San Francisco 49ers

Surrender Baalke! How 49ers’ GM went from golden boy to Grinch

In this Oct. 23, 2016 photo, a fan holds up a sign of San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Santa Clara, Calif. The San Francisco 49ers have fallen to a new level of failure and futility, a laughingstock of the league.
In this Oct. 23, 2016 photo, a fan holds up a sign of San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Santa Clara, Calif. The San Francisco 49ers have fallen to a new level of failure and futility, a laughingstock of the league. AP

Fire Baalke.

These days, you can find the two-word phrase on land, in the air and in cyberspace. For example, the hashtag #FireBaalke has been posted on Twitter 1,248 times since last week. By comparison, #MerryChristmas has been used 1,587 times in that span.

Fans now arrive at 49ers games – home and away – with handmade signs pleading for the ouster of general manager Trent Baalke.

Before Sunday’s game against the Jets, a plane crisscrossed over Levi’s Stadium trailing a banner that called for CEO Jed York to fire Baalke. The flyover had fans below shielding their eyes while looking up like the good citizens of Oz when the Wicked Witch of the West buzzed the city and wrote “Surrender Dorothy” with her broomstick.

Surrender Baalke? How did the NFL’s Executive of the Year in 2011 – largely because of his impactful draft that season – go from golden boy to Grinch? Let’s look at his draft report card since he became San Francisco’s top talent evaluator:

Cornerback: No position gets Baalke’s blood stirring like cornerback. He doesn’t get a full “A” here because he’s taken so many – 11 total – that they all can’t fit on the roster and some have gone on to play well for other teams. For example, Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round selection in 2013, has four interceptions this year for the Cardinals. That’s three more than the 49ers’ cornerbacks have as a group this season. Grade: B

Inside linebacker: We’ll cut Baalke some slack on this one – how was he to know Chris Borland was going to retire after one glorious season in the NFL? The 49ers used a third-round pick on him in 2014 and on NaVorro Bowman in 2010. Nick Moody (sixth, 2013) is the only other inside linebacker selected in seven drafts. Which leads to the biggest critique of this position: With 69 picks since 2010, why haven’t there been more linebackers? With Bowman injured, the 49ers have no linebackers on their 53-man roster who was drafted by the team. Grade: B

Offensive line: The first two picks Baalke made for the 49ers were offensive linemen – Anthony Davis and *Mike Iupati – and he’s mostly done well with the unit. One of the best selections of his tenure may end up being tackle Trent Brown because he was overlooked by everyone else and taken late in the seventh round in 2015. The bad: The 49ers didn’t hold onto Iupati, Davis retired at age 25 and in 2014 Baalke used two third-round picks on linemen, Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas, who have had little or no impact in the NFL. Grade: C+

Safety: The group has been solid but unspectacular. Every safety Baalke has taken played multiple years in the league, even sixth-round pick Trenton Robinson, who was part of an otherwise awful 2012 draft. Grade: C+

Defensive line: We’ll have to wait and see whether Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner become the dynamic duo they should be considering they were first-round picks out of Oregon. Baalke thought Tank Carradine, a high second-round pick in 2013, could become the heir to Justin Smith on the defensive line. He was wrong – Carradine had to switch positions this year and was a healthy scratch last Sunday against the Jets. Grade: C

Tight end-fullback: None of the tight ends Baalke has selected in seven seasons are as good as the two, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, his predecessor took in 2006. Baalke, meanwhile, prides himself on finding fullbacks, which he did with Bruce Miller in the seventh round in 2011. But when your head coach doesn’t even use a fullback, that talent is little like being a really good blacksmith or ice cutter or newspaper reporter. Grade: C-

Outside linebacker: Baalke has used a third-round pick on two outside linebackers, Corey Lemonier and Eli Harold, in recent years. Lemonier had two sacks in three seasons with the 49ers before he was released in September. He was waived this week by the Browns, meaning he has the distinction of being fired by the two worst teams in football within three months. Aaron Lynch seemed to be a good find in the fifth round in 2014, but his 2016 season has been a washout. The pick with which Baalke forever will be linked is Aldon Smith, a first rounder in 2011 who has become better known for off-field issues than sacks. Grade: C-

Running back: The position is lifted by Carlos Hyde, who had the best game of his career last Sunday, but dragged down by everyone else Baalke has taken at the position since 2012: LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore, Mike Davis and Kelvin Taylor, a sixth-round pick this year who was cut last month and who is now on the Seahawks’ active roster. That the two backups behind Hyde are off-the-street free agents tells you everything you need to know about how well the 49ers have drafted this position. Grade: C-

Quarterback: Some teams draft a quarterback every year because it’s such an important position. Baalke has taken three: Colin Kaepernick, who was Jim Harbaugh’s personal choice; B.J. Daniels, who was later moved to wideout; and Jeff Driskel, whom the 49ers released and promptly lost to the Bengals. If Kaepernick, as expected, triggers an escape clause in his contract and becomes a free agent in March, the number of quarterbacks the 49ers have signed for the 2017 season will be zero. Grade: Incomplete

Wide receiver: We won’t even discuss the A.J. Jenkins debacle. Instead, consider this: The two most prolific receivers Baalke has drafted are Kyle Williams, who is best known for fumbling not once, but twice in the 2011 NFC Championship Game loss to the Giants, and Quinton Patton, who has one touchdown in four seasons with the 49ers. Grade: F

*Who gets credit for the 2010 draft? The 49ers fired Scot McCloughan in March of that year, which means the team’s draft board was set up under McCloughan but the actual drafting was done by Baalke. For the purpose of this report card, we gave Baalke credit for this solid draft – because we’re nice – even though it technically should be shared between the two men.

The Sacramento Bee's 49ers insider Matt Barrows gets you ready for the San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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