Rookie, Undrafted Free-Agent Watch for San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
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No team in the NFL had more draft capital in 2013 than the San Francisco 49ers, which led the pack with 13 draft picks. Even though the reigning NFC champions did not have a ton of space on their full-bodied roster, they still drafted 11 players, moving up for three of them.
It was a proficient three days in Radio City Music Hall for general manager Trent Baalke, who executed four total trades. He maneuvered up and down the board, landed building blocks for the future and even added picks next year.
In Jim Harbaugh’s third season as head coach, this team should have a different look to it. Over the past few offseasons, the San Francisco roster has been made over in Harbaugh’s image, as the 'Niners added crucial components that propelled the team to perennial contention.
Here is a peek at the newest crop of 49ers who will be competing in Santa Clara this offseason.
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- College: LSU
- Draft Status: Round 1, Pick 18
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 213 lbs.
- College Production: He had a three-year career, playing in 36 games. He collected 199 total tackles, 17 pass deflections, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery. He had 91 tackles, nine pass deflections and two interceptions in 2012.
As a two-year starter and first-team All-American, Reid was a marquee player for the LSU Tigers. He played in college football's fastest, hardest-hitting defense, which finished 25-5 with Reid locked in at free safety.
Matt Miller of NFL Draft Scout had Reid as his No. 2 free safety prospect in 2013 and a bona fide first-rounder. This is reassuring since the 49ers will charge Reid with taking over for an All-Pro on the back end.
Undeniably, the departure of Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay put the ‘Niners in a tough spot, as it forced their hand to trade up on Day 1 to take the LSU thumper at No. 18 overall. In contrast to their last two first-rounders (Aldon Smith and A.J. Jenkins), the 49ers will need him to start immediately.
As a physical safety with a downhill prowess, Reid is going to give San Fran yet another hammering tackler. He runs clean alleys and brings the wood, which should enhance the run-stopping ability of the defense.
As a deep safety, Reid disrupted plays in the air, but his technique and situational awareness left a little something to be desired. Fortunately, he has all the tools of a first-round defensive back. With his top-notch athleticism, mental aptitude and coaching from Ed Donatell and his staff, Eric Reid has a chance to strengthen this secondary.
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- College: Florida St.
- Draft Status: Round 2, Pick 40
- Height: 6’4”
- Weight: 276 lbs.
- College Production: He played two years and 24 games. He notched 118 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He had 80 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and one forced fumble in 2012.
In a couple of years, this might end up as the steal of the 2013 NFL draft. At the top of the second round (No. 40 overall), the 49ers added another freaky athlete for the defensive line from Florida State. Based on talent alone, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had Carradine pegged in the top-five overall.
A late-season ACL injury consequently knocked the former ‘Noles defenseman down the board and made him available for San Fran. Now, bursting with superstar potential, Carradine will take the slow and steady approach, coming in as a rehabbing understudy to defensive tackle Justin Smith.
Their dimensions are nearly identical, with Smith weighing in only nine pounds heavier. Keep in mind, Carradine has yet to grow into his NFL body, but he has the frame to bulk up. And like his mentor, he will be multidimensional—strong enough to collapse the pocket and broad enough to command double-teams.
He also has some pep in his step, which Smith, a known bull-rusher, does not quite possess. The 6’4”, 276-pounder is a versatile big man who staked his claim as an edge-rusher and generally disruptive player in the trenches.
The rookie may also have more upside spawned from his rare athleticism. ACL and all, a recovering Carradine ran a 4.75 in that large physique of his, which makes him enticing in the way that J.J. Watt was coming out of Wisconsin.
As a rookie, Carradine should be a primary rotational option along the line while developing to be the long-term successor to No. 94 on the end.
Vance McDonald looks to add a dimension to the 49ers' offense in Year 1.
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- College: Rice
- Draft Status: Round 2, Pick 55
- Height: 6’4”
- Weight: 276 lbs.
- College Production: He played four years and 35 games, totaling 119 total catches, 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns. He had 36 catches, 458 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.
After losing tight end Delanie Walker to free agency, the 49ers had to find a cost-effective No. 2 who was ready to go. This was a priority since San Fran runs a tight end-friendly system that asks a relative amount from the position.
Even though he played at a small school, McDonald was a top-rated tight end in a class that featured enticing prospects. He was the focal point of the Owls offense, operating as a run-blocker and primary receiving option.
Of his 36 catches as a senior, McDonald secured 28 of them for first downs, which is desirable for a team that is looking to get better at situational football. It also gives the ‘Niners another big man in the red zone—a safety blanket the quarterback knows can make contested catches.
