The sophomore season for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan should go much smoother than their first season. For one, they certainly won't be turning over the roster as much as last year. Last year was all about finding the right players to fit in Shanahan's scheme, which meant there were a lot of players from the old regimes who were either cut or not resigned. This lead to a lot of rookies--especially later round picks--getting an unusually early chance to see the field. In fact, the 49ers had a total of 17 rookies playing offense and defense throughout the 2017 season. And according to Pro Football Focus, 49er rookies combined for 5,033 snaps during the regular season--more than any other team in the league by far. In other words, the new kids got a chance to play. But which rookie from the 2017 draft class made the most out of those opportunities? My vote goes to Adrian Colbert.

One could argue that other rookies like first round picks Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas had more of an impact simply because they started more games. But you expect that from first round (or at the very least early round) picks. It's safe to say that as general manager and head coach, you're not expecting your seventh round pick (number 229 overall) to change positions, be forced into the lineup after injuries to your starters, and play at a pro level. But not only did Colbert play well, he ended up playing so well that he supplanted former first round pick Jimmie Ward as the starting free safety this year without even as much as a single camp battle. I'd say he made the most out of his opportunities.

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So who will be the Adrian Colbert of 2018? Which rookie has the biggest chance to step in and perhaps surprise coaches and steal a roster spot from a veteran? With the depth chart mostly solidified, it's safe to say that not every rookie from this draft class is going have the same opportunities to start right away like last year's draft class. But then again, there's always that pesky injury bug that can strike. Colbert wasn't earmarked for safety right away, he took advantage of Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt both going down for the season with broken forearms. So who is in line to see a similar opportunity and take advantage of it this year? My guess is the third round pick out of BYU, Fred Warner.

First of all, when Warner was drafted, the 49ers weren't entirely sure how Reuben Foster's offseason legal issues were going to shake out, so we know Lynch and Shanahan thought highly enough of Warner to eye him as a possible early replacement for Foster. And so far, all indications suggest their instincts on Warner were right. His former coach at BYU, Shanahan, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh have all commented on his speed, confidence, and smarts. At BYU, he played in a hybrid linebacker/safety role known as the "flash" position. All of which is to say, Warner is going to do pretty well at reading and reacting quickly to plays.

Helping Warner's chances of seeing the field early is the fact that the team's starting inside linebackers are no strangers to injury. Malcolm Smith missed all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle and Foster was frequently in and out of games with an array of ailments all season. Add to that, we know Foster most likely will see some sort of suspension from the league. In other words, Warner is going to get his chance to play. It's entirely possible Warner moves up ahead of Brock Coyle on the depth chart to become the first linebacker off the bench. And if he makes the most of those opportunities, don't be surprised to see the 49ers part ways with the high-priced veteran, Smith, at the end of the season and replace him with Warner.

After all, Colbert did it.

Poll

  • Who is this year's Adrian Colbert?
  • Mike McGlinchey
  • Dante Pettis
  • Fred Warner
  • Tarvarius Moore
  • Kentavius Street (IR?)
  • DJ Reed
  • Marcell Harris
  • Jullian Taylor
  • Richie James