If there's one constant in the NFL and it's hierarchy it's that the good organizations understand how to attack the draft. They understand what they want their football team to look like and what players will fit that system. Year in and year out, these teams seem to select players that are good fits for what they want to do and put those players in a position to succeed. No teams get it right on every selection, but the good one's tend to hit more than miss. Over the past few seasons, the 49ers have become one of those good organizations and appear to have had another stellar draft. I absolutely love what they have done over the past three days. They took some chances on players who won't be ready to contribute right away, but they are one of the few teams who can get away with that. The team really only had one spot (free safety) that did not have a solid, accomplished NFL starter. Considering that, I'd say they knocked the 2013 draft out of the park. Here's a breakdown:
Eric Reid, Safety, LSU
So the 49ers decided to address a need area after all in the first round, moving up to the 18th pick to select LSU safety Eric Reid. At 6'1 and over 210 pounds, Reid is an intimidating presence in the middle of the field. He's a punishing down hill tackler, although not always a consistent one. A balanced safety, Reid can play both the run and the pass and should be a starter for years to come. He is a tough, smart football player that seems to fit the mold head coach Jim Harbaugh likes. Reid described himself as being"cerebral." A knock on Reid is he tends to be over aggressive at times and will find himself out of position because of it. The team must have seen him as a cut above the remaining safeties still on the board (i.e. Cyprien, Elam) and history shows when Trent Baalke identifies his guy, he's not afraid to go and get him.
Overall, Reid is a good pick for the Niners and his style of play fits well into their defensive system. Reid should be expected to start at free safety right away, filling the void left by the departure of Dashon Goldson. He'll be paired with Donte Whitner to give the 49ers a tandem of hard hitting safeties that will make opposing receivers think twice about going over the middle. An elite athlete, he can play in or out of the box with equal authority and will continue improve as a football player as he grows within the team's scheme. Reid projects to be a key component of the secondary for a long time, whether he remains at free safety or eventually moves to strong safety down the road (a position some think he may be better suited for).
2nd Round *49ers also receive a 3rd and 7th round selection in 2014 for trading back with the Titans
Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, Defensive end, Florida State
Carradine was an elite pass rusher at Florida State racking up 16.5 sacks and 21 tackles behind the line of scrimmage the past two seasons. With an instinctive and technically sound game, Tank is outstanding at taking on run blockers and defending the run. The only reason he was not a sure fire first round pick was because of an ACL injury he sustained against the Florida Gators.
Carradine may not be 100 percent by the start of the season but the 49ers do not need him to play right away. Because the Niners have starters already penciled in on the defensive line, they can let him get healthy before taking the field. Baalke said he sees Carradine as playing with his hand on the ground which means he will play end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. On passing downs, he'll give the team another rusher that will be able to provide consistent pressure. Not having more people who can get to the quarterback really hurt them after the Smith's got hurt. It might take a year or two, but I believe Carradine is going to be a star. Most teams aren't able to spend a pick this high on a player who may or may not be ready to contribute right away but the 49ers will be reaping the benefits of this selection for years. As long as he can come back healthy, Carradine has future pro bowler written all over him.
Vance McDonald, Tight end, Rice
At 6'5, McDonald is a tight end with great size and good speed. He was mostly used a slot receiver throughout his college career at Rice but does have experience playing roles in various formations. Of the 36 catches he recorded on 2012, 28 went for first downs. Because he was used so much in the slot, he should be an effective blocker on the edge but may need to work on blocking (and playing) on the inside.
The 49ers love to run two tight end sets so it makes sense they targeted one so early. McDonald was a bit of a surprise but coach Jim Harbaugh compared him to Mike Ditka during his interview on NFL network. In case you hadn't noticed, Harbaugh has a tendency to embellish a bit so take that for what it's worth. But it does say the team feels like McDonald is a tough hard nosed player. I don't know that he can block like Delanie Walker but the 49ers should be able to move McDonald around and use him in the slot were he played so much at Rice. His size could also make him a big time red zone target for Colin Kaepernick. This move could be an upgrade in the passing game overall because as versatile as Walker was, he dropped too many passes. McDonald can provide the same kind of match up issues and prove to be a more reliable receiver.
Corey Lemonier, Defensive end, Auburn
Lemonier was named to the SEC first team all conference as a sophmore due in part to his 9.5 sacks that season. But his production dipped as a junior as his sack total dipped to 5.5. Overall, Lemonier has a good motor and does not quit on plays.
Corey Lemonier was drafted by the 49ers for one reason: To get to the quarterback. If he shows pass rush ability off the bat, he could see significant snaps spelling Ahmad Brooks on passing downs. It's possible the 49ers could use Lemonier similar to how they used Aldon Smith in 2011. Brooks is a very good all around linebacker, but he's not a consistent threat to get to the quarterback. With Smith, Brooks, and Haralson already in the fold, it could be tough for him to get snaps if he doesn't prove he can get pressure consistently.
