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First-round draft choice Eric Reid hopes to start by season's end.
The 49ers had a solid class coming out of the 2013 NFL Draft.
San Francisco was able to draft a total of 11 players, using a plethora of excess picks to trade up in the draft multiple times. The list of 49er draftees can be found here. In addition, San Francisco signed a total of 12 undrafted free agents.
There are obviously expectations that the first four or five selections will have significant impacts, hopefully within the first year, or two, of their professional NFL careers. Second—round draft pick Vance McDonald hopes to fill in directly for the recently—departed Delanie Walker at the second tight end position. First—round draft pick Eric Reid also hopes to be a starting safety at the beginning of the year. Other rookies will also hope to have an impact.
Let us examine Reid first.
Following the departure of Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson via free agency, the 49ers were in a position to draft a long—term solution at the position, which is exactly what they did when they selected Reid with their first—round pick. Before the draft however, San Francisco also signed former St. Louis Rams veteran Craig Dahl.
During the first two weeks of OTAs, Dahl had been spending most of the time on the first—team secondary, undoubtedly showcasing his veteran presence and knowledge of the position and defensive schemes. Reid has struggled to catch up.
When asked about the adjustment to the 49ers' defense, Reid acknowledged the difficulties and stated:
It’s more complex than college, but it’s something I think I can handle. It’s a challenge, but it’s something I like to challenge myself with. I’ve got to study my plays every night. Every day is a new day and I’ve got to come out and prove myself. I can always do better. There were a couple of calls I was kind of confused on – shaky – but we just installed them yesterday. I’m going to get back in my playbook tonight and get it fixed for tomorrow. (via pressdemocrat.com)
Reid may not have the immediate impact at the NFL level like that of safety Ronnie Lott, who made the Pro Bowl in his 1981 rookie season. Yet the 49ers are hoping for great things out of Reid and want him to be a part of the solution sooner rather than later.
49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio pointed out some of the ways that Reid is improving his game. He said:
The first step [is that a] rookie's got to learn what to do to where he can actually tell you what he's supposed to do. And then he's got to be able to show you he knows how to do it. And then he's got to be able to make the adjustments on the run that come within those different assignments and techniques (via ninersnation.com).
Fangio also stated that Reid knows what to do, but is still having difficulties in putting that knowledge into practice. That is something that will take time.
As far as the 49ers' defense is concerned, that time needs to be short—term. The 49ers' backfield was a weakness last year. Can it afford to be again?
In addition to Reid, a number of other rookies may be significant factors during the season.
McDonald, a versatile tight end who was drafted to immediately fill the void left by Walker, may be expected to contribute immediately. When Walker was the second tight end, the 49ers offense utilized him in a variety of ways and schemes that were so crucial to the team's offensive success. With Walker gone, McDonald's role becomes even more important than just competing for playing time.
Fortunately, McDonald has shown great improvement during rookie camp and OTAs. He has been working with 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman at becoming that versatile athlete and making the loss of Walker less significant.
McDonald was recently quoted in an interview and said:
I try to learn everything step by step every day. Coach Greg Roman holds us to a high standard and you wouldn't have it any other way. It's good to have this pressure because you have no choice but to learn. I was known to block, but could be more of a receiving tight end. Here, I look forward to playing fifty-fifty and I'm trying to get techniques down as far as blocking goes. (via examiner.com)
It makes sense that so much pressure is being put on McDonald. His role may be a vital one for San Francisco's offense this year and given what Walker meant to the team, McDonald's success or failure could have direct impact on the 49ers' offensive prospects in 2013.
Cornellius Carradine, drafted early in the second round, also figures to get playing time spelling defensive end Justin Smith on the 49ers' defensive line. If he can be effective enough at this, Smith may stay fresh and Carradine may start to impose his own will at the NFL level. If not, Smith may have to handle the bulk of the playing time which could result in the 33—year—old wearing down toward the end of the season, perhaps suffering from the lingering effects from his torn triceps injury at the end of last season.
Regardless, the rookies will have to step up in 2013. While not all of them figure to have prominent roles, some will and the 49ers' success may be a direct result of how effective many of them can be moving forward.