Former Missouri star Aldon Smith, now a 49er, had a terrific rookie season in 2011. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
For an NFL general manager, preparing for the draft is a long, studious process.
For 49ers GM Trent Baalke, for instance, the preparation involves travel to the senior bowl and then the NFL Combine, getting his eyes up close and personal on hundreds of prospects. He watches hundreds of hours of film, sits in on interviews, goes to pro days and reads scouting reports. He leaves no stone unturned.
But when the first round of the NFL Draft comes around this Thursday night, Baalke says his gut will tell him as much as his mind.
When he makes pick No. 30 – or decides to trade it away – his decision will be made as much by his instincts as all the information he’s collected about 40 times and all the plays he’s watched on film.
And, so far in his capacity with the 49ers, fans of the team should be trusting Baalke’s methods going into this draft.
Baalke says last year, for instance, he knew almost immediately that Aldon Smith of Missouri was the man he wanted.
“Five minutes into the film last year, my gut was pretty sold that this guy was going to be a good player,” Baalke told the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows last week. “And it’s turned out, at least in the short term, as being that.”
Baalke believes that initial impressions often are the most telling and true. So he’s learned to pay attention to his first reaction to a player.
“I think a lot of times you spend too much time evaluating certain players, and you either make them better than what they are or worse than what they were,” Baalke told Barrows. “The initial reaction is usually the correct one.”
Baalke also told Barrows that when he made deals last year during the draft to swap choices – that resulted in the drafting of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and guard Daniel Kilgore – they were spur-of-the-moment decisions that felt right.
“I feel if you’re prepared, those decisions are very easy to make on draft day,” Baalke said.
Baalke also calls himself “old school” in that he believes in putting more weight on game film performance than combine and pro day workouts. He’d rather watch what players do in real game situations than what they can do in shirts and shorts in an arena full of NFL looky-loos.
“There are guys here who are going to run in the high 4.3s and the upper 4.4s, but when you turn on the field, you might not see it,” Baalke told reporters at the combine this year, when talking about football speed and 40-yard dash times. “They’re going to be 4.6 guys all day long in pads. It’s, do you buy into the watch or into the film? I hope we continue to buy in the film, the eye-in-the-sky mentality.”
Baalke’s gut and “old-school” methods last year resulted in a draft crop of Smith, Kaepernick, cornerback Chris Culliver, running back Kendall Hunter, Kilgore and Bruce Miller, a defensive end who became the starting fullback.
Not a bad harvest of talent.
We’ll soon find out what his gut is telling him about the prizes in this year’s crop.