Niners got the worst of Rashaun Woods

When Rashaun Woods still had a spot on the 49ers' roster after the calendar turned to April this year, it appeared the third-year receiver might get one final shot with the team. Yeah, right. The Niners dumped the disappointing 2004 first-round draft choice faster than you can say "Sammy Davis," sending Woods to a final resting place among the biggest busts in franchise history and sending away yet another recent top draft pick, a further illustration of how and why the franchise fell apart.

That's four first-round draft picks already this decade that have either departed or been lopped off the roster in the past two months alone. But Woods is the only one among that group who did nothing for the team. He leaves the 49ers as a perfect symbol of the doomed Terry Donahue era, a brief but damaging period when the team deteriorated rapidly thanks to the poor personnel moves and draft decisions of the deposed general manager.

Woods might have been the worst of those decisions. That's not meant to be a slam on Woods the person, who was a pleasant enough guy with a mild-mannered personality who seemed to truly believe the talent that carried him to college stardom at Oklahoma State would eventually lift him to NFL success.

But the reality is, Woods was soft. He was a man among boys at Oklahoma State, where he could glide past inferior opponents with his size, skill and pure talent. To this day, observers still come by this web site asking when they will see the dude who demolished Big 12 receiving records during an All-American career that included 293 receptions for 4,414 yards and 42 touchdowns – seven of those TD receptions coming in one game.

But when Woods got to the NFL, he became a man among men who could match him in physical ability. And he simply had no concept of how to handle the situation.

Most college stars adjust. Woods – until the moment he was put on San Francisco's injured reserve list last September, ending his 2005 season before it ever got started – was overwhelmed by the situation and failed to grasp the urgency and commitment of what it takes to make it in the NFL.

San Francisco coaches could try to teach him how to be a pro and a better receiver, but they couldn't make him find that little something extra that it takes at this level. Woods had to get that on his own. And he never got it during the unfulfilled 102 weeks he spent as a 49er.

The 31st overall selection in the 2004 draft, Woods breezed boldly into the NFL, immediately grabbing the No. 81 jersey that had been worn before him in San Francisco by All-Pro Terrell Owens. Before he finally was dispatched by the team fewer than two years later, Woods had been forced to relinquish that number to free-agent pickup Antonio Bryant.

That right there tells everybody where Woods stood with the 2006 49ers. But coach Mike Nolan really has been telling us all along since Nolan arrived in January of 2005 to clean up the mess left him by the previous regime.

First, after getting an initial gander of Woods' act last year during an early April minicamp, Nolan basically described Woods – about to enter his second NFL season – as a "rookie receiver," and quickly moved Derrick Hamilton – drafted in the third round behind Woods in 2004 – ahead of Woods on the team's depth chart.

By the time training camp ended last year, Woods was in danger of being cut by Nolan. Bothered by groin and leg problems, Woods showed the team absolutely nothing for the second consecutive year in training camp (his 2004 training camp was almost entirely wiped out by a hamstring problem).

His roster spot might have been saved by an eight-catch performance in the preseason finale against San Diego. But when Woods sustained a thumb injury in practice once the season began, Nolan found his perfect out.

After having minor surgery, Woods easily could have returned to play by November. But the 49ers – already seriously hurting for NFL-caliber receivers – gladly placed him on IR, freeing up a roster spot while allowing the team to carry him and avoid the significant salary-cap hit it would have absorbed by releasing him.

By trading Woods to the San Diego Chargers for Davis, another first-round pick of somewhat dubious NFL showing so far, the remnants of Woods will mean a hit of only slightly more than $100,000 to San Francisco's cap this year.

In the back of the minds of many, there still is a lingering belief that Woods must be more than he ever showed with the 49ers, that he still is a talent with potential that could finally bloom when healthy and given another chance.

But the Niners already had seen enough. In two seasons, Woods gave them seven receptions and one touchdown – not to mention loads of frustration regarding why they seemed to be more bothered by that production than Woods ever was.

Near the end of his rookie season – a year when he saw limited action and never started a game – Woods expressed his personal frustrations in an interview with SFI. Mixed in with that frustration was the confidence that made him a first-round pick in the first place – the confidence he rarely, if ever, showed on the field while a 49er.

"It's probably the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with," Woods told me then. "I mean, it hurts me to go out on the field and this is the least I've played in years and years. To come from being a guy who was basically idolized and now trying to work his way all the way back up from injuries and stuff like that…

"I mean, I take playing football serious. It's my life. To me, football is pretty much everything. It always meant something to be a great football player. I didn't come here just to take the money and sit on the bench and ride it out and then have a happy life. I'm nothing about that. It's all about being a great player. I don't want to come back with, ‘Well, oh, yeah, he had an OK career with the San Francisco 49ers. I want to go back like, ‘He's the Man.'"

Instead, Rashaun Woods goes back to where he came from after a career that crapped out way too soon with the 49ers.

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