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Cornellius "Tank" Carradine signed with Illinois out of high school but was forced to attend Butler Community College because of academic issues. He was a star in junior college, recording 10 sacks in his first season in 2009 and leading the nation with 16 in the 2010 campaign. The Butler Grizzlies lost in the junior college championship game in '10 to Navarro College but Carradine had proved himself to be the JUCO recruit in the nation. With schools lined up for his services, he chose to play football at Florida State.
Carradine did not start his first season with the Seminoles. Even with limited snaps, he still had 8 tackles for a loss with 5.5 sacks. He got an opportunity to start in 2012 when Brandon Jenkins was lost with a Lisfranc injury in the first game of the season. Carradine stepped right in and recorded 11 sacks and had 80 total tackles in 12 games at defensive end. The upstart lineman was looking like a sure fire 1st round pick until an ACL tear late in the year derailed his season and put his draft stock in question.
While Carradine was harassing quarterbacks at the collegiate level, the San Francisco 49ers' defense was humming along as one of the best units in the NFL. That all changed on a rainy night in New England when Justin Smith partially tore his triceps muscle. Smith's injury showed just how fragile the 49ers were along the defensive line. With little depth and no one to occupy blockers and push the pocket consistently, the once dominant San Francisco defense crashed back down to Earth. The unit that gave up 14.1 points per game in their first 13 gave up 29.6 in their last 6 (including the playoffs). Even with Smith expected to be back healthy in 2013, the 49ers desperately needed to find depth as well as an heir apparent to the soon to be 34 year old All-Pro.
As the draft neared, the 49ers were linked to almost every defensive lineman that fell in the mid first to early second round range. Late in April, Carradine held a personal workout (he had to sit out the combine because of the ACL injury) in his hometown of Cincinnati. The 49ers sent defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to scout Tank and the two reportedly even had dinner together the night before. Carradine went on to impress at his workout, running at 4.75 40 just 135 days after tearing his ACL. That would have put him in the top 10 amongst defensive lineman at the scouting combine. The public didn't know it yet, but the 49ers had found their man.
Less than a week later, the 49ers went vafety in the first round of the draft selecting LSU's Eric Reid. With the second pick in the 2nd round, the chatter was the 49ers liked Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. San Francisco ended up trading back 8 spots and watched Ertz get taken ahead of them, confirming that they most likely did not target him after all. Instead, with the 40th overall selection, they took Carradine.Initially, there was some question on how the 49ers viewed Carradine. Would he stand up and play outside linebacker or would he play down in the team's 3-4 scheme? General manager Trent Baalke made it clear he sees Carradine putting on weight and playing with his hand on the ground.
"He's going to play down," Baalke said. "He's not an outside linebacker. In our system - it's one of the things we really like is his versatility."
Caradines versatility will allow him to play a range of positions across the defensive front. He can play defensive end in the base package or any down lineman spot in sub packages. Initially, Carradine will most likely play on passing downs, lining up at end. This will help to limit his snaps and ease into the system as his knee gets back to full strength. Once he adds weight to his 276 pound frame, he can be more of a three down end in the 3-4 and plug into the starting lineup within the next year or two.
Tank Carradine may not have been the flashiest of the 49er's draft picks but considering what he could end up meaning to what the team wants to do defensively, he could be the most important.His acquisition will initially give the 49ers the depth they sorely needed last season if injuries come calling again. Ultimately, he's seen as someone who can replace Justin Smith when his time in red and gold is over. His place on the team and role within the defense could be invaluable for the next decade.