Trent Baalke was masterful at the start of day three of the 2012 NFL Draft, turning mid-round selections into future San Francisco 49ers draft picks, all while selecting the players he had originally targeted on the team’s draft board.
The 49ers general manager had already traded the team’s No. 92 overall pick at the end of day two of the draft to the Indianapolis Colts for their No. 97 overall pick, plus a fifth-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Baalke, however, was just getting started.
After selecting Illinois wide receiver
The linemen picks underscored the impressive body of work from Baalke and the 49ers personnel department throughout the draft.
What was once the 92nd overall pick in the third round of this year’s draft, became two sixth-round selections (picks 180 and 196) this year, and third, fifth and sixth-round selections in 2013.
Talk about a frenzy of activity.
Just about every other moment in the early stages of the round you could find the 49ers general manager on the draft room phone speaking to opposing teams. The trading spree started late Friday night, but continued into the fourth round.
Baalke said the team had several players in mind with the 97th pick, but ultimately, the general manager traded the selection to the Miami Dolphins, who moved their fourth-round pick (103), sixth-round pick (196) and a sixth-round pick in 2013 to take Miami Hurricanes running back Lamar Miller.
At pick No. 103, the 49ers traded with the Carolina Panthers for their sixth-round pick (180) and next year's third round pick.
The three picks acquired in next year’s draft in the third, fifth and sixth rounds from Indianapolis, Miami and Carolina, coupled with last year’s Taylor Mays trade for a seventh-round pick, gives the 49ers multiple picks in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds in 2013.
Finally, after trading back three times, the 49ers made a trade with the Detroit Lions to move up. The 49ers used picks No. 125 and 196 (from Miami) to go up to the No. 117 spot held by the Detroit Lions.
With the pick, the 49ers selected Looney, a gifted guard out of Wake Forest
“We still got the player we wanted,” Baalke explained. “It’s all about value.”
Looney, a 6-foot-3, 309-pound lineman, was one of many offensive draft picks that’ll improve the team’s depth.
“I’m a physical player,” said the lineman who slipped in the draft due to a foot injury suffered at the Senior Bowl, but has since been training with former 49ers lineman Jeremy Newberry. “I’ve always been a physical player. I love run blocking. I love seeing my running back having a great rushing day. And I’m just a hard worker. Every day I’m going to come out and work hard.”
Baalke didn’t force himself to make any picks during the three-day draft based on the team’s needs. In his mind, it was about finding the right fits.
“We feel good about the depth,” Baalke said. “It’s about drafting players at the right value, also making sure they have a legitimate chance to make this football team.”
Like all of his offensive picks, head coach Jim Harbaugh couldn’t help but rave about Looney, a second-team All-ACC performer in 2011.
“We believe he’ll be a starter in this league for us and we’re excited about that,” said Harbaugh, who spoke glowingly about Looney’s meeting with the team at this year’s Scouting Combine.
“Oomph, pizzazz,” Harbaugh recalled of Looney’s presence in the meeting.
In addition to Looney, the 49ers beefed up their offensive line in the sixth round, selecting Western Oregon offensive lineman Jason Slowey with the No. 199 overall selection.
Slowey feels like his humble approach will serve him well in San Francisco. After struggling to do only three reps of the 225-bench press as a freshman, the young lineman worked his way to his 38-rep performance at his pro day.
“You learn to work hard, real blue-collar mentality up here,” said Slowey, seemingly already fitting in with Harbaugh’s vision for the 49ers. “Everything you get is with hard work, so I think that’s going to be a big help for me at the next level.”
The Great Northwestern Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year winner will compete as an interior lineman for the 49ers, despite lining up as a left tackle for his collegiate career.
“He’s another tough, physical guy,” Harbaugh said. “Not so much when you meet him, there must be a switch he flips when he goes out on the field.”
Like Looney, Harbaugh was impressed in his pre-draft visit with the 6-foot-4, 305-pound lineman. Now, the 49ers will have to decide where he best fits on the line.
“What is his best position on this team, we’ll evaluate and see,” Harbaugh said.
Character is one thing, but the 49ers definitely respected the game tape from their four offensive draft selections. Harbaugh reviewed the strengths of his newcomers on offense one-by-one, and smiled at various times while they were discussed.
Normally, Harbaugh doesn’t want to spend much time talking about himself or his players.
However, that train of thought goes out the window at the conclusion of the NFL Draft.
“We’re not about fueling the hype,” Harbaugh said after the team added four offensive players out of its seven selections in this year’s draft. “Today’s an exception.”
As a former collegiate coach with a vested interest in the pro football landing spots for his former Stanford players, Harbaugh knows what draft day truly means to the players, coaches and mentors who helped 253 players be selected in the draft.
“Guilty as charged fueling the hype today,” Harbaugh said. “It’s well-deserved.”
Harbaugh couldn’t help but run down the positives of all of his offensive draft picks in order.
On Jenkins’ game tape: “I defy anyone to tell me there’s something wrong with it.”
On James’ demeanor: “I can’t wait to see what he’s going to be like around the facility.”
On Looney’s personality: “Professors, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, from faculty to football to everybody that comes in contact with him there literally not a negative word.”
On Slowey’s development: “We feel like that’s someone that has a big upside, a lot of room to grow there. We’re excited about that pick.”
Now that the draft is in the books, the 49ers are working the phones to compete their 90-man roster before the start of rookie minicamps.
“We feel like we’re ready to go,” Baalke said. “You’re always looking to tweak. We may not be done. Right now, we’re upstairs working hard on the undrafted free agent class. When that list comes out, I think you’ll be surprised by some of the names on that.”
It remains to be seen which players will potentially make the 53-man roster as undrafted free agents, but the 49ers are hopeful they’ll find players that will continue the depth being built.
“We felt really good about the guys we had coming into this draft. And the guys coming in, we feel very good about as well,” Baalke said. “It creates competition and I can’t say it enough. It’s what this game is all about, competing and developing the roster from the top down and the bottom up. When those things come together, that’s when you start developing a team we feel we can play long into the year with.”
“We’re a big, strong football team right now,” Harbaugh said. “We definitely added speed, but we didn’t add speed guys, we added football players.”