Three years later: 49ers draft class of 2004

In the NFL, they say it takes three full seasons before you can properly evaluate a draft class. The 49ers' class of 2004 has had its three seasons. And the verdict is … Despite some high picks that became notably huge busts, the Niners salvaged respectable quality from this class. Here's a detailed look back at the 2004 draft and each player the team selected - and who it could have had instead.

The 2004 draft was a critical juncture for the San Francisco franchise - and also proved to be a significant factor in the downfall of the dysfunctional Terry Donahue/Dennis Erickson regime.

Donahue - whose early golden touch in personnel maneuvers after taking over as general manager in 2001 was now clearly turning into an unprepared, hit-and-miss comedy of misadventure - placed heavy importance on San Francisco's draft class of 2004 to make an immediate impact on the team by his dubious offseason moves before the draft.

After the 49ers won their last NFC West title in 2002 and made it to the final four in the NFC playoffs, the team slumped to a disappointing, under-achieving 7-9 finish in 2003 despite outscoring its opponents 384-337.

Instead of patching a roster that still had legitimate playoff potential, Donahue - citing the need for the 49ers to "take our medicine and not continue to make bad personnel decisions" - instead gutted the roster as part of his plan to get the 49ers "cap healthy."

In actuality, it was Donahue's long-term thinking - or lack thereof - that got the 49ers heading south in the first place.

The Niners had several serious roster decisions to make before the NFL's free-agency period began in March of 2004, with almost two dozen of their players scheduled for some level of free agency and a handful of other veterans scheduled to earn far more in 2004 than what they contributed to the team during the falling-short season of 2003.

The 49ers took their medicine, all right. Donahue released quarterback Jeff Garcia - who had gone to the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons from 2000-2002 - in March when the QB refused to take a salary cut. Donahue then asked two-time Pro Bowl running back Garrison Hearst to take a huge salary cut; Hearst then asked for his release, which was granted.

Same thing for venerable left tackle Derrick Deese; he was asked to take a salary cut, then was released when he refused. Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone? See above. All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens? He was traded away to conclude a convoluted saga after making it clear he wanted out of San Francisco.

Those are just the star players. A handful of other starters and veterans who had defined the team in previous seasons also were either allowed to leave or sent packing.

So the heat was on Donahue to get some quick reinforcements through the draft. He ultimately selected six prospects that would start at least one game with the 49ers - though that's not necessarily saying much, considering the quality of talent on the roster at the time.

But Donahue failed miserably in what was his most important task in this draft: Finding some receivers to replace departed starters Owens and Tai Streets.

And, ultimately, he looked too hard for his first one, frantically trading down twice in the first round after the receiver the 49ers had hoped to get with their original No. 16 overall selection - LSU product Michael Clayton - was snagged from right underneath their noses by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 15.

That left the 49ers passing on several quality players who could have helped the team, though Donahue picked up an extra second-rounder from Philadelphia and an extra fourth-rounder from Carolina in the trade-down process. The second-rounder - Shawntae Spencer - became a decent NFL cornerback with upside, while the fourth-rounder - linebacker Richard Seigler - did nothing for the team.

But at the No. 16 slot, the 49ers could have had Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews (whom the Eagles took with the 16th pick they acquired from the Niners), outside linebacker D.J. Williams (No. 17 to Denver), defensive end Will Smith (No. 18 to New Orleans) or defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (No. 21 to New Orleans) - all players that would have filled positions of need but went on to NFL success with the teams that drafted them instead of the 49ers.

Sitting at No. 28, the 49ers could have had defensive back Chris Gamble - the player Carolina selected at that slot after trading for the pick. Gamble also would have filled a need and been a likely immediate starter for the 49ers, and could still be helping the team today.

