The future of the 49ers' 2012 draft class


The future of the 49ers' 2012 draft class

SANTA CLARA -- A year ago, the 49ers required immediate help from their rookie class.The 49ers needed a pass-rusher, so they used the seventh overall pick to select Aldon Smith. He was immediately penciled in as a defensive end in pass-rush situations. He would have a full season to learn how to make the transition to an every-down outside linebacker, which he has successfully done in Year 2.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was chosen in the second round to see if he could unseat Alex Smith. Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and lineman Daniel Kilgore -- the selections in the third, fourth and fifth rounds -- were added for depth.Injuries allowed Culliver a chance to take over as the third cornerback. Hunter beat out Anthony Dixon to become the No. 2 running back. And Kilgore was inactive most of the season but now is a top backup.This year, the 49ers have needed nothing from their rookie class. And they've gotten nothing.RELATED: Healthy team means no need for rookies Jenkins or James
The 49ers returned every starter on defense. On offense, the 49ers had two holes. They promoted Alex Boone to start at right guard, and they signed veteran receiver Mario Manningham to fill the other starting job.When I asked coach Jim Harbaugh on Wednesday about the contributions -- or lack thereof -- from the 49ers' rookie class, he said it was a matter of the 49ers remaining healthy.So what's the plan for these guys? The 49ers have not slotted any of these players into roles as future starters because Harbaugh has repeatedly said jobs must be earned.Here is a look at where each member of the 49ers' 2012 draft class could fit in:WR A.J. Jenkins, first round: It would probably take two injuries for him to get a chance to play as a rookie. Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn rank ahead of him on the depth chart. Moss and Ginn are signed only through this season. Manningham and Williams have deals that expire after 2013. Crabtree is signed through 2014. Jenkins had an up-and-down first offseason with the club. Some of the flashes he showed on the practice field were spectacular. If Moss is not back on the team next season, Jenkins has a chance to surpass Williams as the No. 3 receiver. Williams has the advantage of versatility. He figures to have a spot because of his contributions in the return game. Games in uniformgames played: 10.RB LaMichael James, second round: He bypassed his final season at Oregon to jump to the NFL. And James has not suited up for a game, as he is stacked behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. James is also behind veteran Brandon Jacobs, who has not played season, either. So for James to see action this season, it would likely take two or three injuries to players ahead of him. Gore and Hunter are both signed through 2014. Dixon, who is active for games because of his play on special teams, is signed through 2013. Jacobs signed a one-year deal and does not figure to be back next season. The 49ers work daily with James on handling punts. If he can become reliable in that area, perhaps he has a future in the return game, as well as a change-of-pace back. Games in uniformgames played: 00.OL Joe Looney, fourth found: He got a late starter after recovering from a foot injury. When he saw action in the exhibition season, he was the team's most-impressive rookie. The 49ers have a young offensive line at the guard and tackle positions. The only opening for a starting job in the near future could be at center. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin is scheduled to make 3.7 million next season in the final year of his contract. Goodwin has played very well, so the 49ers might not feel the urge to make any change there. Kilgore, who is Goodwin's backup this season, and Looney figure to be competing in the future. Games in uniformgames played: 00.OLB Darius Fleming, fifth round: He sustained a torn ACL in his left knee during rookie minicamp and is out for the season. He will have a chance to return next season to compete for a roster spot as a backup to Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Games in uniformgames played: 00.S Trenton Robinson, sixth round: He is the team's fifth safety behind starters Dashon Goldson and Donte Whiter, and veteran backups C.J. Spillman and Darcel McBath. Robinson is the only 49ers draft pick who has gotten on the field this season. He had one special-teams tackle while suiting up for the first three weeks. He has been inactive for the past five games. Whitner is signed through 2013, and Goldson is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season. The 49ers could retain Goldson with another franchise tag of 7.45 million next season. Robinson will have a chance to work his way up the ladder in future seasons. Games in uniformgames played: 33.OL Jason Slowey, sixth round: He was among the 49ers' first cuts of training camp and he was not brought back to the practice squad. The Raiders recently signed him to their practice squad. Games in uniformgames played: 00.OLB Cameron Johnson, seventh round: He underwent offseason knee surgery and did not play much in the exhibition season. He was among the 49ers' final cuts and is now on the team's practice squad. He will compete, along with Fleming, for a backup role next season. Games in uniformgames played: 00. Undrafted rookie tight end Garrett Celek has contributed more than the entire 2012 draft class combined. He has suited up for each of the past five games. He sees limited action as the No. 3 tight end behind Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, but he has two catches for 10 yards. With Walker scheduled for unrestricted free agency, it's possible Celek could be the 49ers' primary backup next season.

