There might not have been a team that needed this year’s NFL Draft less than the San Francisco 49ers and while they were loaded with picks, they had few needs and could use the draft as an opportunity to build depth and a quality rotation now and starters down the road. General Manager Trent Baalke is not quite regarded at the same level as guys like Ozzie Newsome or Ted Thompson because the 49ers have not won a Super Bowl yet, but he is quickly rising to that level. The 49ers have a terrific roster built to compete for the Super Bowl and came into the draft with an incredible 13 picks. They have the flexibility to move up, move down and get what they want in terms of targets and are not forced to draft for need whatsoever, so they were sitting in the catbird seat when the draft began. Nothing the 49ers did was particularly surprising in terms of who they took or how they got them, but their haul was talented, versatile, and left them with roster flexibility.
The one area that the 49ers needed to address in this draft was free safety after Dashon Goldson went to the Bucs via free agency. The 49ers were sitting with the 31st pick of the draft and wanted to make sure they landed their guy, so they made a deal to move up with the Dallas Cowboys to move up to the 18th pick to select Eric Reid, safety from LSU; the move cost them the third round pick they acquired last year in a deal with the Panthers. Reid steps right in as the presumed starter and is the prototypical center fielding free safety who will work to protect them over the top. Reid was slightly more productive as a sophomore but he was a better player as a junior. As a sophomore, he was responsible for a smaller area of the field with Morris Claiborne (Top 10 pick) shutting down half the field and Brandon Taylor (3rd round pick) next to him, so he was typically playing half the field and able to flourish when he had opportunities. As a junior, Reid was often playing center field in a Cover-1 set up where he was protecting the back end of the entire field. With the added responsibility came more opportunities for him to be challenged and to have plays made against him, but he was a better player as a result of being put into that situation.
Reid has shown a tremendous ability to read the field and diagnose where teams were attempting to attack the LSU secondary, so he was good at anticipating where he needed to go to make plays and prevent plays. He has shown impressive awareness and a good football IQ as a true center fielder with the ability to make plays on the deep ball with his size and speed. The issue Reid needs to improve his tackling and stop just throwing his body at opponents. Not only is this a bad idea in terms of technique and how it can miss, but Reid has the awful habit of leading with his head, which is dangerous for the opponent and Reid himself. The risk of concussions is bad enough, but Reid risks paralyzing himself in the process. Hopefully, he stops doing it so he can have a long, effective career in the NFL.
In the second round, the 49ers had an extra pick, the 34th overall, they had acquired in the deal to send Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs. They opted to trade down to the 40th pick in a deal with the Tennessee Titans to grab an extra seventh round pick this year and a third round pick in next year’s draft to start building up their war chest for the future. With the 40th pick, the 49ers added Tank Carradine, defensive end from Florida State. This gives the 49ers needed depth in the front seven but they gain roster flexibility as Carradine is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Seminoles’ regular season finale against Florida. Carradine’s recovery has been remarkable so far but he could still end up on the Physically Unable to Perform List, which would keep him out until week six or they could put him injured reserve for the whole season. This would allow them to have Carradine get healthy and learn the defense, but not take up a roster spot either until part way through the year or the entire season, depending on which route they choose and with how loaded their roster is with talent right now, this is a smart move.
As a player, Carradine was a fantastic player who had a breakout year when the presumed starter at right end, Brandon Jenkins, suffered a foot injury that ended his season and unfortunately his career at Florida State. Carradine made the most of his opportunity and was a dominating force on the right side of the line. He showed the ability to be a dominating run defender who could also rush the passer with power and agility. Carradine’s instincts and hand usage allowed him to be virtually unblockable at times and he consistently kept opponents off guard to make plays. He was almost universally regarded as a first round prospect, if healthy, and arguably a top 10 talent, so while the 49ers have to wait on him, he could be an impact player when he comes back healthy.
The move is interesting because he likely comes in as depth behind Ray McDonald. This would give them a player that can come in and still give them help against the run, but would be able to line up at the end position and give them another impact pass rusher across from Glenn Dorsey, who looks to revitalize his career in San Francisco. Because he is a power player who can collapse the pocket and work inside, it gives them a ton of possible ways to send their pass rushing linebackers in to get after the quarterback; they could use Carradine to force the offensive tackle inside to open up a lane on the outside for the linebacker to come either unblocked or against a running back or have Carradine force the offensive tackle outside and create a lane for pass rushers to come in the B gap. These are just a couple of possibilities in that scenario.