But those are all hindsight what-ifs. Here's a pick-by-pick rundown on San Francisco's 2004 draft, reviewing what each player did for the team, where he fits into the 49ers' 2007 plans/where he is outside the team, and who the team could have taken instead.:

Round 1 (No. 31 overall): WR Rashaun Woods
The skinny: Woods certainly had a productive career at Oklahoma State, but there were some mixed reviews whether or not he was a first-round talent. Since six receivers already had been taken ahead of Woods, it seems that Donahue simply took the best WR still available based on pure numbers without really doing his homework on the kid. Woods turned out to be one of the biggest first-round busts in team history, suffering lingering leg strains early in training camp as a rookie and never showing the toughness or mental resolve to fight through them. When Mike Nolan came aboard in 2005, it didn't take long for the 49ers' new chief to determine that Woods wasn't going to be sticking around for his rebuilding plans. Woods - who simply didn't have what it takes to make it in the NFL, where everybody has talent - would have been cut before the season if not for the hit the team would have taken to its salary cap. As it was, he suffered a hand injury in September - a convenient reason for the 49ers to place him on injured reserve and free up a roster spot for a player that actually could help the team. Woods finished his 49ers career with seven total receptions.
Where he fits now: Once he found a taker, Nolan dumped Woods on the San Diego Chargers for cornerback Sammy Davis in a swap of disappointing first-round picks. It didn't take long for the 49ers to laugh about that deal as Woods was cut by the Chargers a few weeks into training camp. Davis, meanwhile, saw significant action with the 49ers last season as their third cornerback, though his impact was marginal and he was released earlier this year. Woods was picked up off waivers by Denver, then released again last summer. He's now trying to revive his career with Hamburg in NFL Europe, where he was drafted as a free agent in the fifth round of the league's spring draft, but that's not going too well. Woods, predictably, has been troubled by injuries and has yet to record his first NFL Europe reception.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: OLB Karlos Dansby, DE Igor Olshansky, OG Chris Snee
Who the 49ers should have selected: Olshansky. The 49ers were in need of quality defensive linemen as much as receivers. Donahue should have taken Olshansky, who has been a stud with the Chargers, and then hit for a WR with the team's early second-round pick.

Round 2a (No. 46 overall): G Justin Smiley
The skinny: Smiley left Alabama after his junior season, and while he didn't have the strength to initially become a force in the NFL trenches, he quickly fit into the starting lineup on a talent-challenged line as a rookie, and has started ever game for the team over the past two seasons while establishing himself as one of the league's top young guards.
Where he fits now: Smiley is in the final year of his contract with the team and is looking to make top dollar on the open market as a free agent next year. Thus, he could be moved in a trade before that happens, possibly before this summer ends. Smiley turned down a lowball contract extension offer from the team last year, and the price went up when he assembled a fine season during which he was instrumental in the team's strong run game. It's not out of the question Smiley will re-sign with the team, and he should retain his starting position on a strong line if he indeed plays for the 49ers in 2007.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: WR Devery Henderson, SS Michael Boulware, DE Antwan Odom
Who the 49ers should have selected: Smiley. Henderson wouldn't have been a bad pick, either, if the team hadn't already used its first-rounder on a WR. But Smiley is a better player at the position he plays.

Round 2b (No. 58 overall): CB Shawntae Spencer
The skinny: Spencer was something of a surprise at this slot, since he hadn't been invited to the NFL Combine earlier in the year. But this proved to be an excellent selection as Spencer displayed the ability to compete at the NFL level immediately, starting 12 games as a rookie and clearly establishing himself as the team's best cornerback in 2005 with a team-high four interceptions. He started all 13 games he played last season.
Where he fits now: The 49ers, encouraged by Spencer's progress, signed him to a five-year contract extension for approximately $20 million early last season. But Spencer's play plateaued during the season, and now there is some question whether the team thinks he's a true starting talent for the top-rate defense the team envisions to have in the future. The 49ers made free agent Nate Clements the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history in March, shoving Spencer to the No. 3 cornerback role this season behind Clements and 2006 Pro Bowler Walt Harris, though Spencer will compete with Harris for the starting role at right corner, and probably will be Harris' eventual replacement in the starting lineup if nobody better comes along.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: WR Keary Colbert, C Nick Hardwick, DT Darnell Dockett
Who the 49ers should have selected: Spencer. Good cornerbacks are hard to find outside the first round of the draft, and this was arguably one of Donahue's best draft selections during his tenure with the team.

