A Look Back: 49ers 2013 Draft Class
Trent Baalke had a few major targets in the draft in 2013. With a wealth of picks, and very few holes to fill, he could afford to take some shots on some injured players. A replacement at safety was a must, as Dashon Goldson had signed a big money free agent contract with the Bucs in March. A versatile tight end who could at least do a comparable Delanie Walker impression was also on the list. With A.J. Jenkins looking more and more like a bust, a wide receiver was also high on Baalke’s list of needs. Some depth on the defensive front was really their only other target, and with 11 total picks, including 6 of the first 128, Baalke knew he could take some chances. The picks have seen mixed results across the board, but the key for many of these guys will be year 2.
Eric Reid - #18 overall: A-
Reid became the second safety selected in the draft after the Niners moved up 13 spots to select him. Although there were no other safeties selected in between the picks, the 49ers’ brass thought they had to move up and get their guy after Kenny Vaccaro was selected with the #15 pick by the Saints. Reid has impressed in his rookie season, coming back from two in-game concussions to not miss a single start. Although he isn’t the flashy player that Dashon Goldson is, Reid probably fits better into the blue collar mentality of Vic Fangio’s defense.
Already lauded by Donte Whitner as a great communicator, Reid isn’t afraid to lay a (legal) hit, and he’s often found himself in the right place at the right time to deliver some turnovers. The one thing he’ll have to work on is his tackling, as he leads the team with 11, but there could be bigger problems for a rookie asked to start from Day 1. Assuming development, the Niners look like they hit a home run with the 18th overall pick.
Tank Carradine - #40 overall: C+
Carradine was a top 10 talent whose draft stock tumbled because of a torn ACL and a hurried rehab, which allowed him to run and do some drills at his Pro Day. Those worries caused a precipitous drop out of the first round, where the Niners were glad to snatch him up. They picked up an extra 2014 3rd rounder from the Titans for dropping out of the #34 pick to the 40th overall selection. Carradine’s C+ grade mostly comes due to San Francisco’s handling of their new defensive end.
Because his rehab was pushed to get ready for the draft, the 49ers’ training staff started anew with Carradine. Could the Niners use another defensive lineman for the stretch run? Maybe, Ray McDonald is just returning from an ankle injury, and you’d love to manage Justin Smith’s reps over the remainder of the regular season. Is he absolutely necessary to the 2013 season, though? No. While it would’ve been nice to Tank on the field in 2013, the 49ers’ defensive end of the future is better off watching from the sidelines and joining the offseason workout program at 100%.
Vance McDonald - #55 overall: B-
First, the good news: McDonald has played at least 21 snaps in every game this season, working as the all-important #2 tight end in the 49ers’ offense, which relies on 12 personnel as much as any team in football. McDonald has attempted to fill the void left by free agent Delanie Walker, who excelled in the H-back role for the Niners. While McDonald has seen plenty of the field, he hasn’t played particularly well. He’s spent over half of his snaps run blocking, and whatever good work he’s done in the run game has usually been cancelled out by a poor performance in the next game or two. Additionally, when Colin Kaepernick was struggling to find worthy targets early in the season when missing Michael Crabtree and, at times, Vernon Davis, McDonald was invisible. Seeing just 16 targets on the season, the big TE from Rice has dropped 3 of those targets, and has failed to make a real impact in this facet of the game.
However, McDonald won’t be viewed as a failed pick for the Niners quite yet. Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, and Gavin Escobar, the three tight ends picked before McDonald have all failed to deliver on expectations, so McDonald isn’t alone. The best rookie TE has been Washington’s Jordan Reed, who plays on a dysfunctional team and has been shut down for the year as well. Rookie tight ends often fail to make an impact in Year 1, but the lens will certainly be fixed on McDonald in his sophomore season.
Corey Lemonier - #88: B+
Corey Lemonier was a distant fourth on the 49ers’ depth chart at OLB when the season began, but due to Aldon Smith’s personal issues, he got a chance to play significant snaps as early as Week 4. With Smith in a rehabilitation facility, Lemonier played the majority of his 268 snaps from weeks 4-8, registering a sack, 3 hits, and 14 hurries in that time. Playing mostly as a nickel pass rusher while Dan Skuta held down the early down, base defense ROLB spot, Lemonier has found his calling as an NFL player. As a 4-3 DE at Auburn, the rookie was always more of a pass rusher than run stopper, so the transition to OLB in the NFL has been seamless. Having fellow OLBs like Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith, in addition to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to help him along probably haven’t hurt either.
