Last season the 49ers received 2,451 snaps from their rookies. That's an impressive number in any season, but it's almost astounding when you consider there was no full offseason for these rookies to acclimate and that the 49ers were not a team in a rebuilding mode. Only two of them, fullback Bruce Miller and running back Kendall Hunter, started a game.
The team got significant contributions from five of its 2011 draft picks and from a couple of undrafted players, Demarcus Dobbs and Joe Hastings. Only two draft picks, receiver Ronald Johnson, who did not make the final roster, and seventh-round offensive lineman Mike Person, did not play at all. The team's draft class went a long way toward general manager Trent Baalke earning executive-of-the-year honors.
This year's rookie class is unlikely to even approach last year's snap count.
One draft pick, Darius Fleming, has a torn ACL. Another, Joe Looney, still is recovering from a serious foot injury suffered in January. First-round pick A.J. Jenkins does not seem ready to make an impact this year while sixth rounder Jason Slowey is learning a new position, center, and is behind Jonathan Goodwin and Daniel Kilgore at the position.
The three players who could see the most snaps are running back LaMichael James, safety Trenton Robinson and outside linebacker Cam Johnson. The last two are fighting for the fourth spot at their respective positions, and as such their biggest roles figure to be on special teams.
That doesn't mean it's a poor draft class. Rather it's an acknowledgment of a full and talented roster. It's a class drafted with an eye on the future.
The 49ers, for example, took Looney knowing full well that his Lisfranc injury might get him off to a slow start this season. But with youngsters Kilgore and Person already on the roster, the 49ers have the luxury of giving Looney time to recover. James was added to a roster that already included Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. Jacobs, however, turned 30 this month. Gore turns 30 next year.
Meanwhile, Baalke admitted on draft day that Jenkins needed to add strength and spend more time in the weight room. Offseason injuries prevented Jenkins from doing so while at the University of Illinois.
That lack of strength was apparent during spring drills. But again, the 49ers are able to allow Jenkins to develop because of their depth at wide receiver. Three players - Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham - are surely ahead of Jenkins on the depth chart. And at least two others, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn, are better than Jenkins right now.
Moss and Ginn, however, are signed only through this season. Manningham and Williams are signed through 2013. That is, the 49ers can afford to wait on Jenkins. But they can't afford to wait for long.
-- Matt Barrows