Paul Gutierrez breaks down the 2016 San Francisco 49ers draft class.
My take: At 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year for 2015 is an athletic freak who can help resuscitate the Niners’ pass rush. Buckner had 10.5 sacks with 83 tackles, including 17 for loss, with a TFL in 12 of 13 games last season. He also batted down nine passes in his final two seasons in Eugene. The Niners have to be thrilled Buckner fell to them, as he has the potential to revitalize the rush defense, which allowed 2,020 yards on the ground, its most since 1980, and 20 rushing touchdowns. Plus, the Niners had a mere 13 sacks last season when sending four or fewer pass-rushers, which was tied for the second fewest in the NFL.
A trendy pick: Leave it to Niners general manager Trent Baalke to buck a trend while creating one of his own: The 49ers have now selected Oregon defensive ends in the first round in consecutive years after no Oregon defensive ends were picked in the first round from 1967 through 2014. The Niners also have now picked a defensive end with the No. 7 pick of the draft four times in the common draft era: Buckner, Aldon Smith (2011), Andre Carter (2001) and Bryant Young (1994).
Feeling comfortable: Kelly knows what he likes, and he likes what he knows. How else would one describe what the former Oregon coach does come draft time? Kelly, who spent the previous three years coaching the Eagles, as well as being the football czar in Philadelphia, has now drafted 10 of his 22 players from the Pac-12.
My take: So, let’s get this straight: The Niners surrendered their second-rounder, which was No. 37 overall, to move up nine spots to draft ... a guard? Sure, Garnett won the 2015 Outland Trophy, given to the top college interior lineman, but he is a left guard, and the Niners’ big free-agent acquisition this offseason was ... left guard Zane Beadles. Strange pick, indeed, considering the bigger need is at right tackle. Plus, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound All-American Garnett, while a powerful interior run-blocker, is seen as a power-scheme O-lineman, but the Niners are switching to a zone-blocking scheme. It is the third time the 49ers have selected an interior lineman with a first-round pick and first since they elected Mike Iupati with the No. 17 pick in 2010.
Runnin’ wild? The 49ers are apparently making a concerted effort to run the ball after averaging just under four yards per rush last season and gaining a league-low 1.8 yards before initial contact. Garnett was a road-grader at Stanford; the Cardinal averaged 6.2 yards per carry to the left side and 4.4 yards per carry everywhere else. Yes, Garnett started at left guard all 14 games for the Cardinal. But it bears repeating: The 49ers are switching to a zone-blocking scheme.
Going with what he knows: New coach Chip Kelly, who cut his college coaching teeth at Oregon, has now drafted 11 of his 23 picks as an NFL head coach from the Pac-12, including both of the Niners’ first-round picks -- Garnett and Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, who went No. 7 overall. And the past three Stanford players drafted in the first round have been offensive linemen.
My take: Surprised? You shouldn’t be. General manager Trent Baalke has a certain fascination with players who enter the draft rehabbing a torn ACL, essentially giving them a medical redshirt year. Baalke has drafted seven players since 2013 who are recovering from knee injuries. Still, Baalke said he expects Redmond to be ready for the start of training camp. In that event, the Niners actually had bigger needs at inside linebacker and receiver and, maybe even quarterback. But by passing over Michigan State’s Connor Cook, does that mean the Niners are finally all-in with Colin Kaepernick?
Will he play? According to Baalke, yes. In fact, Baalke expects Redmond to be a ready for training camp and sees him as a nickel back, even if that was the job of 2014 first-rounder Jimmie Ward. If so, then Ward transitions to safety full-time, which is where 2015 second-rounder Jaquiski Tartt took over at strong safety after the injury to Antoine Bethea last season. “Well, I’m just trying to get there, work hard,” Redmond said on a conference call. “Get with the trainers, get back healthy. That’s my biggest focus right now. Get back healthy. Get back on the field. Get ready to play. Get ready to do my best for the 49ers.”
A glut in the secondary? Redmond, who had three interceptions last season at Mississippi State, joins a young and, some would say, deep secondary with cornerbacks Kenneth Acker, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Cromartie, Chris Davis, Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser and safeties Ward, Bethea, Tartt, L.J. McCray and Eric Reid. Yes, it was the fourth straight year the Niners have taken a defensive back in the first three rounds.
My take: Don’t confuse depth with quality of depth, because though we have gone over how many cornerbacks the 49ers have on the roster -- Kenneth Acker, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Cromartie, Chris Davis, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser -- they also drafted Will Redmond, who had an ACL injury last season, in the third round. Robinson, a big cornerback at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, played in eight games last season and had 17 tackles and a pass breakup, but did not have an interception. Many see Robinson as a high-risk, high-reward player having been suspended by LSU for what was reported to be a violation of team rules.