With the Niners facing some salary cap decisions in the next few seasons, Lemonier will likely be asked to take on more of a role as soon as 2014. While it remains to be seen whether or not he can hack it as a three down LB, he should certainly settle in as a pass rush specialist on a team that already has a pretty scary group in front seven. For now, he gives Vic Fangio some great depth if Brooks or Smith go down with an injury.
Quinton Patton - #128 overall: C-
It’s been a season of coulda-woulda-shoulda for Quinton Patton so far. Early in training camp, he broke an index finger, which rendered him unable to catch passes and establish chemistry with Colin Kaepernick. When he finally was healthy near the end of training camp, he starred in preseason games, catching touchdowns in the final two. Despite starting the regular season behind Kyle Williams on the depth chart, it was clear that he had more talent and a change was coming. By Week 4, Patton had started playing ahead Williams in two wide receiver sets with Anquan Boldin. Unfortunately, Patton fractured his foot against the Rams in Week 4, effectively ending his season. Had he been able to stay healthy, he likely would’ve offered Kaepernick a more viable third option until Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree returned.
Another lost season for a rookie Niner. Yet, Patton is certainly a possible replacement for Anquan Boldin next season. Although he’s obviously not as smart or savvy quite yet, Patton had a knack for “just getting open” according to Kaepernick in training camp, so they’re certainly cut from the same cloth. For the rest of the season, though, Patton is likely to be a healthy scratch on gameday. Is it possible that he overtakes Manningham for some reps? Sure, but not likely with Patton still getting settled after his foot fracture.
Marcus Lattimore - #131 overall: C+
We knew the drill with Lattimore entering the season. Unless catastrophe struck, and two of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and LaMichael James went down with an injury, Lattimore wasn’t going to see an NFL field in 2013. The slightly above average grade is due to Lattimore getting in about a month’s worth of practices from mid November until about early December. His knee held up so he should be all systems go for the 49ers’ offseason program. Frank Gore will be in the last year of his deal next season, and at age 31, would have to be close to the end of the tank.
Lattimore will likely start the season as the backup, or even third string back to Kendall Hunter. However, if he comes back full strength from his knee injury, he’ll quickly overtake Hunter. A true three down back, Lattimore has to be the favorite for the starting running back job in the 2015 season. Yes, that’s a long ways out, but Lattimore is the type of player you can’t help but root for, Niners fan or no Niners fan.
Quinton Dial and Nick Moody
The fifth and sixth round defensive players just aren’t need by the 49ers at this time. They’ve combined to play 29 snaps in garbage time. With Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Tony Jerod-Eddie, and Demarcus Dobbs forming the defensive line rotation, Dial will be hard pressed to crack the group. With Carradine set to overtake him next season, it looks like a tough spot for Dial. However, he came from Alabama’s versatile system, so he could figure along the line in the future.
Moody broke his hand in Week 1, so he lost a bit of a chance when Aldon Smith went out of the lineup, but he probably was never going to see significant time with Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier manning the OLB position. Moody will try and earn a spot on the special teams unit over the rest of the season, and then figures to compete for a more prominent role during the offseason and training camp.
B.J. Daniels is learning from Russell Wilson on the Seahawks’ practice squad. Meanwhile, Marcus Cooper, the third to last pick of the draft, who was waived by the Niners in final cuts, has carved out a prominent role in the Chiefs’ defense as the third cornerback. Although he has struggled in recent weeks against the likes Peyton Manning, his performance in 2013 is nothing short of miraculous. The Niners have to be criticized for deciding to keep, and subsequently start, Nnamdi Asomugha over Cooper.
Their third seventh round pick, OT Carter Bykowski, was originally waived at the end of training camp. He was signed to the practice squad and has been there every since. He could eventually work his way into a swing tackle, but he has two of the better tackles in the league, both signed long-term, to work his way into the starting lineup. Bykowski is probably a candidate for the practice squad next season.
While Trent Baalke hasn’t exactly hit a slam dunk so far with his 2013 draft class, no draft can be fully judged after one season. With a loaded roster, Baalke could afford to take some chances. The only possible critique could be that Keenan Allen was selected 19 spots after Vance McDonald. The Niners have been hurting for wide receiver production all season, and Allen would have stepped in well. Beyond that, though, San Francisco found a safety to solidify the backend of an already top defense, as well as adding four or five significant assets.