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

PHOENIX – Coach Kyle Shanahan walked into a position with the 49ers in which he had no quarterbacks on the roster.

On the first two days of free agency, the 49ers added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. He determined they were better fits for the offense he would be installing over Colin Kaepernick, who started 64 regular-season and postseason games for the 49ers over the past 4 ½ seasons.

Shanahan appeared to be looking for quarterbacks who are more proficient at going through progressions and making plays from the pocket. Kaepernick was not deemed as a good fit for Shanahan's offense.

“Colin’s had a great career, and he’s done some really good things,” Shanahan said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think Colin has a certain skillset that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in.

“When we first looked at it, you got to look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in. That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to put in a different type of offense.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. General manager John Lynch has confirmed the 49ers would have released Kaepernick if he had not opted out of his deal.

“The type of offense I wanted to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that type of direction,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers’ top target in free agency was Hoyer, who enters his ninth NFL season with his sixth different team. Shanahan was offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 in Hoyer’s second and final season with the club.

Hoyer started five games with Chicago in 2016 before getting sidelined with broken left arm. Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in 200 attempts.

“All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that,” Shanahan said. “He’s obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He’ll be able to execute and run it. That gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, it doesn’t always matter what the O-line or the receivers are doing.

“With Brian, you have a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless, will keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots. It gives people a chance to be successful.”

The 49ers also reached a contract agreement with Barkley, who started six games with the Bears due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Hoyer. Barkley saw the most extensive playing time of his career. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

“Just watching Matt since college, Matt’s always been a solid player, even coming out and playing at an early age at (USC),” Shanahan said. “He’s battle-tested in that way. He’s gone through the pressure of college, the pressure of the draft, being in the NFL, being with some different teams. Even watching Matt in Chicago this year, I think he played better this year than he has throughout his career. That means the guy is continuing to work at it.”

The 49ers figure to go to training camp with four quarterbacks, so the team is not finished at the quarterback position.

“We’ll look to add anyone who can really help us,” Shanahan said. “I’m very happy with the two we got. You know we’re not only going to take two to camp. So we got to see how the draft works out and then you see what else is out there.”

Goodell reacts to suggestion Kaepernick is being 'blackballed'

Goodell reacts to suggestion Kaepernick is being 'blackballed'

PHOENIX – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he does not believe quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being “blackballed” in his attempt to continue his career.

“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that that’s an issue,” Goodell said during his press conference to conclude the NFL owners meetings.

“My experience in 35 years is that our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try to improve their teams. But if they think a player can help improve their team, they’re going to do that.”

Kaepernick remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent after opting out of his 49ers contract earlier this month. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman this week was asked on ESPN’s "First Take" whether he felt Kaepernick was being blackballed.

"I'm sure he is," Sherman answered. "It's difficult to see because he's played at such a high level, and you see guys, quarterbacks, who have never played at a high level being signed by teams. So it's difficult to understand."

General manager John Lynch on Tuesday said the 49ers have not had any contact with Kaepernick since he and coach Kyle Shanahan met with Kaepernick on Feb. 22 in Santa Clara. The 49ers signed free-agent quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley have shown no interest in re-signing Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, 29, created a controversy last season when he opted to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States. Kaepernick has decided to stand for the national anthem this season.

Earlier in the day, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it was “stupid” and “intellectually lazy” to think teams have colluded to keep Kaepernick out of the league. Last week, former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, John’s brother, said Kaepernick is still an outstanding player and can win championships.

“I absolutely think he’s going to get signed,” John Harbaugh said. “I agree with Jim. He can win games for people.”