Other guys, however, had more obscure connections. For example, their third round pick was Navorro Bowman out of Penn State. The last time the 49ers took a linebacker in that round, it was in 2002, when they chose Saleem Rasheed out of Alabama. He wound up being a bust. Even more random was their last linebacker out of Penn State, some random sixth-rounder named Bob White who didn’t even make it out of training camp in 1987.
This month we’ll examine the other four picks; running back Anthony Dixon, tight end Nate Byham, wide receiver Kyle Williams and cornerback Phillip Adams and discover their connections to Niners lore.
6th Round, #173 RB Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State
Last 173rd pick: 1951, G Dave Sparks, South Carolina (15th round). As you can see, it’s been quite a while since the 49ers had the 173rd pick. The NFL had far fewer teams back in 1951, but the drafts had a lot more rounds as well. It also wasn’t uncommon a half century ago for linemen to be just 6’1 tall or to weigh 220 pounds, as Sparks did. He saw eight games of action his rookie season and left the team. He caught on with the Washington Redskins in 1954, but tragically died of a heart attack he suffered while playing in a game. He was only 26-years old.
Last 6th round running back: 2007, Thomas Clayton, Kansas State (186th overall). The bad omens continue for Dixon, unfortunately. Clayton looked promising in training camps and had strong preseason performances in both 2007 and 2008, but was a victim of the numbers and never made it onto the 53-man roster either year. He was off to another good exhibition season start in 2009, but tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Denver Broncos. He’s currently a free agent, waiting for a phone call that may never come. The last running back the 49ers drafted, meanwhile, was Alabama’s Glen Coffee in the third round (74th overall) last year, whom Dixon will be competing with for a backup job behind Frank Gore.
Last Mississippi State player 49ers drafted: 2005, DT Ronald Fields, 5th round (137th overall). Fields showed flashes of potential, starting nine games in 2006, his second season, and recording 28 tackles. That wasn’t enough production to keep him in the lineup, however, and he was a reserve with the team the next two seasons, before moving on to the Broncos in 2009.
Last Mississippi State player drafted in NFL: 2007, DT Antonio Johnson, Tennessee, 5th round (152nd overall). The Bulldogs don’t produce many future pros, but Johnson may be a diamond in the rough for the Indianapolis Colts. He tore his ACL during training camp with the Titans in 2007 and was plucked off their practice squad by Indy the next season. He started 15 games last year for the AFC Champions, finishing with 34 tackles and a sack.
Prominent Mississippi State alums: No Bulldog has gone on to become an Hall-of-Famer NFL, but center Kent Hull and receiver Eric Moulds have had great careers for the Buffalo Bills. The best active alum is probably corner Fred Smoot, who’s had a decent run for the Redskins. 49ers legend Jerry Rice, of course, went to Mississippi Valley State.
6th Round, #182 Nate Byham, Pittsburgh
Last 182nd pick: 1994, LB Lee Woodall, West Chester (PA). Woodall, the Evander Holyfield lookalike and a Pennsylvania native like Byham, came from tiny Division II West Chester University and improbably became a star, almost from day one. He started 13 games his rookie year on the last Super Bowl-winning Niners team and went on to Pro-Bowl campaigns in 1995 and 1997. He played the first six of his eight-year career with San Francisco, finishing with 360 tackles (278 solo), nine sacks and five interceptions. Unlike his doppelganger, he knew when enough was enough.
Last 6th round tight end: 2009, Bear Pascoe, Fresno State (184th overall). Pascoe came into camp last year highly touted, but blocked more like a kitty cat than a bear and was cut. He caught on with the New York Giants and saw action in four games.
Last Pittsburgh player 49ers drafted: 2009, linebacker Scott McKillop, 5th round (146th overall). McKillop, a golfing buddy of Byham back home, established himself as a special teams ace during his rookie year and will be looking for some playing time from scrimmage in 2010. Other Panthers on the 49ers include corner Shawntae Spencer and punter Andy Lee.
Last Pittsburgh player drafted in NFL: 2009, WR Derek Kinder, Chicago 7th round (251st overall). Kinder, like most seventh rounders, was waived during training camp. The Panther selected before him, however, LaRod Stephens-Howling, the 240th overall selection, found a niche as a third-down back and kick returner for the Arizona Cardinals, finishing the year with 10 receptions and a touchdown and a kickoff return for another score.
Prominent Pittsburgh alums: The Panthers have given us many NFL legends, including Miami quarterback Dan Marino and a couple of Cowboys greats in tight end Mike Ditka and running back Tony Dorsett. Guard Russ Grimm, a member of Washington’s “hogs” and New Orleans linebacker Rickey Jackson (who spent two years with the 49ers) were both elected into Canton this year. Linebacker Keena Turner and corner Carlton Williamson both enjoyed wonderful careers with the Bill Walsh era Niners. The best current Pitt alums are corner Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets and of course, Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
6th round, #206, WR Kyle Williams, Arizona State
Last 206th pick: 1968, T Charles Brown, Augustana (SD).
