The 49ers traded up three times in the 2013 draft to select targeted players—guys they typically refer to as “gold helmet” prospects. Of the two defenders they chose, one was first-round safety Eric Reid of LSU, and the other was defensive end Corey Lemonier of Auburn.
Once San Fran handed in the draft card, NFL analyst Mike Mayock offered his two cents, saying, “It fits what they do. Kind of somewhat of a conflicted pick in the sense that his talent would be a late-first to late-second round.”
In Round 3, GM Trent Baalke unearthed a potential gem, adding another mercurial component to this terrorizing defensive front. At 6’3”, 255 pounds, Lemonier is a lengthy pass-rush extraordinaire with a strong build and a very good motor. And for as long and quick as he is, this is a player that still destroys blocks and consistently hustles to the football.
Despite the Tigers’ dwindling record and his lack of a noteworthy final season, the tape shows a guy that is almost always in the opponents' backfield. While he is broad enough to set the edge, he has no problem beating congestion and getting up field. In 32 games over three seasons, Lemonier accrued 24 tackles for loss, 17 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
At the college level, he was a player that could twist inside and crash gaps with intensity, walloping quarterbacks and unsuspecting running backs. With his hand in the turf, Lemonier shows great explosion off the snap, flashing an inside spin move like the Tasmanian Devil.
With all his intrinsic pass-rush ability, he has a very good shot to get on the field early in his rookie campaign. However, at best, Lemonier is currently written in as the fourth outside linebacker on the depth chart, behind the two entrenched starters and veteran Parys Haralson.
Prior to the start of training camp, CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco explained to me on Niner Talk Central that it is less of Lemonier versus Haralson, but rather that the rookie defender would be featured in San Francisco’s nickel packages:
I think what Lemonier is going to do, is that his chance would be to get in there in the nickel situations to rush the passer. I think in the base scheme where the outside linebacker is standing up, that would favor Haralson. But certainly, Lemonier has an opportunity to work himself into the mix. It’s all about how he shows up once the pads go on.
The one thing we know about him, and it’s interesting, I think when you look at what translates from college football to pro football: if you can rush the passer, you can rush the passer. And Corey Lemonier can rush the passer. And it doesn’t take long to find out if a guy in the NFL can get after the quarterback. Rarely do you see a guy who struggles for a few years coming out and then explodes onto the scene. Usually those pass-rushers show up from Day 1.
He’s a guy that the 49ers like. They know he is a natural pass rusher and he’ll get an opportunity to get on the field and work into that rotation.
Very similar to All-Pro LB Aldon Smith, who also converted from end, Lemonier will be able to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback in a situational role while learning the nuances of the standup linebacker position.
With that said, it will be fierce having two natural defensive ends in Aldon Smith and Corey Lemonier on the edges, with Justin Smith and either Tank Carradine, Ian Williams or Glenn Dorsey inside this 49ers four-man front, which is designed to get after the passer.
Between the players, the coaching staff and the environment, Lemonier can show the first-round potential Mayock talked about. Considering the starters in place, he won’t have an overwhelming amount of responsibility early on and can pull rank as the garbage man on defense.
He will be a rested player, cleaning up and finishing plays. Oftentimes, it should be expected that other talented veteran players on defense will be funneling the play to his side. This will put Lemonier—who is more than physically capable—in an advantageous situation to make a play on the ball-carrier.
In turn, this slow-moving, developmental approach will give him the contact courage and experience he needs going forward.