At Oregon, running back LaMichael James had the ability to score from anywhere on the field. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Often in his first year with the 49ers, head coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned the importance of self-scouting.
How its important to take a step back, look at your own team and assess its strengths and weaknesses. It’s sometimes a difficult thing to do in the heat of an NFL season, with a focus forward on each opponent and the challenges ahead every week.
But it’s obvious that Harbaugh, General Manager Trent Baalke and the rest of the 49ers staff took a long look at their team after last season and came to the same conclusion.
The Niners’ offense in 2011 essentially was the lightweight on a heavyweight team. While the team’s defense dominated opponents and special teams were a strength, the offense relied on a game of ground control, short passes and playing mistake-free football.
As Harbaugh and Baalke looked at the offense, they could see it needed quick-strike capability.
The self-scouting analysis revealed a need for speed, and that’s what the 49ers pursued with the addition of wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round and running back LaMichael James in the second.
Not everyone agreed with the 49ers’ strategy, however. While the 49ers Sunday were talking about how pleased they were with their choices, San Francisco’s draft was considered just average by most observers.
The NFL Network gave the 49ers an overall grade of B for their work in the draft. Fox Sports gave them a C+. USA Today ranked the Niners 23rd out of 32 teams. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave them a C+.
Yet the 49ers had a strategy and stuck to it. The offense needs to be quicker in 2012. It needs the ability to score with big plays, not just sustained marches. It needs to be able to break away in the red zone. It needs speed, and with the addition of Jenkins and James, it has it.
“Our defense does play at a high level and plays fast,” Baalke told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch at the conclusion of the draft this weekend. “And we needed to add some pieces to the offense to allow us to do the same thing from an offensive perspective.”
Harbaugh added that Jenkins and James are football players first, speed guys second. They produced for big programs in college and know how to play the game.
“We didn’t take guys who were just speed guys,” Harbaugh told Branch. “Not just workout-warrior-type guys, but football players.”
James, especially, had the ability to score from anywhere on the field while starring at Oregon. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock says James gives the 49ers “the rare ability to hit a home run anywhere in the park.”
So, time will tell. With a now-deep backfield and receiving corps, the 49ers’ top two picks may have trouble getting playing time. They’ll have to compete and force the issue. They’ll have to prove themselves.
But there’s no question the 49ers self-scouted themselves and addressed the weakness they saw in free agency (with Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Brandon Jacbos) and the draft (Jenkins and James).
Wrote Monte Poole, the longtime Bay Area News Group columnist:
“Every front office sets the offseason goal of using free agency and the draft to address its most pressing needs. The 49ers went beyond that.
“They didn’t merely address their most glaring weakness. They attacked it with a vengeance.”