My take: A tweener as a 3-4 defensive end, Blair is a run-stuffer at 6-foot-3, 279 pounds. He had 7.5 sacks last season and 16 of his 71 tackles were for a loss. Blair may not contribute immediately, but he is the second defensive end drafted by the Niners, along with first-rounder DeForest Buckner, who went seventh overall. Blair might be a rotational player on the line, along with the likes of Quinton Dial, Arik Armstead, Glenn Dorsey and Buckner. Blair went with the third pick of the fifth round, No. 142 overall.
My take: The Niners finally got around to addressing the right side of the offensive line by taking Theus, who is a big body at 6-foot-6, 305 pounds and seen as a bruiser with 34 ½-inch arms. Initially, he might be a swing tackle who works best in the run game. Theus and last year’s seventh-rounder, Trent Brown, all 6-8, 355 pounds of him, could make for an interesting camp battle at right tackle.
My take: The Niners used two of their three fifth-round selections on offensive tackles, and by selecting Stanford left guard Joshua Garnett in the first round, it marked the first time since 1998 they had taken three offensive linemen in the same draft. Cooper, at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, may not be as big as fellow fifth-rounder John Theus (6-6, 305) or last year’s seventh-rounder Trent Brown (6-8, 355) but, like Theus, seems to fit best as a rookie as a swing tackle or right guard given his success in tight quarters. Not sure the 49ers want Anthony Davis to unretire and return to Santa Clara.
My take: No, this may not have been a shot across the bow of the S.S. Blaine Gabbert or even the S.S. Colin Kaepernick. Rather, Jeff Driskel should be a warning to the likes of Dylan Thompson and Thad Lewis. So to speak. Because in Driskel, the Niners acquired the fastest QB at the combine as he ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash (Kaepernick ran a 4.53 in 2011). He is also the first QB drafted by the Niners since 2013 (B.J. Daniels in the seventh round) and the first QB drafted by Chip Kelly since Matt Barkley in 2013. And even though he is just the 14th QB drafted this year, the Florida transfer says he compares himself to both Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. “I think that, you know, I’m a rare talent,” Driskel, who threw for 4,033 yards, 27 TDs and 8 INTs at La. Tech last season while completing 62.4 percent of his passes, said on a conference call. “I think my ability doesn’t come around every day…obviously I wasn’t picked as high as I would have liked to go but all you can ask for is a chance, and that’s what I have now. I’m going to compete my tail off and learn and give it everything I have. I know I have the ability to do it and I know the coaches are in place to help me maximize my potential.”
My take: Ten different backs carried the ball for the Niners’ injury-wracked running back corps last season but starter Carlos Hyde insists the stress fracture in his left foot is fully healed and Shaun Draughn proved more than a capable backup. The rest? That’s why the Niners felt the need to draft the 5-foot-10, 210-pound son of former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor. The younger Taylor is a grinder, averaging 4.0 yards per carry last season for the Gators while rushing for 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 17 passes for 150 yards and no TDs.
My take: The 49ers are likely not going to re-sign their top pass catcher of the past three seasons in Anquan Boldin and they don’t really have another possession-type receiver on the roster with NFL experience. Enter Burbridge, who, at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds is a near physical clone of Boldin and whose game is similar as an across-the-middle threat. Burbridge was seen as a security blanket, of sorts, for quarterback Conor Cook in catching 85 passes for 1,258 yards and seven TDs. He is far from a burner, though, and that’s OK, given the Niners already having Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington to fill those speedy roles. Of course, last year’s Team ACL member, draft pick DeAndre Smelter, is also hopeful to fill the role of complementary possession receiver for the Niners.
Round 7, Pick No. 249: Prince Charles Iworah, CB, Western Kentucky
My take: The Niners already had a lot of cornerbacks entering the draft so of course they drafted three more -- Mississippi State’s Will Redmond, who is recovering from an ACL injury, in the third round, LSU’s Rashard Robinson, who was kicked off the LSU team, and Iworah. But perhaps the most intriguing, from a measurable point of view, anyway, was Iworah, who ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash, had 25 reps in the 225-pound bench press, had a 38.5-inch vertical jump and went 10-feet-8 inches in the broad jump. The 5-foot-9, 192-pound Iworah had four interceptions and 42 tackles in 14 games for Western Kentucky last season.