Round 3 (No. 77 overall): WR Derrick Hamilton
The skinny: Hamilton looked the part for a while, but he ultimately turned into another total WR washout with the team. Coming out after his junior season, Hamilton wasn't ready to contribute as a rookie and hardly got on the field the entire season, catching zero passes. He flashed some talent before Nolan during the spring of 2005, but a torn knee ligament in May of that year put him on injured reserve. Hamilton was held out of spring drills last year, then made the numbskull move of being seen dunking in a charity basketball event a few days after those drills ended. That seemed to typify Hamilton's career with the Niners, which ended when Nolan dumped him after he pulled up lame in training camp last year.
Where he fits now: Out of the NFL last season, Hamilton signed with the Atlanta Falcons in March.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: WR Bernard Berrian, TE Chris Cooley, OL Sean Locklear, QB Matt Schaub, LB Shaun Phillips
Who the 49ers should have selected: Berrian. He was taken on the very next pick after Hamilton by the Chicago Bears, and has turned into a home-run threat for a Super Bowl team.

Round 4a (No. 104 overall): DT Isaac Sopoaga
The skinny: After missing his rookie season with a back problem, Sopoaga has provided the team with some promising bulk in the defensive interior the past two seasons, making one start in 2005 and two starts last year, recording 28 tackles each season and 1.5 sacks last year. He still needs to work on fundamentals and technique and there is a perception that he is underachieving, given his potential.
Where he fits now: Sopoaga is in a battle for playing time at nose tackle now that the 49ers have brought in free agent Aubrayo Franklin and handed him the starting role in the team's 3-4 scheme. Ronnie Fields and rookie Joe Cohen also will take part in that battle, but Sopoaga will have an opportunity to establish himself in the team's DL rotation - or just as easily lose that spot.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: CB Nathan Vasher, S Will Allen, DE Robert Geathers
Who the 49ers should have selected: Vasher. This team needed cornerbacks badly in 2004. Geathers, who had 10.5 sacks for Cincinnati last season, could have helped, too.

Round 4b (No. 127 overall): LB Richard Seigler
The skinny: This was one of Erickson's pet picks, since Seigler played for him at Oregon State. But, while talented, Seigler battled injuries and never made any impact on the team. He played in just seven games as a rookie - making seven tackles - but didn't last long with the 49ers once Nolan and his crew came aboard in 2005.
Where he fits now: Seigler caught on with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, appearing in two games, and will attempt to continue his career with the Steelers this season.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: LB Brandon Chillar, S Gibril Wilson, DL Chad Lavalais, WR D.J. Hackett
Who the 49ers should have selected: Wilson. He has turned into a productive NFL safety, something the Niners could have used during the past three seasons.

Round 6a (No. 188 overall): P Andy Lee
The skinny: In the NFL, there's different philosophies about using draft picks to acquire kickers and punters, since those are positions that often require experience at the pro level to make an impact or simply get the job done adequately. But when Lee - one of the best punter prospects coming out of college in 2004 - still was available in the sixth round, the Niners pounced and he has been every bit worth the investment. He handled the job adequately as a rookie, when he carried a heavy workload because of the team's lousy offense and punted a team-record 96 times, finishing with a 41.6-yard average that was the team's best since 1998. Lee matched that averaged in 2005 while setting a new team record with 107 punts - one of the highest totals in NFL history. Last season, he blossomed into a reliable and productive punter who helped the 49ers significantly in the battle for field position. His 44.8 average was the best by a San Francisco punter in the past 41 seasons.
Where he fits now: Lee, a University of Pittsburgh product, received a six-year, $7.1 million offer sheet from the Pittsburgh Steelers when he hit the open market as a restricted free agent in March. The 49ers wasted little time in matching that offer - which included a $1.66 million signing bonus - to retain Lee's services, and locking him up for the future not only gives the team a quality young player at the position, but also solidifies San Francisco's improving special teams.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: CB Dexter Wynn, DT Craig Terrill, QB Jim Sorgi
Who the 49ers should have selected: Lee. He has stabilized an area of weakness before he arrived and has given the team very good value for a late-round selection.

