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Niners history shows fine guards -- such as Guy McIntyre (above), who helped some great San Francisco teams of the past -- can be taken in the mid rounds of the draft. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Joe Looney was a history major at Wake Forest, but he’s not the only one who’s studied the past and applied it to the future.
So have the San Francisco 49ers.
While many mock drafts going into this year’s NFL selection process had the team selecting a guard in the first round, that line of thinking was off. Right guard might be the only starting position on either offense or defense that is vacant – thanks to the departure of Adam Snyder in free agency – but the Niners knew they could wait.
The strategy? Pick athletic, impact players to help the offense in the first two rounds – the most dynamic players available – and draft for need later.
Terrific offensive linemen often can be found after the first round, particularly on the interior, and the Niners certainly know that from their own history.
Guard Guy McIntyre, a stalwart of the 49ers teams that were winning Super Bowls in the Joe Montana/Steve Young era, was a third-round pick. Offensive tackle Steve Wallace, a McIntyre teammate, was a fourth-round pick. Another outstanding member of that line to earn Super Bowl rings was center Jesse Sapolu, an 11th-round pick. Last year's starting center in San Francisco, Jonathan Goodwin, was a fifth-rounder. Snyder was a third-rounder.
That’s not to say Looney will be in their class. He could be a bust. But Looney was a three-year standout at guard for the Demon Deacons who left a favorable impression on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when he twice played against Harbaugh’s Stanford teams.
In hindsight, it's clear that 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke had his eyes on Looney before the draft, and knew he could be plugged into the competition to fill Snyder’s spot at right guard, along with incumbents Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore (a fifth-round pick in 2011).
Baalke knew there were some guards available in the mid to late rounds that would fill the bill. No need to reach for a lineman in the first, second or third rounds because Looney – and others – would be available later.
The evidence Looney was on their radar: On Saturday, the 49ers, who had traded down twice, suddenly moved up eight spots in the fourth round to pick Looney.
The 6-foot-3, 309-pounder, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference second-team selection as a senior, will now get a chance to see what he can do in training camp against Boone and Kilgore.
Reports were, too, that Looney may have been drafted even higher, but fell because of a foot injury he suffered at the Senior Bowl. Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle reported the injury isn’t supposed to set him back much, however, with full clearance to practice and play expected by June.
As Branch reported, Looney got two thumbs up from NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who said on air at the time of his selection: “This is a good football player. I think he slid a little bit (due to injury).”
Harbaugh told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that one of the things the Niners liked about Looney was the “oomph” and “pizzazz” of his interview with them at the NFL Combine.
Baalke had a plan, followed it and got the best of both worlds: more depth and impact in the offensive skill positions, plus a guard he’s targeted for quite a while.
Yet another reason why mock drafts are often a mockery.