In what was considered another strong draft class of wide receivers, the 49ers again waited before addressing the position at which they are looking to replace three veteran players from a year ago.
Only once in six Trent Baalke-led drafts have the 49ers been aggressive at wide receiver. In 2012, they selected the fourth wideout of the draft.
That selection could not have turned out any worse, as the 49ers got no catches from first-round pick A.J. Jenkins as a rookie and then completely gave up on him before his second NFL season.
Pre-draft rankings from one-person media scouting departments are one thing, but the better gauge of the 49ers’ commitment to upgrading the position is where that players fell in the draft within his position group.
Before Jenkins, the 49ers selected the Nos. 24 wide receivers of the 2010 (Kyle Williams) and 2011 (Ronald Johnson) drafts. Johnson never made it to the 53-man roster, and Williams’ time with the 49ers is most-remembered for his two turnovers in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.
After Jenkins, despite having a need to add a wide receiver, the 49ers have taken the laid-back approach.
Quinton Patton was the 15th wide receiver chosen in 2013. Bruce Ellington, who surpassed Patton on the depth chart as a rookie in large part due to his return contributions, was the 17th receiver selected in 2014.
Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd are gone from last season’s team. But the 49ers waited until 17 receivers were off the board to select Georgia Tech receiver DeAndre Smelter in the fourth round.
Perhaps, Smelter is a bargain, though. After all, he was undoubtedly pushed down draft boards due to a torn ACL in his left knee that he sustained late in the college season. He is expected to begin training camp on the non-football injury list.
“It's a situation where he may not be ready for training camp, but he may be ready at some point in the immediate future after that,” Baalke said. “We just got to get our hands on him, see exactly where he's at. But feel confident that the rehab is going very well up to this point. We'll see what we're dealing with when we get our hands on him.”
Smelter has good size (6 foot 2, 226 pounds) and is a tough blocker. His production was solid (35 receptions, 715 yards, seven touchdowns last season) in a college program that runs the triple-option offense. The 49ers estimated that Smelter’s speed (he did not run the 40 due to his knee injury) would have placed him in the 4.5-second range, according to Baalke.
[MAIOCCO: 49ers take Georgia Tech WR DeAndre Smelter]
But Smelter’s most-shocking measurable is the size of his hands. At the NFL scouting combine, hands placed on a flat surface with fingers spread apart. The measurement is from the outside of the thumb to the outside of the little finger.
Smelter measured at a shocking 11 inches. Only three of the 44 receivers invited to the combine were within an inch of his hand size -- and nobody was within a three-quarters of an inch. The 49ers raved three years ago about Jenkins’ hand size, but he was only 9 ½ inches.
Odell Beckham’s incredible catches last season as a New York Giants rookie was partially explained by his hand size. But his hands measured at only 10 inches.