The focus of the 49ers should be to get him healthy and then worry about how they want to employ him, so it will be interesting what type of schedule they have planned for him. Carradine was able to do a full workout a few days before the draft which is remarkable considering the limited amount of time that had passed since the injury in early December. Carradine did experience some swelling and soreness the day after the workout, so there is clearly still recovering to do, but he is ahead of schedule, so when he will be 100% and ready to go is something that will be worth keeping an eye on, because if he is able to be full go and able to contribute for the end of the season, he could be a nice pickup for the end of the year and heading into the playoffs. If they have him sit out the entire year, no one could blame them. The fact he is as far along as he is and could play at all is simply incredible in terms of his ability to heal but also the hard work he has put in to get back to full health.
Later in the second round, the 49ers traded the Green Bay Packers their sixth round pick to move up six spots to select Vance McDonald, tight end from Rice. McDonald is raw and has a long way to go in terms of his development but his physical tools and potential are through the roof. He has virtually identical measurables to Ziggy Ansah, who went fifth overall. McDonald comes into a great situation because of the presence of Vernon Davis, so while they would like him to make an early impact, it is not critical. McDonald comes in to take the place of Delanie Walker, who signed in the offseason with Tennessee.
McDonald is huge at 6’4” 270lbs so he is ideally built to play as an inline tight end, but Rice used him predominately as a joker in the slot in their system. His responsibilities were somewhat limited and he was mostly a receiving threat. He will need to adjust to block inline, which is easier than blocking in space but it is an adjustment to block in tandem with the right tackle, Anthony Davis. McDonald’s speed and athleticism is remarkable and he is dangerous as a play making threat, but he is raw when it comes to running routes and even just catching the ball. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has huge expectations for McDonald and made him aware of that when he handed him his 89 jersey. There is a lot of hard work ahead of McDonald and he has a world of potential, but it would not be surprising if his role and impact are limited this year as a rookie.
Baalke and Packer’s general manager Ted Thompson got on the phone again as they agreed to a deal that allowed the 49ers to move up five spots in the third round for the seventh round pick they picked up from Tennessee. This move was so the 49ers could grab more depth for the front seven in Corey Lemonier, defensive end from Auburn. While Carradine figures into the defensive line rotation when he gets healthy, Lemonier comes in to develop and rotate behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, an area that was a concern coming into this draft.
Lemonier is an impressive athlete but raw in terms of his technique. His explosion and speed off the edge makes him jump out on tape but he had issues when it came to taking on and beating blocks or playing the run. Too often, Lemonier either won immediately at the point of attack or he was beaten. That proved to be effective in college where few tackles could keep up with his speed and that first step, but in the NFL, he is going to need to develop and put in the work to beat opponents with more than just speed. The situation he comes into with Brooks and Smith ahead of him is fantastic and allows him to work and develop in much the same way Smith did when he was drafted. Lemonier is miserable at this point against the run, but they will only need him to come in and rush the passer at this point, so that is what his focus will be. That is the way they used Smith as a rookie and allowed him to focus purely on rushing the passer and using him specifically in that role where he flourished. They hope to get the same type of results with Lemonier and then add to his game as they go along in the process.
In the fourth, the 49ers sat tight when they selected Quinton Patton, wide receiver from Louisiana Tech. Patton was tremendously productive for the Bulldogs and he was well-rounded receiver in this year’s draft. From his ability to run routes, catch the football, make yards after the catch, and block, he looked like a professional. He also appeared to outperform his projected workouts by having solid workouts even if he shrunk over an inch from his listed height. The one concern that Patton had coming into the draft was creating separation. For everything he did well, he had some issues creating space with defensive backs to catch the football. To his credit, Patton was great at catching passes in traffic. In terms of talent, Patton warranted going much higher but the depth and talent in this receiver class caused him to fall and the 49ers scooped him up.
