This year’s NFL Draft had multiple intriguing storylines. The first round slide of Johnny Football, the selection of the first openly gay player, Michael Sam, and the introduction of Baalke Ball. Ok, I made the last one up, but it’s something worth examining.
Overall, the San Francisco 49ers had a successful draft. They entered with 11 picks and turned that into 12, filling needs in the secondary, offensive line and on special teams. They also pulled off a huge trade, acquiring Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills for a 2015 conditional 4th round pick. The Niners also drafted injured players with huge upside in the hopes they will eventually fill voids left by free agents and aging members of the roster. All these moves are just part of Trent Baalke’s draft system, or, as I’ve dubbed, Baalke Ball.
While I was surprised San Francisco didn’t trade up in the first round, eventually taking Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois, who will likely compete with Eric Wright for the nickel corner slot, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was just the calm before the storm. Day 2 turned into a trade-a-palooza, with the 49ers making five trades throughout the day, including the deal for Johnson. That trade immediately turns a perceived team weakness into an absolute strength, as the receiving corps looks downright deadly. They now have the necessary weapons to spread the field, which should give Colin Kaepernick plenty of space and time to be a playmaker.
The selection of injured players Brandon Thomas and Keith Reaser is quickly becoming a trend for the Niners. This is the second consecutive year that the team has selected players who will miss the entire 2014 season. Football fans often think of redshirting as a college term, but San Francisco has begun stashing talent in the hopes they will pay dividends in the future. With Marcus Lattimore and Tank Carradine expected to compete for playing time this year, the Red and Gold are hopeful Thomas and Reaser can rehab their injuries and compete to make an impact in 2015. For a more detailed breakdown of our draft, check out the article here.
Baalke’s strategy is an interesting one, but one that could prove fruitful for the Faithful. While this draft class may not make an immediate impact, the 49ers have decided to build for the future, thus extending their championship window. There’s nothing wrong with that, considering this year’s team looks like a juggernaut, and, in my opinion, a Super Bowl favorite. If the Quest for Six proves to be successful this year, Baalke Ball is here to stay.
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