San Francisco took Eric Reid, Cornellius 'Tank" Carradine, Vance McDonald and Corey Lemonier with their first four picks, upgrading a pass rush and secondary that struggled a bit in the playoffs while also adding some depth at tight end. Carradine recorded 11 sacks in 11 games, Reid made some big plays in college and Lemonier slipped and was quickly snatched by the 49ers when he fell to them.
Because the 49ers had so many draft picks, they made lots of trades, using their abundance of picks as "ammo." The 49ers traded up to ensure that they could take Reid, who made some good plays and limited big plays. Against Alabama in November of 2011, Reid went up and took the ball from tight end Michael Williams to save a potential touchdown and eventually save the critical game for LSU.
LSU won the game because Reid made the big play and saved the game, but that's not his style. Instead, he 49ers will likely benefit from Reid not giving up big plays. Reid only intercepted two passes in 2012, but he was able to avoid surrendering big plays. Reid made some hard hits, and he made some plays in coverage. Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, San Francisco's starting safeties in 2012, were hard hitters, but they gave up big plays.
San Francisco is in need of a safety, as Goldson bolted for Tampa Bay and Whitner is an average safety. Reid can force a receiver away from the middle with a hard hit, and he can also intercept a pass. Reid is a solid all-around safety and a great addition to a needy secondary.
That secondary was lit up by Atlanta and Baltimore in the two biggest games of the year. Julio Jones got by Goldson for some big plays in the NFC Championship, but Reid can limit these plays by not getting fooled and not giving up the big play.
Have the 49ers Had a Successful Draft?
Carradine and Lemonier can help out on the defensive line, another area of need. The defensive line failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks, so the secondary had lots of work to do. Carradine can change that. He tore his ACL late in the regular season, but he should be ready for the regular season.
San Francisco runs a 3-4 defense, but they need defensive ends. San Francisco doesn't have a legitimate five-technique (3-4 defensive end) right now, and Carradine can assume that position. The 49ers have Justin Smith and Ray McDonald on the front line, so they can use Carradine on the defensive line. Aldon Smith will fill in one of the outside linebacker spots, while Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are the middle linebackers.
Ahmad Brooks is another outside linebacker, but he only recorded 46 tackles in 2012. The 49ers need depth at outside linebacker, and Lemonier averaged 54.5 tackles per 16 games in his last two years with Auburn. Lemonier isn't a star, but he could have been taken in the second round, and he could be very good for depth. Lemoiner also recorded five sacks in Auburn's first four games, so he can get to the quarterback and make a play.
And that's key for the 49ers.
San Francisco filled some minor holes on defense with these picks. Carradine will benefit from Justin Smith eating up rushers, and he will be able to recover from his ACL tear to haunt opposing quarterbacks. Carradine was compared to Seattle's Chris Clemons by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, and Clemons recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012. Carradine can get to the quarterback and sack the quarterback, and that's all the 49ers need from him.
The 49ers don't need much from McDonald, because they already have Vernon Davis at tight end. However, offenses with two tight ends, such as New England's offense, have been successful lately, as the tight end position is becoming more important as time goes on. San Francisco is fairly thin when it comes to receiving weapons, so another target for Colin Kaepernick would be helpful for the young quarterback.
Which Was San Francisco's Best Draft Pick?
McDonald averaged 12.7 yards per catch and caught 36 passes in 10 games in 2012. McDonald is a solid, consistent weapon who caught at least one pass in his last 29 college games. He adds depth at a position where depth is needed, and he provides a solid backup target if Kaepernick can't find Crabtree or Davis. It's unlikely that he becomes the next Rob Gronkowski, but McDonald, who is 6'5" and weighs 260 pounds, has the build and skill to be one of the league's better tight ends.
San Francisco's first four picks all made sense and filled needs. Reid probably could have been obtained with the 31st pick (San Francisco traded up 13 spots to make sure they could take him), but the 49ers wanted him badly and made sure they could get him. Reid doesn't play conservative, but he can step in and do what Goldson and Whitner had trouble doing: stopping big plays. Jacoby Jones caught a 56-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl 47, and Julio Jones caught a 47-yard touchdown pass in the NFC Championship.
Carradine will get to the quarterback and fill a hole on the defensive line, but he won't just fill the hole. Assuming he fully recovers from his injury, Carradine will be an impactful player, one who will make San Francisco's pass rush insane as a complement to Aldon Smith, who registered a remarkable 19.5 sacks in 2012. Lemonier will add depth to the linebacking corps, and if Brooks or Smith goes down, Lemonier will fill in.
The 49ers stockpiled draft picks and used their picks to make lots of trades. San Francisco traded up to obtain three of their picks, and they traded down and added some more picks before locking up Carradine. San Francisco already has talent, but they were able to add some more talent and take major strides towards a Super Bowl championship with just four draft picks.
And if you can do that, you've definitely made some solid draft picks.