The 49ers had a nice stable of receivers but the value was clearly too good to pass up here and with the news that Michael Crabtree has suffered a tear of his Achilles tendon that could keep him out until November or December at the earliest and more likely the whole season, this pick becomes more valuable. The 49ers acquired Anquan Boldin in the offseason from the Baltimore Ravens in addition to the fact they had A.J. Jenkins, whom they drafted in the first round last year. Had Crabtree been healthy, Patton is good enough that he should not have been counted out with this team at full strength, but especially now, it would not be surprising at all if he works himself into significant playing time. He has the ability to come in and contribute as a receiver but his blocking might give him an edge. With the way the 49ers like to run the football and having guys like Colin Kaepernick and LaMichael James, who can attack on the edges, Patton’s blocking is valuable. His effort to stay with blockers and put them into the bench could be the difference between a decent gain and a huge one. There is going to be a lot of competition in camp for the wide receiver reps and while Patton is the last guy in with the least amount of investment, do not be shocked when he works his way into playing time.
Later in the fourth round, with a compensatory pick, the 49ers picked up Marcus Lattimore, running back from South Carolina. One of the bigger stories to follow in the draft along with Carradine, Lattimore was a wild card. His talent is incredible but his knee injuries and the state of his recovery are an obvious concern. 100% healthy, he was the top back in this draft and if he can healthy, he could be an absolute steal. Lattimore could be placed on the PUP list, but he is more likely to be placed on injured reserve in an attempt to get him 100% healthy for next year. The 49ers have a nice stable of backs with Frank Gore still going, James, and Kendall Hunter, but Lattimore represents the future. Gore is coming to the end of his improbable career considering his injuries and when he is ready to retire, the 49ers hope Lattimore can step in and be the feature back.
Lattimore has an incredible combination of speed and power as a runner but he is an underrated receiving threat and is not just a guy who can catch screens and dump off type passes, but he runs routes and attacks defenses while catches passes on the move. There may not be a better back in this draft when it comes to getting behind his pads and is virtually unstoppable when he does it, making him terrific in short yardage and goal line situations. His long legs make it so that when he side steps or performs a jump cut, he is able to jump from one running lane to another, able to avoid defenders trying to tackle him. His vision and instincts for the possession are excellent and it is simply a matter of getting him to stay and maintain his health so he can show off all of that talent.
The 49ers acquired an extra fifth round pick last year when they moved down in a deal with the Indianapolis Colts; they used it to pick up Quinton Dial, defensive end from Alabama. Continuing to add depth to their defensive line, Dial comes out of Nick Saban’s 3-4 system where he played as a 5-technique end, but also saw some time as nose tackle which are the two spots he could play in the 49ers system. With Carradine and Dorsey in the fold as guys who project to be backups to their ends now, Dial’s main focus could at nose, where the 49ers lost their starter Isaac Sopoaga to free agency. Currently, they have a former undrafted free agent in Ian Williams and journeyman Lamar Divens competing for the starting job.
Dial has a lot of physical power and potential going forward but he has not lived up to his talent as of yet. He was a contributor on the Tide’s National Championship run but he could end up being a better pro than he was a college player. The opportunity is there to capture playing time at the nose or as an end in a jumbo type package when the 49ers want to really clamp down on the run. Dial gives them someone who can contribute early as well as giving them versatility who could be a big pickup if the light goes on for him.
With another pick they acquired in the 2012 draft in a deal made with the Miami Dolphins, the 49ers used their only pick in the sixth round to add more defensive depth in Nick Moody, outside linebacker from Florida State. The 49ers went back to Tallahassee, this time to pick up Moody who was a weak side linebacker for the Seminoles after moving from corner and through the safety position. Moody comes in most likely as a coverage linebacker that moves inside to play in obvious passing situations in addition to special teams.
Moody may never be a star or even a starter but he projects really well for what the 49ers need him to do; be good on special teams and come in as a coverage specialist. The 49ers have arguably the best set of linebackers in the league, especially in the middle, but it is never a bad thing to have someone like Moody who can come in and give these guys a break and be a true special teams really excels in that one area. In order for him to have long term viability as a potential starter down the road, he will need to continue to add bulk, but he is someone who can have an impact this coming season.
With their first pick in the seventh round, the 49ers grabbed quarterback B.J. Daniels from South Florida. He is technically a quarterback but he has never been much of a passer, possessing a nice arm but having little in terms of accuracy or polish. Daniels was a good athlete for the Bulls though and that makes the most sense in terms of the interest of the 49ers.