McDonald made some waves as a combine performer, emerging as the strongest of 20 tight ends in attendance with 31 reps of 225 lbs. In the 40 -yard dash, he was only one one-hundredth of a second slower than top-rated tight end Tyler Eifert, who went at No. 21 overall.
Overall, McDonald is a physical mismatch, which is the desired trait for the new wave of tight ends. NFL teams are looking for that combination of size and vertical ability to gouge defenses with. Since the versatile McDonald fits the mold, expect him to be used all over the field.
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- College: Auburn
- Draft Status: Round 3, Pick 88
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 255 lbs.
- College Production: In his three-year career of 32 games, he had 98 total tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, seven forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He had 34 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2012.
Seeing as how roughly a quarter of Lemonier’s tackles went for a loss, San Francisco’s train of thought is evident here. The ‘Niners traded up for the Auburn product, hoping he is going to help push offenses backward.
In 2012, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio ran his starters ragged, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. And when injuries came about later in the year—particularly to Justin Smith (triceps) and Aldon Smith (labrum)—the efforts from a battered front seven were futile. Their edge presence had vanished.
As a rookie, Lemonier will provide a contingency plan, a developmental prospect and an added dimension. Given his natural explosiveness off the edge, the ‘Niners now have the personnel to deploy faster, more dynamic four-man fronts, akin to the New York Giants’ championship-winning NASCAR package.
His ability to get after the quarterback in a passing league gives him a great deal of value already. It is also what got him noticed by San Francisco’s scouting department and the No. 1 reason the team will want to get him on the field this year.
However, veteran backer Parys Haralson is returning to the lineup as the favorite to win the backup job. Considering Lemonier is converting to a stand-up rush linebacker, he will have an even steeper learning curve. He will have to make vast strides if he wants to be the primary rotational outside linebacker behind Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith.
Haralson may be ahead by the time Week 1 rolls around, but look for Lemonier to carve out a serious role as a pass-rush specialist.
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- College: Louisiana Tech
- Draft Status: Round 4, Pick 128
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 204 lbs.
- College Production: In his two-year career of 25 games, he totaled 183 total catches, 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns. He had 104 catches, 1,392 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012.
Patton ended his college career with a bang, finishing in the NCAA’s top five in receiving yards and top 10 in touchdowns as a senior. In his only two seasons with the Bulldogs (2011-12), he ranked No. 3 in receiving yards in college football, behind West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey and Baylor’s Terrance Williams.
Patton quickly became the nucleus of the Air Raid offense in Louisiana.
Over the past four years, Patton has risen from no school to JUCO to Division I and onto one of the eminent teams in the NFL. This pattern of growth is encouraging for a team that not only made an investment but also needs to see results right away.
Mind you, in the wake of Michael Crabtree’s injury, San Fran will be counting on its depth to step up and fill in.
The wideout is an auspicious young talent with tantalizing upside in this modified West Coast system. Patton’s ceiling also has the potential to be reached with Colin Kaepernick slinging darts all over the field.
If Patton capitalizes on this window of opportunity, the reward may be a starting gig opposite Anquan Boldin.
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- College: South Carolina
- Draft Status: Round 4, Pick 131
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 221 lbs.
- College Production: In his three-year career of 29 games, he collected 2,677 total rushing yards, 38 rushing touchdowns, 74 receptions, 767 total receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. He had 662 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 26 catches and 173 receiving yards in 2012.
Lattimore's college career was affected by injury. However, in three seasons with the Gamecocks, his potential shined through.
When he was on the field, his productivity was apparent. Lattimore walked onto the college scene as a 5-star recruit and looked like an every-down NFL back as a freshman. He had it all: the long stride, vision, a fearsome first cut and strong finishes.
As a rookie, he is now recovering from his second devastating knee injury. Moreover, it is unlikely the 49ers activate Lattimore at all this year. According to NFL.com, the back told league insider Jeff Darlington that he “probably won’t do training camp.”
San Francisco knew this from the beginning; it was all part of the plan. The team will take a patient approach with Lattimore, who will be registering nothing but mental reps this offseason.
As it turns out, Lattimore identified with No. 21, having embraced the role of his shadow.
“Well, you see why [Frank Gore] is so good. You see why he has been so successful. He’s got that chip on his shoulder every year,” said Lattimore, via NFL.com. “You see him on the field; he just works at the little things. You know, the footwork, the technique—and I’m watching every move, I’ll tell you that. Because I want to be just like him.”
