- at least, so far. James came on late in the season and through the playoffs, but Jenkins didn't get his first official target until New Year's Eve -- and he dropped it. All involved can only hope that the new year will being different results.
Now, head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are back in Indy, starting their evaluation process at the 2013 scouting combine. General Manager Trent Baalke talked with the media on Thursday morning about how teams with extreme depth can afford to take the long view in a league where most teams need their rookies to make an impact right away.
"You go into the draft, and you draft guys -- you know what their strong points and weaknesses are," Baalke said. "Then, it's up to them. A.J.'s a young man who's worked awfully hard, and he's going to continue to work awfully hard. I believe he's either in Atlanta, or on his way to Atlanta, where our quarterback is, and they're going to go at it this offseason. The biggest growth in players is always between Year 1 and Year 2, and we expect that's going to happen with A.J., just as we do with all our young players.
"I think it was Coach [Bill] Belichick or Coach [Bill] Parcells who said years ago that if you're getting a ton of production, and a bunch of guys making your team from your draft class, you're probably not in a position to make the Super Bowl. Maybe there is something to that, I don't know. But we feel good about the class. We didn't get a lot of production out of that class, but if you look at the players we drafted, and the positions they were drafted at, there were a lot of positions loaded with depth."
And that's why the 49ers can take a different view, whether that was the intention or not.
"I think the question always comes back to the higher picks," Baalke concluded when I asked him if that perspective was intentional. "We feel very good about A.J., and we feel very good about LaMichael James. We feel good about that bunch of guys. Joe Looney, who came in off an injury into an offensive line that was a pretty good group. We weren't expecting a ton of production, to be honest with you.
"Did we get what we expected? That's yet to be determined. There's a lot of years left on those playing careers."
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