Failure of Recent Drafts a Key to 49ers' Decline - NBC Bay Area
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Failure of Recent Drafts a Key to 49ers' Decline

Baalke has had some success, but failure to land key replacements and playmakers -- especially on the offensive line -- has contributed to San Francisco's steep fall in 2015

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    Failure of Recent Drafts a Key to 49ers' Decline
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    Rookie defensive end Arik Armstead (No. 91) seems to have a solid future with the 49ers, but many other draftees since 2011 have not contributed in big ways. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

    Over the past four seasons, the 49ers have picked up some solid talent in the draft.

    In 2013, No. 1 pick Eric Reid has become a Pro Bowl safety. A year later, running back Carlos Hyde, taken in the second round, has shown that he could be excellent, and linebacker Chris Borland (now retired) was a force as a rookie. Defensive end Arik Armstead, the No. 1 pick this season, also has flashed potential as a run stopper and pass rusher.

    But the successful picks have been few. From the vantage point of late October, 2015, the 49ers have spiraled downward to a 2-5 record and last-place in the NFC West in large part because general manager Trent Baalke has missed on several high picks who – with the departures of key veterans through retirement and free agency – could be playing large roles for the franchise.

    The 2012 draft was a painful failure. Wideout A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James didn’t fit in. And guard Joe Looney – who could have been important this year with the departure of Mike Iupati – hasn’t worked out.

    In 2013, after Reid, defensive end Tank Carradine, tight end Vance McDonald, linebacker Corey Lemonier and wideout Quinton Patton all are on the roster and contributing – but none is a difference-making playmaker.

    In 2014, top pick Jimmie Ward is contributing, as is Hyde, but third-round pick Marcus Martin, a touted center from USC, has struggled and been a big reason the offensive line this season is the team’s weakest link. Also in the third round, the 49ers took lineman Brandon Thomas, whom they believed could be a terrific guard. This was to be his breakout year. Yet he, too, has failed to live up to hopes.

    This season’s class is still too young to evaluate. Safety Jaquiski Tartt, with the injury to Antoine Bethea, is about to play a much larger role. And linebacker Eli Harold, tight end Blake Bell and running back Mike Davis have contributed. Punter Bradley Pinion also has been solid. But two offensive lineman, Ian Silberman and Trenton Brown, have failed to help where help is needed.

    After this season – if the team continues its steep decline – it’s possible the franchise could endure another big shakeup. Head coach Jim Tomsula could go, along with his staff. He’ll certainly receive plenty of blame. But Baalke also could be on the hot seat. He’s failed to produce elite replacements along the offensive line, at wide receiver, tight end, cornerback and inside linebacker.

    The failure to produce consistent high-end contributors since his outstanding draft of 2011 is now painfully obvious.