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- College: Alabama
- Draft Status: Round 5, Pick 157
- Height: 6’5”
- Weight: 318 lbs.
- College Production: Two-year career (18 games), 46 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, two-and-a-half sacks. 22 tackles, five tackles for loss, one-and-a-half sacks in 2012.
Analysis: Coming over from JUCO in 2011, Dial did not see a great deal of time on the field playing for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. His two-year stint in the SEC, while formative, was not indicative of his pro potential. So, you will not get much by looking at his stat line.
The idea here is that for a late round pick, the ‘Niners land a moldable talent with vast upside. That is what they believe they have.
“A big man. A very big man. A young man that’s really underdeveloped,” said GM Trent Baalke, describing the fifth-rounder to the media. SF knew Dial’s gargantuan size could not be taught. But fortunately, under their watch, form technique and experience are things that can be gained over time.
The 49ers willingly drafted Dial with the understanding that he’d need coaching. Baalke told the media exactly what San Francisco is working with, via 49ers.com:
You know, he’s a junior college guy that went to Alabama and didn’t get a ton of playing time there. He started to come on this year, never been a full-time starter. Just a big, raw guy that we brought in here for a visit, really fell in love with the personality, and the story. We think his upside is real big.
He will work to beat out Tony Jerod-Eddie, DeMarcus Dobbs and Will Tukuafu along the defensive line.
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- College: Florida St.
- Draft Status: Round 6, Pick 180
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 236 lbs.
- College Production: In his four-year career over 41 games, he had 155 total tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and five pass deflections. He had 20 tackles, one-and-a-half tackles for loss, one sack and one pass deflection in 2012.
As a rookie, Moody is looking to answer the call to duty as a backup interior linebacker and core special teams player. This was a player whom San Francisco targeted in the draft, hoping to provide special teams coach Brad Seely with the tools he’ll need to correct a unit that has regressed.
‘Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke highly of Moody in that regard, via Christian Gin of the Examiner):
He is one of the best we’ve seen at [special teams and tackling] in college football. He’s got an excellent ability to do that. So, we have high expectations for him to be a real contributor on special teams. [He has] just good speed, tackling ability [and is a] physical player that can run.
Losing players like Blake Costanzo to the Chicago Bears and Colin Jones to the Carolina Panthers hurt the 49ers' special teams. They have not really recovered from that yet. Now with Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden out the door, the table is set for Moody to assert himself as the new premier gunner.
If all goes according to plan, the Florida State linebacker should help to cover kicks starting in Week 1.
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- College: South Florida
- Draft Status: Round 7, Pick 237
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 217 lbs.
- College Production: In his five-year career over 47 games, he had 8,433 total passing yards, 52 passing touchdowns, 39 interceptions, 2,068 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. He had 2,075 passing yards, 14 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 434 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in 2012.
While Daniels lists as a quarterback, he projects to be a jack-of-all-trades for San Francisco. In minicamp, he caught, ran and threw the ball, working out with several position groups.
That will be his ticket to making the final 53-man roster.
Baalke told 49ers.com:
Just liked his athletic instincts, he’s a playmaker. He’s won big games on the road. He’s won big games throughout his career there. He’s a fearless competitor. And just has a lot of qualities that we liked.
With Delanie Walker and Ted Ginn Jr. out of the Bay Area, the 49ers are in the market for a new utility player. When you’re looking at the bottom of the roster, from Nos. 40-53, this is where the front office’s thinking changes. It is about finding value in potential two- and three-way players.
If Daniels can be that coveted “Swiss Army knife” for the ‘Niners, it may win him an extended stay in San Francisco. And as a result, it could mean the end of Scott Tolzien’s run as the team’s third quarterback.
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- College: Iowa St.
- Draft Status: Round 7, Pick 246
- Height: 6’6”
- Weight: 306 lbs.
- College Production: He played for three years in 47 games. He played 11 of them as a tight end before switching to offensive tackle in 2009. He finished with 18 starts on the offensive line, which included every game of his senior season at left tackle in 2012.
Bykowski is a big, athletic prospect who is in direct contention for the backup tackle job. After Alex Boone’s breakout performance as the starting right guard, the 49ers subsequently lost tackle depth.
The only real O-line backups in place were Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney, who both project as interior linemen. This led San Francisco to Bykowski, who may be its developmental edge-protector.
Trent Baalke felt the Iowa State tackle had a lot of characteristics that the organization looks for in a tackle. And when it comes to their O-line, the 49ers have the beaming track record to boot. This could turn out well for SF, as Bykowski learns behind Joe Staley and Anthony Davis.
