The 49ers, who finished 31st in total offense a year ago, drafted a quarterback, running back and wide receiver in quick succession Saturday. But they waited until the sixth round to do so.
Before then, they mostly concentrated on defense – especially cornerbacks – and on big offensive linemen. They drafted heavily from their favorite college locales of the Southeastern Conference. And one of their picks enters the NFL with an ACL injury.
Which is to say, the 2016 draft was vintage Trent Baalke, whose job security as general manager theoretically is wobbly after the team’s recent slide but who did not veer from the distinct pattern he established in previous drafts.
One stretch on Saturday seemed especially representative.
The 49ers made five picks from Round 3 to Round 5. Two of them were cornerbacks from the SEC, Mississippi State’s Will Redmond, who tore his ACL in October, and LSU’s Rashard Robinson. Two others were SEC offensive linemen, Georgia’s John Theus and Mississippi’s Fahn Cooper. The 49ers also selected defensive lineman Ronald Blair from Appalachian State in that span.
Both offensive tackles have experience on the left and right sides and could challenge second-year player Trent Brown for the starting role at right tackle.
“One of the goals in the draft is to make every (position) room as competitive as you can make it,” Baalke said after the draft.
Theus’ and Cooper’s selections also suggest the 49ers are moving on from their one-time right tackle, Anthony Davis, who has griped about Baalke on social media and who has yet to apply for reinstatement with the league office after sitting out last season.
“Que sera, sera,” Davis wrote on Twitter after the 49ers chose both Theus and Cooper in the fifth round. He later deleted the tweet.
Theus, who is 6-6, 313 pounds, noted that he faced some of the most ferocious pass rushers in the nation over the last three seasons.
“No doubt in my mind that I played in the best conference every year I was in college,” he said on a conference call. “I’ve played against the top competition and I’ve seen guys get picked ahead of me that I played and fared well against.”
Heading into the recent draft, Baalke had taken seven cornerbacks, more than any other position. He continued to stock up at that position with Redmond, Robinson and, in the seventh round, Prince Charles Iworah from Western Kentucky.
While Redmond is recovering from an ACL injury – Baalke insists he’ll be healthy for training camp – Robinson had trouble staying on the LSU roster and started only eight games for the Tigers. He was suspended late in the 2014 season and didn’t play at all in 2015. He was arrested in June, but Robinson said the case was thrown out and the records expunged.
He said he had no interaction with Baalke or coach Chip Kelly. But he did have a meaningful, face-to-face meeting last week in Florida with 49ers team pastor Earl Smith.
“It was just a great meeting,” Robinson said. “We sat down and we related about a lot of things. Just hearing his story and him listening to mine – it was a good feeling.”
Baalke had selected only two quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and B.J. Daniels, since he started running the draft in 2010. He added a third in the sixth round in Jeff Driskel, who started his career at an SEC school, Florida, before transferring to Louisiana Tech prior to his senior season. He had 4,033 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions and rushed for 323 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Driskel said he ran a no-huddle, up-tempo offense at Louisiana Tech and noted he also could make plays with his feet via the zone-read option.
“Obviously I don’t know the ins and outs of coach Kelly’s offense,” Driskel said. “Looking forward to doing so. But I just think my pure athletic ability, my ability to throw on the run and the ability to get the ball out quick is something that will help me in that offense.”
Kelly said he had to “sweat out” a few picks, and he called Driskel 20 minutes before the 49ers actually drafted him to see whether the quarterback was drawing attention from any other teams. Driskel joins a quarterback group that also includes Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Thad Lewis and Dylan Thompson.
“Love his athletic ability,” Kelly said of Driskel. “He’s 237 pounds and he ran (a 4.56-second 40-yard dash) at the combine. So he’s got a unique package that you can kind of work with. So that’s exciting to me.”
After Driskel, the 49ers took Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who is the son of former Jaguars tailback Fred Taylor, and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge from Michigan State in the sixth round.