The San Francisco 49ers changed their head coach and general manager prior to the 2011-2012 season. In my humble opinion, the successful result of the new acquisitions last season has lead to something more more exciting for 49er fans… a changed culture.
The 49ers demonstrate the culture change within the organization by the result of last years draft and the prospects selected in this years draft. Last season, rookies Aldon Smith, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter, and Bruce Miller all contributed significant minutes in both the regular and post season. All four rookies weren’t household names heading into the draft, but they were “football players” in the eyes of head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke. In the most recent draft the 49ers went with that same strategy by drafting the players they recognized as football players and not merely athletes.
The most exciting picks that San Francisco made came in the first two rounds of the draft. Wide Receiver AJ Jenkins was selected in the first round during the 30th pick. Jenkins came as a surprise to some but his speed and hands bring versatility to a much improved receiver corp. Later, in the second round, LaMichael James, running back, was selected by the Niners and fans can look forward to his abilities. James ranked top five in nearly every running back workout and has the ability to break the big plays that were seldom seen a season ago.
The last five selections the 49ers made averaged more than 35 career collegiate starts.
Lineman Joe Looney was taken in the 4th round by the red and gold. He slipped in the draft because of a foot injury he sustained during the Senior Bowl which caused him to miss the NFL combine and Wake Forest’s pro day. Looney’s strength can earn him a starting spot as early as his rookie season.
The last pick the 49ers made in the draft, Cam Johnson, was a very highly skilled linebacker at Virginia that was passed up because of his sickle-cell anemia which causes extreme exhaustion during intense physical activities. Johnson started three years in college so it is unclear how serious his disorder is but his skills in rushing the quarterback will benefit the Niners.
Heading into the next season we will witness again how a collective of football players match up in a league dominated by athleticism. The 49ers have a tough schedule, but will have an opportunity to match or best last year’s 13-3 mark because of their changed culture.