The 49ers have experienced a few home runs, along with many swings and misses, over the past decade of NFL drafts.
Here are their best and worst picks in each round since 2010. (Beginning with the fifth round, there is no need to list worst picks.)
Best: Although the 49ers selected Arik Armstead in the first round the previous year, the 49ers went back to defensive tackle to land DeForest Buckner at No. 7 overall in 2016. Buckner was the team’s best player for most of the four seasons he played for the club. Buckner was so good that the 49ers got four years out of him and then flipped him this offseason to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick. The Colts awarded Buckner a contract that pays him $21 million annually. Armstead (2015), Mike McGlinchey (2018) and Nick Bosa (2019) are also looking good.
Worst: The 49ers traded up to get back into the first round to select Joshua Garnett in 2016. That made little sense at the time because there seemed to be a disconnect between GM Trent Baalke and coach Chip Kelly as to the kind of linemen who were fits for the system. Garnett started 11 games as a rookie, then battled injuries and is now out of the league. Reuben Foster (2017) and A.J. Jenkins (2012) did not turn out well. Solomon Thomas could ultimately go down as the worst pick because of the great players the 49ers passed up at No. 3 overall to select him.
Best: It could end up being wide receiver Deebo Samuel (2019) or safety Jaquiski Tartt (2015), but for now the best selection goes to Colin Kaepernick, who was an effective quarterback for the team on their 2012 run to the Super Bowl and the following season. Kaepernick started 58 regular-season games for the 49ers, during which time the club went 28-30.
Worst: The 49ers selected running back LaMichael James in 2012 despite Frank Gore having plenty of good seasons left in him. James appeared in just 15 regular-season games. He never scored a touchdown and lost five fumbles with the club, including a big turnover in the Super Bowl. The selection of Taylor Mays (2010) was pretty bad, too. He lasted just one season before he was traded away.
Best: The third round has been a sweet spot for the 49ers to find linebackers. NaVorro Bowman (2010) is the best third-round selection for the 49ers of the past decade. Fred Warner (2018) managed to step in as an immediate starter – something even Bowman did not accomplish. Bowman was a four-time All-Pro selection whose career was cut short due to injuries.
Worst: This is a toss-up between Will Redmond (2016) and Corey Lemonier (2013). We’ll go with Redmond because he was one of Baalke’s many ACL picks that never panned out. Redmond never played a snap for the 49ers. To his credit, Redmond saw action in 13 games with two starts last season with the Green Bay Packers. Lemonier was a pass-rusher who registered just one sack for the 49ers in 42 games.
Best: There’s not a lot from which to choose for the 49ers in the fourth round. But based on his longevity – most of it after leaving the 49ers – the honor goes to offensive lineman Joe Looney (2012). Looney has started 30 games in his career, mostly with the Dallas Cowboys. He started four games with the 49ers in 2014.
Worst: This is also a difficult call for different reasons. Running back Marcus Lattimore (2013) was a person of such high character that the 49ers thought it was worth the gamble. But even he says he was shocked the 49ers drafted him because of his significant knee injury. There were plenty of red flags in the past that should have warned the 49ers against drafting cornerback Rashard Robinson (2016) or running back Joe Williams (2017). At least the 49ers somehow got a fifth-round pick from the New York Jets at the 2017 trade deadline. Therefore, the worst pick was Williams. GM John Lynch’s instincts were to keep him off the team’s draft board. But Kyle Shanahan fell in love with the tape, and Lynch decided to trade up to select him in the fourth round.
Best: This is no contest. George Kittle (2017) set the NFL single-season record for most receiving yards from a tight end in just his second NFL season. He is a superstar.
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Best: Nose tackle D.J. Jones (2017) worked his way into a starting role toward the end of his second NFL season. He played well last season as the starter, and could be asked to do more as a pass-rusher this season as the team looks to compensate for Buckner.
Best: Offensive tackle Trent Brown (2016) started 28 games in three seasons for the 49ers before the club traded him to New England, where he won a Super Bowl. He then signed a huge contract with the Raiders in free agency last season and was named to a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.