When they look at their hand right now, the 49ers find a few cards missing.
As has been thoroughly discussed this week, including by general manager John Lynch himself, the Niners currently own zero selections in Rounds 2, 3 and 4. A lot can change, and will, before the draft wraps up Saturday afternoon. I’m guessing the 49ers will not be mere bystanders in those three rounds. If they are, they will become the first NFL team in 13 years not to make a pick between the first round and the fifth.
Everyone still talks about the 1999 Saints, who traded their entire mound of draft gold to Washington for the No. 5 overall pick, which New Orleans used to select running back Ricky Williams. (Spoiler: It was a terrible deal for the Saints, and especially for their head coach, Mike Ditka.) Eight years after that, Washington did the selling rather than the buying.
The 2007 R-words remain the most recent NFL team to make no picks in Rounds 2-4.
How did they get there? They had traded their second-rounder to the Jets in 2006, along with a couple other picks, to move up in the second round that year. Mortgaging the future for the present is rarely a good plan in the NFL, and it wasn’t in this case. The Racialslurs’ 2007 third-rounder, meanwhile, departed in a three-team trade that brought running back T.J. Duckett to Washington. The fourth-rounder went to Santa Clara, part of the package that sent wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to the nation’s capital.
Thus, Washington drafted safety LaRon Landry with the sixth pick in the first round, then waited until the fifth to take a linebacker named Dallas Sartz.
My previous post here made an argument for disregarding the 49ers’ current void in the middle rounds. The R-words’ experience is sort of an opposing argument, because the 1997 draft did not go well for them. Landry was a good player. He made a Pro Bowl. But the latter rounds netted Sartz, linebacker H.B. Blades, quarterback Jordan Palmer (Carson’s younger and less accomplished brother) and tight end Tyler Ecker. After Landry, that’s a combined career AV of 9. For comparison purposes, Ahkello Witherspoon has a career AV of 10.
Monday, Lynch insisted he has no regrets about trading three draft picks for Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders, because they helped get the 49ers to a Super Bowl. The same could not be said of Washington’s maneuverings in 2006-07.
They had used that elevated second-round pick in 2006 to draft linebacker Rocky McIntosh. He was a solid player who started 69 games over six seasons with the Slurs. But Duckett spent one insignificant season in Washington, rushing for just 132 yards in 10 games. And Lloyd had only slightly more impact there: 25 receptions (on 68 targets!) over two seasons, for 379 yards and zero touchdowns. His best years came before and after that.
Taking a longer view, the 2007 draft didn’t exactly kill the R-words, at least right away. They actually improved to 9-7 under Joe Gibbs that season. But they went into decline after that, and didn’t have another winning season until Mike and Kyle Shanahan helped them go 10-6 in 2012.
It’s a cautionary tale about dumping your mid-round picks. Honestly, though, it probably says more about Washington and its personnel chief at the time, Vinny Cerrato, than it does about overall draft philosophy. If Duckett and Lloyd had made big contributions in Washington, the story would be a lot different.
The Slurs’ experience in 2007 bears another lesson. People often don’t remember whom you select with lesser picks. That draft is controversial in Washington, but not because of the risky tactic of sleeping through three consecutive rounds. It’s because of Landry. As I said, he was a solid defender. But the Vikings took Adrian Peterson with the next pick, and DC football fans have never forgotten it.
You can bet that if Lynch and the 49ers stand pat and go pick-less in Rounds 2-4, it’s those first-round selections that will ultimately define their draft.