Feeling A Draft: Predicting Who Gets Snaps
Not much was made of the 2012 49ers draft class during their Super Bowl run. The class made as small of a contribution as any team could get from a draft. With a loaded roster and zero glaring holes, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh didn't need to depend on any youngsters. For example, first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins, saw 47 snaps during the season and didn't catch a single pass. LaMichael James, a second-round running back out of Oregon, was a healthy scratch until Kendall Hunter tore his Achilles in Week 12. He was a role player in the Niners’ pistol attack in the playoffs after playing marginally in the regular season.
But, after losing No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree to injury, along with All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson to free agency, the Niners will undoubtedly have to rely on the 2013 draft for production this season. Let’s take a look at which rookie Niners will fight for the most playing time.
Eric Reid » Safety
The 49ers traded up from the 31st pick to the No. 18 overall pick to select the Louisiana State safety. Although the 49ers signed free safety Craig Dahl to a multi-year deal, Dahl graded out as the 78th overall safety out of 88 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus rankings. The veteran was brought in merely as insurance in case San Francisco couldn’t get the safety they were targeting in the draft. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will scheme to hide Reid’s weaknesses and he will likely play the majority of the Niners’ defensive snaps at free safety, next to strong safety Donte Whitner.
Cornellius ‘Tank’ Carradine » Defensive End
The 40th overall pick out of Florida State suffered a torn ACL in November, so the 49ers will bring him along slowly. But after Justin Smith suffered a torn triceps and San Fran’s pass rush lost some of its teeth in the playoffs, ‘Tank’ will factor in the defensive line rotation this season. While Carradine is capable of playing outside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula may groom ‘Tank’ to be Justin Smith’s replacement at defensive end. Smith is a free agent following the 2013 season and Carradine possesses some of the same attributes as the four-time Pro Bowler.
Vance McDonald » Tight End
The Titans signed San Francisco’s longtime backup tight end Delanie Walker to a four-year, $17.5 million contract, ending the veteran’s seven-year run with the Niners. With the landscape of the NFL shifting to more two tight-end sets and the 49ers already losing Michael Crabtree this offseason, the development of McDonald will be accelerated. He could see significant time on the field to create mismatches in the passing game and help out in the run game. While his impact is ultimately limited by Vernon Davis’ existence, McDonald’s versatility and athleticism will get him on the field. After minicamp, CSN Bay Area called McDonald the “most impressive rookie” for the 49ers.
Corey Lemonier » Linebacker
After their pass rush fell apart in the playoffs, the 49ers continued to beef up their front seven when they traded up in the third round to grab the Auburn product. Lemonier is expected to slot in behind starters Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks at outside linebacker and should be able to provide either player with a breather as a rotational player. Lemonier played defensive end at Auburn, so it will be interesting to see if he is versatile enough to play with his hand in the dirt in some sub-package situations. He might not see the field a ton as a rookie, but his role could expand as time goes on.
Quinton Patton – Wide Receiver
Before Michael Crabtree suffered a potential season-ending Achilles tear, Patton was set to compete for the No. 3 wide-out duties with A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette. With veterans Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham recovering from ACL injuries, the opportunity was there for the youngsters to seize a small part of a suddenly potent 49ers offense. There is even more pressure on these three young receivers to take the job opposite Anquan Boldin. Patton is on the outside looking in after Jenkins worked with Colin Kaepernick in the offseason, and Lockette has matured as Kaepernick’s roommate. However, the job is completely up for grabs as none of these players have any consequential snaps in the NFL.
Best of the Rest
1. Marcus Lattimore » The talented, but injured running back is likely to start the season on the PUP list, if not IR. He is committed to working hard and will be poised to make an impact in 2014.
2. Quinton Dial » The Alabama defensive lineman will fight for snaps at nose tackle with Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams, as well as rotational 3-4 defensive end snaps with Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and ‘Tank’ Carradine. Depending on what needs the Niners have at other positions, Dial could end up being a game-day scratch, or he could figure as a body on the defensive line.
3. Nick Moody » With Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman entrenched as two of the best inside linebackers in the game, the 49ers look at Moody as their next special teams ace.
4. B.J. Daniels » Daniels is an athletically-gifted quarterback who the Niners could groom as a third-string quarterback, someone that can run the read-option. Or they could try converting him to a WR/RB/TE to use on gimmick plays.
5. Carter Bykowski » The Niners went through last season with their starting right guard, Alex Boone, as their backup offensive tackle. Bykowski could fill the role of swing tackle for San Francisco.
6. Marcus Cooper » Cooper will have to really stand out at minicamps and training camp to even make the 49ers roster. With Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver, Nnamdi Asomugha and Parrish Cox at cornerback, Cooper is facing an uphill battle.
While the 49ers have had more roster turnover this season than last, and will ask more of their draft class this season, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh are one of the best GM/head coach combos in the game. They possess one of the most talented rosters in the league and always get the most out of their players.