The 2012 49ers draft class is one marked with intrigue and excitement. From traditional powerhouses like Notre Dame to up-and-coming programs like Oregon and even Division II schools like Western Oregon, the new crop of 49ers bring their own share of interesting stories to the team.
In his third year at the helm of the 49ers draft room, general manager Trent Baalke was able to add some explosive offensive weapons while adding some back-end depth on the final day. Above all, the 49ers are excited to bring another group of high character players in the locker room at 4949 Centennial Blvd.
Baalke and his staff felt good about the 49ers prospect board heading into the draft and are even happier with the seven players they added to the roster.
“It creates competition,” Baalke said. “I can’t say it enough, that’s what this game’s all about, is competing and developing this roster from the top down and the bottom up. And as those things come together, that’s when you start to develop a team that we feel we can play long into the year with.”
Having reached overtime of the NFC Championship game last year, the 49ers know what it takes to play long in the year but they are already itching to get to the next step. Veterans and youngsters alike have been hard at work at team headquarters during the first three weeks of the offseason program.
The rookie class won’t be fully intact until training camp, as select players won’t be able to participate in the upcoming rookie minicamp (May 11-13) due to education commitments. Listening to players like first-round pick wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, August can’t come soon enough.
“They were right there as being the Super Bowl Champions,” Jenkins said shortly after being selected. “They are a great organization. They’re very physical and I’m just excited to be a part of that type of football play and I’m ready right now to go to California. I’m ready.”
To 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, draft day meant more than adding a few bodies to the locker room. Citing his experience as a college coach at Stanford, Harbaugh said there are few things more special than seeing a football player join the NFL ranks.
“It’s a great day for all those youngsters,” Harbaugh said. “A dream come true for them. A historic day in their lives. Anybody that’s touched their lives, in any form or fashion, they take a tremendous amount of pride and joy in seeing that happening to those young people.”
Get to know the 2012 49ers draft class as we take a quick look at the new members of the team.
Round 1, Pick No. 30 – A. J. Jenkins, WR Illinois
The 49ers added another weapon to their passing attack when they selected Jenkins, who caught 90 passes for 1,276 and eight touchdowns for Illinois in 2011. Shortly after his first visit to team headquarters as a member of the 49ers, Jenkins returned home to Jacksonville, Fla., for a party with family and friends.
The soon-to-be college graduate said he owed much of his collegiate success to offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who joined the program during Jenkins’ junior season. Jenkins said the best individual performance of his college career came against Northwestern, when he racked up 268 yards and three touchdowns on 12 catches. He also spoke to the Big Ten Network in a one-on-one interview after the big effort.
Coincidentally, Jenkins’ final college game was played at AT&T Park in San Francisco. He had six catches for 80 yards in a 20-14 win over UCLA, including a 60-yard touchdown (you can see it at the 1:11 mark in this highlight video) in the fourth quarter. Since Jenkins was drafted, his former coach Ron Zook spoke to KNBR and had glowing things to say about the 49ers rookie. You can listen to the podcast here and read the transcript of the interview.
Round 2, Pick No. 61 – LaMichael James, RB Oregon
During his three-year career at Oregon, James established himself as one of college football’s most electrifying players. He has plenty of highlights on YouTube, dating all the back to his high school days.
SKLZ Training has been chronicling James’ journey from college to the 49ers, in a documentary series titled Road to the Pros, which is set to debut in June. They also have entertaining footage of James riding a hydrobike in Los Angeles with some friends on the day before the NFL Scouting Combine.
James became a fan favorite at Oregon with his explosive style and even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. In this interesting video feature with SI.com, James answered 10 questions from fans as he looked over Autzen Stadium. But football wasn’t the only sport James tried at Oregon, as he brought his top-flight speed to the track and field team.
Early in the 2011 season, the talented tailback surpassed former Super Bowl-winning 49ers running back Derek Loville as Oregon’s all-time leading rusher. James told the Oregonian he was happy to be selected in the second round by the 49ers.
Round 4, Pick No. 117 – Joe Looney, G Wake Forest
Once the 2012 draft was completed, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh raved about Joe Looney’s character, saying he has “oomph and pizzazz“. One of Harbaugh’s favorite mantras is to “attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” and it seems Looney belongs to the same school of thought.
A South Florida native, Looney grew up a Florida State Seminoles fan before becoming a team leader at Wake Forest. Looney earned a starting spot for the Demon Deacons as a true freshman at the age of 17.
Round 5, Pick No. 165 – Darius Fleming, LB Notre Dame
The 49ers have added an eccentric personality to the locker room in fifth-round pick Darius Fleming. The former college roommate of 49ers second-year defensive lineman Ian Williams, Fleming is an avid bowler (he once bowled a 289 and carries six balls in his car), while he also owned a pair of horses — Stormy and Amigo — as of 2009.
Fleming reportedly had dreams of being selected in the NFL Draft before the 49ers made it a reality. Unfortunately, Fleming was in a Chicago traffic jam when he got the call from the 49ers. Fleming spoke to WSBT shortly after being drafted from Notre Dame, where he held himself to very high standards.
Round 6, Pick No. 180 – Trenton Robinson, S Michigan State
Robinson had plenty of highlights during his four-year career in East Lansing, Mich. The play-making safety was proud to realize his dream with the 49ers and carry on the football tradition of his hometown of Bay City, Mich., becoming the first Bay City native to be drafted since 1973. Robinson also spoke with MLive.com in this Q&A session, saying he likes to style his game after players like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.
Round 6, Pick No. 199 – Jason Slowey, OL Western Oregon
In this Q&A with the Medford Mail Tribune in 2006, Slowey revealed he was born with cancer but has been cancer-free since age 2. He could only do three reps of 225-pound bench press as a freshman, but eventually became a punishing blocker for Division II Western Oregon.
Slowey’s draft day experience was documented by KOBI and the TV station also profiled him in the days leading up to the draft (Part 1 / Part 2). The 49ers expressed the most interest in Slowey during the pre-draft process, so he wasn’t surprised when the 49ers were the one to select him.
Round 7, Pick No. 237 – Cam Johnson, LB Virginia
Johnson was one of three defensive players to be selected by the 49ers on the final day of the 2012 draft and he hopes to make the team as a pass-rushing specialist. He became a quiet leader during his time at Virginia, and you can see some highlights from a 2010 contest against Florida State and a 2011 game vs. Miami. You can also see footage of Johnson at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Tags: A.J. Jenkins, Cam Johnson, Darius Fleming, Draft, Jason Slowey, Joe Looney, LaMichael James, Trenton Robinson
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