Round 6b (No. 198 overall): S Keith Lewis
The skinny: Lewis came to training camp as a rookie and immediately begin laying his hat on people, establishing a reputation as a heavy hitter who would not shy away from contact. Lewis didn't see much time on defense as a rookie, but he became one of the team's core special teams players and finished with 17 special teams tackle to go along with a forced fumble, recovered fumble and blocked punt on those units. He started four games late in the season in 2005 at free safety while continuing to stand out on special teams. Last season, Lewis took over as the starting free safety near midseason and became a factor in the team's progress on that side of the ball the remainder of the season. The knock on Lewis coming out of college was that he lacked coverage skills and the speed to be a NFL starter, but he performed more than adequately in his nine starts last year, delivering some vicious hits that had receivers thinking twice about going over the middle. Lewis finished sixth on the team with 72 tackles, second with two interceptions and also was second with 16 special teams tackles.
Where he fits now: The 49ers acquired Michael Lewis in free agency to pair with Mark Roman at safety, and since the team is paying him $30 million over six years with $9.8 million guaranteed, the new Lewis will be expected to move into the starting lineup at strong safety, with Roman moving to free safety. The 49ers would rather have Keith Lewis concentrate on being the team's new leader (and captain) on special teams, but he also will see time in secondary coverage packages after proving himself in 2006. The 49ers rewarded Lewis' fiery intensity and aggressive, opportunistic play with a three-year, $2.935 million contract extension, which keeps him on as an integral part of the roster as the team moves forward.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: OT Shane Olivea, DT Ryon Bingham, WR Jonathan Smith, WR Patrick Crayton
Who the 49ers should have selected: Lewis. He has turned into a solid, contributing player who has given the team good value for a late sixth-rounder.

Round 7a (No. 217 overall): QB Cody Pickett
The skinny: Pickett was a good-looking, athletic prospect who looked every bit worth a seventh-round flyer when he joined the team. He was so versatile that he played receiver and safety on the scout team in practice and contributed on special teams during games. He also started two games at quarterback in 2005 when Alex Smith and Ken Dorsey were injured ahead of him, but his game was not refined enough to succeed at the NFL level and he completed only 40 percent of his passes while finishing with a 28.3 passer rating for the season. The 49ers traded him to the Houston Texans for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2006.
Where he fits now: After failing to stick in the NFL last season, Pickett is playing with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe this spring in the hope of getting another shot at the big-time. As the Fire's starting QB, Pickett is completing 62.7 percent of his passes and recording a passer rating of 74.1 through seven games.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: QB Matt Mauck, LB Derrick Pope
Who the 49ers should have selected: Pickett. Hey, why not? Pickett showed some talent and potential, and nobody really expects seventh-round quarterbacks to make it anyway.

Round 7b (No. 226 overall): DT Christian Ferrara
The skinny: The 49ers had no depth whatsoever along their defensive line in 2004 training camp, but the Syracuse product had neither the strength or talent to make a dent on the roster, even at a talent-challenged area of the team. He didn't make it out of training camp, where he made very little impression on anybody.
Where he fits now: Ferrara should be happy that he had a NFL bonus check to cash as a seventh-round draft pick. If he couldn't make it as a backup along the defensive line of the 2004 49ers, he certainly wasn't going to with any other team in the league.
Who the 49ers could have selected instead: OG Adrien Clarke, OT Kevin Sampson, DE Trevor Johnson, LB Colby Bockwoldt, TE Courtney Anderson
Who the 49ers should have selected: Just about any other prospect available in the 2004 draft that wasn't selected before Ferrara.

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