Brown, an eighth-round pick, didn’t make the team out of training camp and that was it for his pro career. Oddly enough last April another tackle by the same name was, according to many draftniks, on his way to the 49ers as the 17th pick. USC’s Brown, however, wound up being taken 64th overall by the New Orleans Saints, the last pick of the second round. So much for mock drafts.
Last 6th round WR: 2008, Josh Morgan, Virginia Tech (174th overall) Even though he was such a late pick, Niners coaches were so impressed by Morgan in minicamps and in training camp that there were whispers he could be a starter right away. As it turned out, he wasn’t quite ready for that, and a couple of nagging injuries slowed him down too, but Morgan contributed late in the season and became a full-time starter in 2009, where he caught 52 passes for 527 yards and three touchdowns. Williams is another guy with a chance to be thrust into the lineup right away because of his unique skill set – he might be the only true slot guy on the roster. Meanwhile, the last receiver San Francisco took before Williams was of course, Michael Crabtree, tenth overall out of Texas Tech last season. It’s safe to say he’s working out.
Last Arizona State player 49ers drafted: 2002, G Kyle Kosier, 7th round (249th overall). A name on the “one that got away” file, Kosier rose from obscurity to start for the Niners in the last of his three seasons here before heading off to Detroit and then the Cowboys, where he’s found a home. He’s been a fixture on their line for the last four seasons and is a good run blocker. Ed Beverly, the last Sun Devil receiver the 49ers drafted (5th round in 1973, the 122nd pick overall), saw action in two games in his one and only season and was never heard from again.
Last Arizona State player drafted in NFL: 2010, LB Travis Goethel, Oakland, 6th round (190th overall). Goethel is the far less celebrated of two linebackers the Raiders drafted in 2010, with the other being Alabama’s Rolando McClain, the eighth overall pick. McClain will be under a lot of pressure to be a beast right away since, by all accounts, he was the first sensible first round choice for the “Silver & Black” in years.
Prominent Arizona State alums: Minnesota Vikings guard Randall McDaniel and cornerback Mike Haynes, who played brilliantly for the New England Patriots and the Raiders are the only Sun Devils to make the Hall-of-Fame, but they’ve produced several other noteworthy players including Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, Atlanta running back Gerald Riggs, cornerback Eric Allen who starred with Philadelphia, New Orleans and Oakland, and Arizona safety (and American hero) Pat Tillman. Their best active alums are a couple of Baltimore Ravens, tight end Todd Heap and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Niners long snapper Brian Jennings is also a former Sun Devil.
7th Round, # 224 CB Phillip Adams, South Carolina State
Last 224th pick: 2001, TE Eric Johnson, Yale. Not too many fellows from Yale go on to make much of an impact in the NFL, but Johnson impressed right away, even though he was a lowly seventh round pick, catching 40 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. His career season came in 2004, when he hauled in a team-leading 82 passes for 825 yards. Unfortunately for Johnson, he had season-ending injuries in 2003 and 2005, and he was pretty much finished at 28-years old, after putting up one last solid season for the Saints in 2007.
Last 7th round CB: 2005, Daven Holly, Cincinnati (215th overall). Holly, who was one of the Niners’ final cuts after his first training camp, got picked up by the Bears the next day and played in three games for Chicago his rookie year. He caught on with Cleveland the next year and had a fabulous campaign, starting 12 of 14 games, with five interceptions and one “pick-six.” He wasn’t nearly as good in 2007, but was still a valuable member of the Browns secondary. He spent the season after that on Injured Reserve and has been on the street since. Adams, meanwhile, is the first corner the Niners have drafted in three seasons. The last was Tarell Brown, out of Texas in the fifth round (147th overall) in 2007. Brown will compete for a starting job in camp.
Last South Carolina State player 49ers drafted: 1975 RB Donnie Layton, 10th round (243rd overall). Hopefully for Adams, he’ll have more of a career than the last Bulldog the 49ers drafted, as Layton came and went without a sound. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have practice squads back in 1975, though. Tight end Arthur Love, the last South Carolina State alum drafted, in 2001 by the Patriots (sixth round, 180th overall), has similar success – or lack thereof.
Prominent South Carolina State alums: For a school that hasn’t made much of a dent on the NFL landscape in the past twenty years, it’s remarkable to think the Bulldogs produced two of the all-time greats in end Deacon Jones and linebacker Harry Carson. Jones, an eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro, coined the term “sack” even though that statistic wasn’t officially recorded during his playing days for the Los Angeles Rams from 1961-1971 and later on stops with San Diego and Washington. According to “Pro Football Weekly” he finished with 173½ quarterback takedowns, which would place him third all-time. Carson, meanwhile, was a nine-time Pro Bowler in his own right and spent his entire 13-year career with the Giants. They were inducted into the Hall-of-Fame in 1980 and 2006, respectively.
Will the pro careers of Dixon, Byham, Williams and Adams wind up being similar to Saleem Rasheed’s and Donnie Walton’s, or Deacon Jones’ and Randall McDaniel’s? The answer is probably somewhere in between. The fun will be in finding out.