It remains to be seen if Daniels is brought in to change positions to a wide receiver or running back or perhaps they like his potential as a run option threat. With the success they have had with Kaepernick running the option looks for the 49ers, it would be not be a huge surprise if they brought Daniels in to basically specialize in that area and see if he can stick on the roster. The key with the run option being effective is the quarterback needs to be a viable threat to throw the football but just enough to keep the defense on their toes. Daniels can throw it enough to do that even if he is running 90% of the time and throwing as a changeup to keep the defense honest. The investment was next to nothing, so if Daniels does not come in and do what they expect from him, they can cut the cord on the experiment and put him on the practice squad or move on from the move entirely.
Later in the seventh round with another compensatory pick, the 49ers picked up Carter Bykowski, offensive tackle from Iowa State. This is an intriguing move because Bykowski started his career as a tight end before bulking up as a tackle, so he has the feet to protect the blind side and needs to work on technique and improving his functional strength. Largely, Bykowski is selected as a prospect with solid triangle numbers and long arms but he does have some similarities in terms how he has developed as a tackle as their starting left tackle Joe Staley.
It will not be easy for Bykowski to make the final roster and this could largely be a flyer to see what he can do with a little coaching in camp, but he will compete to make the team as a swing tackle with Kenny Wiggins. Bykowski may ultimately end up going to the practice squad if he cannot impress enough during training camp.
With the last pick of their draft and third compensatory pick, the 49ers brought in Rutgers corner Marcus Cooper. Cooper is a long, rangy corner at 6’2” 192lbs who performed well at the Rutgers Pro Day with his speed as well as his strength, putting up 20 reps on the bench and a 10’9” broad jump. Cooper will have the opportunity to prove to the coaching staff he should stick around as he could conceivably compete to make the team as a corner or safety in addition to special teams. The depth chart has opportunities at both corner and free safety if he shows enough in training camp, but is another guy who could ultimately end up on the practice squad.
The 49ers have a somewhat precarious situation at corner. Carlos Rogers has been effective in his time with the 49ers, but he is 31 years old, which is less than ideal for someone playing corner. On the other side, Tarell Brown struggled and was arguably the weakest spot in the entire defense this past year. The big wild card is the newly signed Nnamdi Asomugha who has been an All-Pro at times in his career but was ineffective in his stint with the Philadelphia Eagles. Also 31, the question with Asomugha is whether Philadelphia was just a poor fit in terms of his style with their defensive scheme or was there a larger problem with what he was doing. If the problem was him, it will be harder to cover up and they are hurting at corner unless someone like Perrish Cox or Chris Culliver can step up, which is why there is an opportunity for a player like Cooper, even if it is a long shot.
My Thoughts: I love the approach of Trent Baalke in this draft. He took full advantage of the overwhelming amount of ammo he had in terms of draft picks to get the guys he wanted, maneuver in the draft to get more picks for next year, and then picked guys with talent who give them roster flexibility. Being effective in the draft and making the most of opportunities to gain extra picks have made it so the 49ers are not forced to do anything. They brought in 11 players with this draft and have 10 picks going into next year’s draft with compensatory picks still to come, so they can start the process all over again. The picks they have next year are not quite as valuable as they were this year, but it is the same concept.
The roster flexibility they took advantage of is huge. They took two players that may not play a down this year and that comes with a certain amount of risk, but in taking Carradine and Lattimore, they have two of the biggest talents from this year’s draft who could be impact players in the future and it allows them to effectively have extra players. Because they will likely be on the PUP list but could end up injured reserve, the 49ers get to carry two extra players when they cut down to the 53 man roster, which means they can hold onto more of the talent they have collected. It was a really smart way to use this draft to build for the future in addition to now.
A lot of people were a little down on Eric Reid as a top safety prospect but I really liked him as a player and as a fit for the 49ers. He was the best center fielding safety option in the draft, period, which is what the 49ers wanted. Reid has work to do with his tackling and effectiveness as a run defender but the 49ers are only really concerned with his ability for him to protect them over the top and help take away big plays down the field, which he should be able to do. Reid is also an extremely intelligent player who should be able to soak up the defensive scheme and assume the role of the quarterback of the defense quickly.
