The Draft, Win Or Lose? - 04/05/2001
As the 49ers get ready for this off-season's draft, I took a moment to reflect back on last seasons draft. Last season, the team put together a draft that was evaluated very highly by most draft gurus. It seems as though the gurus are right. Most of the drafted talents were big contributors last season, particularly on defense where many became instant starter. I thought it would be a good idea though to investigate how good a job the 49ers front office really did and thus decided to evaluate each of last season's 49ers draftees and compare them to the closest draftee from last season at their position. The results* are below.
The 49ers first round last season was tremendous, with linebacker Julian Peterson being the first of two picks. Peterson was a star for the 49ers. He played in thirteen games, and started in eight of them. He recorded forty-six tackles twenty-nine were solo. He also had four sacks and two interceptions. Peterson also has quite a few pass defended and had several other interceptions called back because of penalties. He was also injured for part of the season. Comparably speaking, John Abraham selected by the Jets only played in six games, and did not start in any of them. He recorded only fifteen tackles, eleven of which were solo. He did outscore Peterson with four and half sacks though. Abraham was not on the field as much as Peterson, but clearly Peterson was the better pick here.
The 49ers other first round pick, cornerback, Ahmed Plummer played in all sixteen games during the season, fourteen of which, he started in. He recorded seventy-five tackles, sixty-eight of which were solo. Plummer had zero sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries. Although it took a little while for Plummer to adjust to the NFL, he looks like he has advanced to the next level. He did a good job with the 49ers particularly in the late season. Comparably, Rashad Anderson who was drafted by Carolina played in twelve games but did not start. He recorded twenty-three tackles, twenty-one of which were solo. He too had zero sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries. Again, the 49ers seem to have landed the better of the two picks. Plummer was on the field more than Anderson, and thus was able to make more plays.
In round two, the 49ers first selection was defensive-end John Engelberger. Engelberger was not the star of the 49ers, but his pursuit is quite good, and always seemed to be around the ball. He played in sixteen games; starting thirteen during which time he accumulated thirty-four tackles, twenty-five of which were solo. He also had three sacks from the position. Darren Howard was selected by New Orleans close to Engelberger and played in sixteen games, starting thirteen. He had fifty-one tackles, thirty-six of which were solo. He also recovered two fumbles and had one interception. This looks to be the first selection where the other player had better statistics than the one the 49ers chose.
Cornerback Jason Webster was selected later in the second round. He played in all sixteen games for the 49ers, starting in ten of them. Webster developed into quite a good corner for the 49ers, but was often on the wrong end of referee decisions. He had fifty-nine tackles forty-four were solo. He also recovered one fumble and had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Dallas' Dwayne Goodrich played in five games, but did not start in any. He did not record any tackles or interceptions. This certainly seems to be one comparison that the 49ers take hands down. Webster logged more playing time and was a much bigger impact on the field.
Quarterback Giovanni Carmazzi was the 49ers first, third round draft pick. Carmazzi spent the season on the bench learning the system behind three other quarterbacks. The 49ers believe he has potential, but he has yet to be active in a game. Chris Redman, drafted by Baltimore, participated in two games, and completed two of three pass attempts. He had a quarterback rating of eighty-four. Since both of these quarterbacks did not see much time on field, and spent most of there time simply learning the system, this comparison is inconclusive.
Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was the other third round daft pick. Ulrbich played in four games, and recorded one tackle before bowing out with an injury. The 49ers believe Ulbrich had a ton of potential, but he will have to show it on the field before he gains the confidence of the league. Chicago's Dustin Lyman played in fourteen games, starting seven of them. He recorded six tackles, five of which were solo. Although Lyman recorded more tackles, and game time, he was not very productive on the field. It would thus be unfair to rate him ahead of Ulbrich who was injured for most of the season. Again, the results are inconclusive.
In the fourth round the 49ers selected strong safety John Keith. Keith excelled when given the opportunity. He proved to be a bone crushing tackler, and a playmaker in the six games, (three starts) that he had. He recorded twenty-two tackles and played special teams. He had one interception and one sack. Keith's playing time ended premature with an injury. Kareem Larrimore of Dallas played in fifteen games, starting four. He recorded fifteen tackles, eleven solo. Despite Keith's injury, this comparison tends to lean in Keith's favor who appears to be a future stud at the position.
In the fifth round, the 49ers first selection was running back Paul Smith. Smith was a huge contributor on special teams, and at the half-back position when given the opportunity. He played in ten games and was injured at the beginning of the season. He rushed eighteen times for seventy-two yards, an average of four yards a carry. He also had two receptions. Smith fumbled twice, but also recovered two fumbles (I believe they were his own but have no way of verifying that). Dallas' Michael Wiley also played in ten games, and he too did not start. He rushed twenty-four times for eighty-eight yards and average of three and seven tenths yards per carry. Wiley also had fourteen receptions, one touchdown and three fumble recoveries. Paul Smith seems to be the better of the two in terms of yards per carry, but Wiley was more involved in the Dallas' offense particularly with the touchdown. This appears to be a tie between the two picks.
Defensive end John Milem spent the season on the injured reserve. Greenbay's Kabeer Gbajr-Biamila played in seven games, recording nine tackles and one and half sacks. With Kabeer's production was nothing dramatic and again the results are inconclusive.
The 49ers did not select in the sixth round, but in the seventh round, they had two selections. The first was quarterback Tim Ratty who the 49ers see lots of potential in. Ratty spent his time as the third string quarterback last season, playing in only one game, where he completed one pass in one attempt for negative yardage. His quarterback rating was just over seventy-nine. Denver's Jarious Jackson did not see much action either. He played in two games, was sacked once, and had only one pass attempt. His quarterback rating was almost fourty. Unfortunately, as with Carmazzi, it is very hard to evaluate quarterbacks in their first year, primarily because most see very little action. The results of this comparison were inconclusive for that reason.
The 49ers final selection of the draft was tight end Brian Jennings. Jennings played in all sixteen games for the 49ers, but played as a long snapper rather than a tight end. Jennings excelled at the long snapping position, leaving the 49ers very satisfied with his abilities. New Orleans' Kevin Houser played in only two games, during which he was a non-factor. The 49ers again seem to have the advantage with their selection.
It appears that the 49ers made some very wise choices in the draft last season. Despite some inconclusive comparisons due to injury or 'quarterback' the 49ers did very well in last season's draft. By comparison, the 49ers got the better player five times, losing only once, tying once with four inconclusive results. The draft gurus seem to have been right, as with the lasting impression that the fans were left with; let's hope that the team can reproduce in this off-season's draft.
*In analyzing opposition's talent I looked for the closest player drafted regardless of whether that was before or after the 49ers selection but did not factor in injuries, and the reasons why their play time may have been reduced (i.e. veterans already at the position). While these are clearly important variables, there are only so many things that can be analyzed in one article. If you would like more research on one of these comparisons to be done, please e-mail me.