Nearly everybody is praising the 49ers’ draft this year. No, seriously, nearly everybody – check the winners and losers columns over the next week if you don’t believe me. That praise comes with good reason – having too many picks for too few open roster slots, they entered this weekend needing a few pieces, more than players, and seem to have gotten them.
I say pieces, because the roster is pretty damn good as constructed and is close to championship quality as it is – unless you’re the Tennessee Titans, it’s hard to get much closer than we did last year, just five yards short of a Lombardi Trophy.
The usual “draft classes can’t truly be evaluated until 3 or 4 years down the line” thinking still applies, so there should be no rush to crown any of the players below as future All-Pros or anything of that nature. Still, if we are taking a quick glance on paper, the Niners appear to have picked up a few guys who could fit into the Super Bowl puzzle.
I’ll share some thoughts on the five most likely to make an impact, all, interestingly enough, with a southern flavor.
Eric Reid – S, LSU
We probably didn’t need to move up to get Eric Reid. Most mock drafts – and I refer here to people who know the NFL far, far better than I – had him being available into the second round, and as the third or fourth best safety in the draft after Kenny Vaccaro, Jonathan Cyprien, and possibly even Matt Elam.
That being said, moving up to get him didn’t cost too much, which does eliminate some of the downsides of such a move – all it took to jump up to #18 was a third round pick, and with the roster situation being as tight as it is, that makes one less contender for the final 53 man squad.
Nothing is set in stone, of course, but as of right now, it appears that Reid will be a day one starter, stepping in at free safety where Dashon Goldson used to. The former Tiger is not a finished, Eric Berry-type product by any means, but he brings a lot of the traits that Goldson once did, in being a strong tackler who closes space very quickly. That’s not where the Goldson comparisons end, either – there are a bunch of plays on his cut ups that show poor decision making and penalty drawing late hits, the kind that his predecessor was fairly well-known for. Reid will definitely need to work on his angles going forward, too, as he has a habit for occasionally overrunning the play – a big no no for someone anchoring the back end of the defense.
Still, would you take a cheaper, younger Dashon Goldson, flaws and all? Yes, please.
Cornelius “Tank” Carradine – DL, Florida State
The one major hole and starting position available was filled by picking up Reid, making the rest of the 2013 class mostly for depth – at least in the short term.
With all due respect to Eric Reid, it’s those “depth” guys that have everybody excited, an excitement that pretty much begins with this guy. First of all, his name is TANK – those letters just ooze beasthood, so we can only hope it’s not a misnomer. The Niners were able to snatch up Carradine – a first round talent himself – in the mid-second, and got a 3rd rounder next year by doing so, making him a huge bargain already. Tank is currently recovering from an ACL tear, which is a slight concern, but he ran the whole battery of tests, got checked out before the draft, and has assured people he is right on schedule for recovery. Good to hear, and luckily, the Niners are stocked enough up front to have the privilege of waiting for him. When they finally do, they’ll be adding an immovable object to their defensive line.
Even at 275 pounds, you rarely see Carradine pushed back at all, meaning he holds his ground quite well at the point of attack, will be perfectly suited at 3-4 end (once he bulks up another 10-15 pounds; he played 4-3 in college). The passrushing skills – and with 11.0 sacks this year, he does have some – he’ll add are just a nice bonus. His teammate Bjoern Werner went earlier in the draft, but there is a significant amount of opinion that suggests Tank will outproduce him as a pro, and that he would’ve been a top 20 pick if fully healthy – that’s how physically gifted and quick he is. Plus, the best part? With Justin Smith not getting any younger himself, we have a potential successor in place if (when?) Cowboy rides off.
Corey Lemonier – LB, Auburn
Aldon Smith is going to be a force on the outside for years to come – and the Niners drafted Lemonier with the expectation of being his running mate. Though he played defensive end at Auburn, the front office has said that Lemonier projects at outside linebacker going forward, where a good amount of what he’ll have to do is pass-rush. There’s no tape on his skills as a linebacker, so I can’t tell you how he covers players in space, or if he knows how to properly leverage and run force, but if he’s nothing more than a situational, 3rd-down, go-get-the-quarterback kind of guy, he’d be well served in that role. Lemonier has a great first step, and an athleticism that lets him chase down opposing signal callers with reckless abandon. [Plus, he’s pretty dang fast. With a 4.60 40 time in Indy, he led all DEs there.] He’s going to be a work in progress because of the position change and all, and does still need to add a lot of strength to take on opposing blockers better, but the raw tools he has are intriguing.
Marcus Lattimore – RB, South Carolina
Lattimore would’ve been a first or second round pick without the injury. I still haven’t seen it, but by all reports, it was absolutely disgusting, as I imagine a torn ACL/MCL/PCL might be. This isn’t a pick for the moment, though – like Tank, the Niners have no immediate need for someone at his position, with Lamichael James, Frank Gore, and the returning Kendall Hunter all set to take careers this year. But that’s what good teams do, right? In addition to addressing immediate concerns, they take the time to prepare for things down the road, too, long before they ever become pressing issues.
If Lattimore is how they plan to address the eventuality of life after Frank Gore, then they couldn’t have done much better in this year’s draft. The 2010 NCAA Freshman of the Year moves extremely well in space for a 220 pound back, routinely outrunning defenders like a man 25 pounds lighter, but still strong enough to punish the ones foolish enough to get close to him. He can do a little bit of everything – catches the ball well out of the backfield, has great balance, great change of direction for a guy of that size (although you figure that’ll be a little limited going forward), and he’ll probably get the year off to rehab that knee and get fully healthy. The only negative I can think of regarding Lattimore is the obvious wear that he comes with – Steve Spurrier was neither shy nor conservative about using his best player for carries on carries, to the point that he broke down twice.
He won’t be asked to shoulder so much of the load here, and may never again. It is rare for any back to have more than 20-25 touches a game in the NFL, a limit that should serve him all the better, allowing us to keep him healthier, and for longer. If the 2014 backfield resembles what we expect – a three-headed backfield of James, Hunter and Lattimore – the South Carolina product would be useful in another way, as well, providing a nice change of pace to their gamebreaking speed.
Quinton Patton – WR, Louisiana Tech
You’ve probably never heard of Quinton “The General” Patton, but I’ll just throw you some numbers to start: 22-233-4. That was his line against Texas A&M, a legendary night lost in an upset that ultimately fell short. Do I have your attention yet?
A product of what has become known as the “Bear Raid”, Patton should serve as proof of its offensive prowess, finishing fifth in the country in the receiving yards last season, and adding in 13 touchdowns for good measure. As far as his actual contributions, expect a player who runs routes well, instinctively knows how to move in space, and goddamn difficult to corral one on one. If the A&M video is any real indication, he’s also a willing blocker, too – a must on Jim Harbaugh’s squad.
With a 4.55 40, he may not be the elite deep threat we eventually expect AJ Jenkins to be, but he’ll do just fine on that front – enough to stretch the field a bit with Moss now gone. The General is tremendously skilled, and a great value in the 4th round – he’ll provide some nice insurance, just in case the Jenkins project ultimately flames out.
Plus, this is always nice to hear – courtesy of second round draft pick and Mississippi State corner Jonathan Banks:
“I feel like (Quinton Patton) from Louisiana Tech is the best receiver I’ve played against since I’ve been here. I’ve gone against some good ones in the SEC, too, but he’s probably the most complete.”
Also, we have a Tank. And a General. How FREAKING PERFECT IS THAT?