I love what Carradine brings to the table with his talent and the idea of having him on the edge with guys like Aldon Smith or Lemonier coming off the same side is a great situation to have. And speaking of Lemonier, he is a nice physical talent that needs development. They can put him on virtually the same path as Smith when he was selected. Lemonier is not the same talent that Smith was, but he does have significant upside and could prove a steal if they can get him to learn the technique to beat blocks. It is a similar situation with McDonald, who is sort of like Frankenstein’s Monster of this draft. He combines the measurables of Ansah with the rawness and playmaking ability of Cordarelle Patterson. McDonald has the potential to be a dominant player and if the light goes on for him, it is going to be difficult to find someone who will be able to stop him.
I am a huge fan of what Quinton Patton does as a receiver in terms of his professional demeanor when it comes to how he approaches the position. He worked on everything and brought a high effort to all the jobs a receiver does. Patton catches the ball well, he runs routes well, and he blocks about as well as any receiver in the draft. Everything is an opportunity and Patton looks to take advantage as much as possible. His receivers coach is going to love him and if he can improve his ability to separate, he could be a stud. There were people in the draft community who viewed Patton as a first round talent. Personally, I looked at him as a solid second round talent because of his lack of special physical ability, but he was someone I loved watching play the game and think that his tape is a great example of how to play the position and they got him for pennies on the dollar. The Crabtree injury is unfortunate, but I would not bet against Patton and his ability to take advantage of this opportunity.
Not only does the 49ers medical staff have experience with the situation they are inheriting with Lattimore, having gone through it with Gore, but the 49ers do not need Lattimore now. He is a total luxury on this year’s team whereas in a year or two, he could potentially be the feature back after Gore is done. If they are able to have Lattimore and Gore rotating carries with a guy like James as the wild card, the 49ers have an incredible backfield group that can be dominant.
I am a little surprised the 49ers did not take a more direct route and grab a pure nose tackle earlier in the draft, but Dial has experience in the scheme coming from Alabama and he still can get better as a player. He brings a terrific frame and strength along with the ability to stay low and get leverage. There is potential there, but the situation at the nose is a little iffy at this point. The 49ers under Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator have run a hybrid defense with a lot of even fronts as well as odd, so perhaps they plan to use more of that four man front this year. I actually liked Ian Williams when he was coming out of Notre Dame, so I am interested to see what he can do with the opportunity to take the starting job.
I like Moody as a pure special teamer who can also contribute as a coverage specialist in nickel situations, especially with what the Rams and Seahawks have in their arsenals at the skill positions. It seems like this pick was made at least in part to try to help against those offense and the athleticism and speed they have brought in this offseason to play in the middle of the field. He may never be a featured player but he could add a lot of value as a featured specialist and role player.
The Daniels pick was a little perplexing. It seemed like he was a guy they could have brought in as an undrafted free agent especially with MarQueis Gray available. They did manage to sign the former Golden Gopher quarterback and bring him in as a conversion guy, who can compete at tight end. Daniels is intriguing because of the athleticism and possibility to be developed purely as a specialist in the run option type set up, so it will be an interesting experiment. If it does not work out, it is hardly the end of the world.
This is a similar deal with the last two picks they made, who both will need to impress in camp to stick around and could end up as practice squad players. Between the two of them, Cooper is more interesting and the guy I would pick to last longer, but both have physical talent and potential that could be developed into something down the road.
Overall, Baalke did another fantastic job and it is easy to complement a guy who had so many picks, but he made his own luck by making deals that got him those extra picks. More power to him for using them effectively. There is a modest amount of risk in the moves they made with guys who will likely not play this year, but they are counting on hitting with the majority of their picks in the early rounds, which is what the New England Patriots had been doing for a few years. The difference is that Baalke has been better when it comes to making those picks count and picking effective players for the 49ers. The only thing separating Baalke from being one of the top general managers in the league is a Super Bowl ring. If he can get that, he will be and there is no reason to think he will slow down in the draft after this year, since they have a number of picks for next year as well.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Alabama Crimson Tide Football Auburn Tigers Football B.J. Daniels Carter Bykowski Corey Lemonier Cornellius Carradine Eric Reid Florida State Seminoles Football Iowa State Cyclones Football Louisiana Tech Bulldogs LSU Tigers Football Marcus Cooper Marcus Lattimore Nick Moody Quinton Dial Quinton Patton Rice Owls Football Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football South Carolina Gamecocks Football South Florida Bulls Football Tank Carradine The San Francisco 49ers Vance McDonald