Sunday, April 30, 2006

Calling Out Mike Nolan
By Blogger

When Mike Nolan took over the 49ers, relieving the world of the Dennis Erickson Fiasco, Niners fans believed we had competency again. We didn't dare dream Nolan was an excellent coach; competent would do. But as Nolan's first year at the lead dragged on, my confidence in him receded.

- He didn't play Kevan Barlow enough to pump up counting stats to the point that he would have the sheen of value, and at the same time didn't play Frank Gore enough to establish him as a legitimate starting back.
- He traded Tim Rattay, a solid NFL backup quarterback, six months too early, forcing Alex Smith into a starting role partway through the season instead of holding him out until he had something resembling a pro team around him.
- He conditioned the players to speak like automatons in public. No one ever questions anything about him or the team. On one hand, it's admirable that he has everyone on the same page. On the other hand, it's kind of creepy to never admit that anything is wrong or frustrating.

Now, it appears he's utterly screwed up the 2006 draft. First, Vernon Davis may be a freak of a tight end. However, tight end is probably the least of their worries. Eric Johnson, at worst, a perfectly passable tight end, and at best, a borderline All Pro, will return to give Alex Smith his short yardage dumpoff option. If the Niners were going to actually use the number six pick, they had to go with defense since Bush and D'Brickashaw were gone and they couldn't draft a quarterback. With AJ Hawk gone, Michael Huff, the consensus best defensive back still on the board, would have been a great pick there. The Niners' secondary was so pitiful last year, even before injuries, that Huff would be an immediate, clear, upgrade at cornerback.

But even then, as soon as the Packers took Hawk, someone at Radio City Music Hall should have simply stood up and shouted, "WHO WANTS LEINART?!?!?!" and let the bidding commence. As it turned out, the Broncos traded the 15th pick and their third round pick for the 11th pick in order to grab Jay Cutler. If I find out the Niners rejected that same offer for the 6th pick, I will break something.

With the 15th and 22nd picks, they could have gotten both Manny Lawson and Winston Justice, addressing both defense and protecting Alex Smith with the best available lineman. The thing is, though, while Lawson was a good value pick, he projects to play linebacker in a 3-4, and the Niners' linebackers were their strongest unit last year. Even with Julian Peterson gone, Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich return. Really, if Hawk wasn't there, they needed either a true lineman, or a defensive back.

But it got worse early on the second day, when they picked Michael Robinson, Penn State's quarterback who projects to wide receiver at the next level. I wonder if they intend to use him as a multipurpose offensive threat. Unless they think he can be a full time starting wide receiver, or a full time quarterback, it's a pointless pick. In Cody Pickett and Rasheed Marshall, they already have two guys on the team who could play either wide receiver or quarterback, but aren't particularly good at either. If they want a super-athlete to be the backup quarterback, then wouldn't Marshall, the Big East player of the year as a senior quarterback, make much more sense? It just seems to me that having one of those guys around can be useful, but three of them just means you've got mediocre wide receiver return type guys who can throw better than your average wideout, but ultimately won't be as useful as three true wide receivers.

Honeymoon: Over.


Blogger Alex said...

I agree with everything you said. A few points:

- I can understand their concerns about Eric Johnson's durability, I just find it hard to believe that, in a draft this flush with tight ends, they wouldn't have been better served drafting one in the third round (even if it meant sacrficing 1-2 day two picks to move up) and using their first pick on the defensive side of the ball.

- Putting Michael Robinson aside for a second, I don't understand why they spent two mid-round picks on wide receivers when they have guys like Marshall and Battle who project to be 3rd/4th receivers. I don't see either of the guys the Niners picked having more upside than that.

- Robinson can project at either RB, WR, or Safety. So unless he can play strong safety and fill in when Tony Parrish inevitably gets hurt, then they spent a 4th rounder on either a third-string tailback or a guy who will begin the season at 5th or 6th on the wide receiver depth chart.

- As a final note on Robinson and the true wide receivers that they picked, I have no problem picking the best player available, even if it doesn't fill a need, but I have a tough time believing that anyone would have considered these guys the best player available when they came off the board.

- The only two picks I like are on the defensive side of the ball - Lawson and Parys Haralson. I've never seen Haralson play, but most people considered him a day one pick, so getting him in the fifth round could be a steal.

- In hindsight, what bothers me the most is the knowledge that we could have drafted Braylon Edwards (or gone off the board for Shawn Merriman or Derrick Johnson) last year, and then ended up with a better QB prospect than Alex Smith with this year's first rounder.

11:35 AM  
Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said...

I still don't understand the Rattay decision. Smith was in no way ready to take over when he did. Having said that I think because he is still developing he will need a great safety valve receiver and maybe Davis will be it.

11:58 AM  

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