“Toughness, you know, he’s a tough guy that’s not afraid to get dirty. Plays left tackle in a tough conference where you have to handle the edges,” said Baalke. “Just the grit, the intelligence, the work ethic, all of those things played into that.”
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- College: Rutgers
- Draft Status: Round 7, Pick 252
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 192 lbs.
- College Production: In his three-year career over 29 games, he had 88 total tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception and seven pass deflections. He had 42 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception and four pass deflections in 2012.
Cooper is another blank canvas brought in by the 49ers. During his time in the Big East, the corner was limited, having switched from the offensive side to the defensive side in the middle of his collegiate career. He was a wide receiver prior to 2010.
While he saw more time at cornerback, he did not earn a lot of starts and is still what you would tag “an inexperienced player.” On a more positive note, he has upside due to a combination of rare physical traits.
Entering camp, the former Scarlett Knight ties CB Nnamdi Asomugha as the tallest defensive back on the roster (6’2”). He is a long-bodied press corner who likes to mix it up at the line of scrimmage and use his size against receivers.
Also, prior to the NFL draft, Cooper ran in the mid-to-low 4.4s. When you look at the cutups of him at Rutgers, it is evident that his speed translates on the field, too. Cooper can hang and run down field with fast, athletic receivers. As a tackler, he also closes with some steam.
Oftentimes, with his speed and size, Cooper charges in guns hot and wipes out ball-carriers. He is not the most sound from a technical perspective, but this aspect of his game can be coached up over time.
When asked about Cooper, Baalke described him in a nutshell as “a tall corner that runs pretty well.” But he went on to say he “has the traits you’re looking for at the position. And hopefully you bring them in and they develop.”
Given his raw nature, the practice squad might be in his future. The ‘Niners have a slew of corners, but if he matures, Cooper might be a legitimate competitor to win a featured job down the line.
Undrafted Free Agents
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Undrafted free-agent list (courtesy of NFL.com):
Tennessee State C Sherman Carter; Stanford FB Alex Debniak; Minnesota QB/TE MarQueis Gray; Boise State RB D.J. Harper; Utah State WR Chuck Jacobs; Azusa Pacific OT Luke Marquardt; UCLA LS Kevin McDermott; Texas State CB Darryl Morris; Lawrence Okoye DL; Michigan OG Patrick Omameh; Wyoming DT Mike Purcell; Tulsa CB Lowell Rose; Illinois P Anthony Santella
First off, with realistic expectations in mind, every one of these individuals should be hoping to be invited to the practice squad. The 49ers B-team is not a bad place to be, considering it is just another platform for completing the final 53-man roster.
With a little luck and stick-to-it-iveness, maybe they’ll be called up in a year or two.
Right off the bat, we can dispel McDermott and Santella as legitimate candidates to make the team. Due to their positions, there is no room on San Francisco’s roster, unless injuries were to occur. But as an undrafted free agent, is McDermott a potential successor to 36-year-old long snapper Brian Jennings?
Moving on, it is important to note that all offensive linemen are in play, and any player with experience at tackle has an even better chance. The golden goose of the group is Marquardt (6’8”, 315 lbs.), who would have been drafted if not for lingering foot issues, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
As we can see here, there is a trend when it comes to acquiring value.
Much like Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore (and Michael Crabtree before that), the 49ers are taking a chance on a talented player who fell due to injury. This offseason, they will work toward getting him healthy while potentially developing him as a swing tackle.
Then there are skill position players like Morris, Jacobs, Rose and Harper. You can even throw the multitalented Gray into that group, who will be competing at several positions in camp this summer. Pending the second coming of Wes Welker or Arian Foster, these guys will take a backseat in 2013.
And finally, there is Okoye, the British Olympian who has been stealing all the headlines as the ‘Niners most freakish undrafted free-agent signing. The 6’6”, 304-pounder is just muscle piled on top of muscle, and moves well for his size, with a 4.78 40-yard time.
But the hitch is—and as most know this by now—Okoye has never played a down of organized football in his life.
No matter, the 49ers liked his upside enough that they are going to pay him $406,000 this year to learn how to play football, via Spotrac. Whether he can contribute at all over the final two years of his three-year, $1.48 million deal is yet to be determined.
Okoye is going to be taking it one step at a time, learning the game from veterans like Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. He will also have the benefit of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who is one of the best in the business.
Okoye is a project player who may be stashed on the practice squad as well.
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80.