Quinton Patton, Wide receiver, Louisiana Tech
A community college transfer, Patton put up big numbers in college with 2,544 yards receiving and 24 touchdowns over his junior and senior year. His numbers could also be a product of the offense he played in a Louisiana Tech but there's no denying Patton's production. He doesn't posses breakaway speed (4.48 40) but has the quickness and elusiveness to turn a short pass into a long gain.
I can't stress enough how difficult I think it will be for the 49ers to resign Michael Crabtree. With Kapernick and Aldon ready to get huge contracts, I'm not sure they can afford to pay Crabs number one receiver money when the time comes. Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham only have one year left on their contracts and AJ Jenkins is an enigma. The 49ers had to get a receiver they felt could be able to start in 2014 and beyond. Patton may not play a lot of snaps this season unless there is an injury, but he projects to be a solid pro who could easily be at least a solid number two receiver in the NFL.
I thought that if the 49ers took a wide out early it would be a huge indictment of AJ Jenkins. I wouldn't call the 4th round early per se, but Patton is a player who could have gone much higher. Todd McShay had a second round grade on him. Again, I think the 49ers view Patton as a player who could be a starter in a year or two and it wouldn't surprise me to see him leapfrog Jenkins on the depth chart very early on.
Marcus Lattimore, Running back, South Carolina
Everyone knows Lattimore's story. When healthy, he was one of the most dynamic players in college football. A star since his freshman campaign, he scored 38 rushing touchdowns over three seasons with the Gamecocks. If it weren't for knee injuries the past two seasons, he would have been a first round selection and the top back in the draft.
The 49ers drafted Lattimore with the expectation to "red shirt" him this season and odds are he won't see the field in 2013. The team wants to make sure Marcus is 100 percent healthy before putting him out there so 2014 looks like a more likely date for his debut. How will he fit into the 49ers next year? There is a really good chance this will be Frank Gore's last season with the team. He is 30 years old and even though he has shown no signs of slowing down, 30 is when back tend to hit a wall. If Lattimore is healthy, he can combine with LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter to give the 49ers three cheap and versatile backs. Money does factor in here with those big contract extension looming. Even if Lattimore never plays a snap, the risk was worth it. The 49ers had the picks and have the kind of roster depth where taking a chance like this won't burn them.
Quinton Dial, Defensive end, Alabama
At 318 pounds, Dial is has a massive frame and was a versatile defensive lineman with the Tide. Another JUCO transfer, Dial didn't start many games which limited his production but he proved to be an effective space eater when he did get his chance.
The 49ers need depth at defensive line and Dial is a player they could use at end or nose tackle. When I read things like "space eater" that tells me they could be looking at Dial as a developmental nose tackle. He may find it very hard to dress on game day given who is in front of him but we've seen the 49ers stash away d-line on the practice squad before (i.e. Ian Williams). Dial may not even make the team but he does have a chance to stick around and develop with the hopes of eventually playing significant snaps in the coming years.
Nick Moody, Linebacker, Florida State
Moody is a converted safety who play linebacker at FSU in 2012. Moody actually played safety his first three years with Florida State so his experience at linebacker is limited.
This looked like a pick for special teams and Harbaugh confirmed that on NFL network saying he couldn't wait to see Moody cover kicks. The 49ers place a premium on special teams and the unit struggled with kick returns last season. Moody could also prove to be a back up for Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, something they will need with the loss of Larry Grant.
B.J. Daniels, Quarterback, South Florida
A dual threat, Daniels accounted for 10,501 yards of total offense in his South Florida career. According to the Tampa Tribune, he received encouraging feedback from general managers as a quarterback at his pro day but he was also asked to back pedal and catch passes. According to Matt Barrows, Jim Harbaugh did inform Daniels they plan to use him as a quarterback.
The 49ers have Colin Kaepernick behind center but after him there are a lot of question marks. With Scott Tolzien never having taken a snap in a regular season game and Colt McCoy coming in from Cleveland after an underwhelming stint with the Browns, it makes sense for them to bring someone in to compete. Daniels brings a dimension with his legs that McCoy and Tolzien don't. If he pans out, he could provide a backup who shares some of Kaepernick's running ability but he appears to be a long shot to make an impact behind center. Jim Harbaugh is great with quarterbacks and loves a challenge so, who knows, maybe Daniels could stick around.
Carter Bykowski, Tackle, Iowa State
The 49ers best backup tackle is currently starting at right guard (Alex Boone) so they could use a player who can be a backup, swing tackle. I actually thought they might address this earlier than the 7th round. Bykowski is 6'6 and over 300 pounds. Like current starting left tackle Joe Staley, he started his career as a tight end.
Marcus Cooper, Cornerback, Rutgers
The 49ers take a chance on a corner with some size as Cooper stands at 6'2. Cooper converted to from wide receiver early in his college career. He is an extreme long shot to make the roster as the 49ers currently have 6 corners on their roster ahead of him (Rogers, Culliver, Brown, Asomugha, Cox, and Brock).