Tank Carradine and 4 San Francisco 49ers Destined for Bigger Role in 2014-15
The San Francisco 49ers have enjoyed the construction of a deep and well-balanced franchise over recent years.
The multitude of talent within this organization has given the team flexibility in approaching the draft, developing rookies and implementing NFL-ready players into featured roles.
This luxury has afforded the 49ers with the ability to draft players, not with an immediate team need, but rather as investments and commodities that can be inserted into the team's lineup when time calls.
Such is the case with San Francisco's 40th-overall pick from the 2013 NFL draft—Cornellius "Tank" Carradine.
Carradine is just one of the 49ers' 2013 draft class who did not have a substantial impact—if any—during the course of the regular season.
Similarly, running back Marcus Lattimore also missed the entirety of the season following surgery and subsequent recovery from a collegiate knee injury.
Rest assured, however, these young 49ers will have a much more prominent role for the 49ers in 2014.
As stated, San Francisco did not draft these guys to fill an immediate void. In fact, the only two draftees that have seen significant time over the course of the season have been rookies Eric Reid and Vance McDonald.
So what can we expect from some of these 49ers next season?
There are plenty of reasons to assume each of these players will see a vast increase in playing time as they are integrated into a full-time role in San Francisco.
Let us take a look at five players who will see much more of the field in 2014.
Tramaine Brock, Cornerback
2013 Games Played/Started: 16/7
Drafted: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
The first slide on this list should not be a surprise to anyone.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock has enjoyed the best season of his career to date—posting a career-best 38 tackles, 15 passes defended and five interceptions.
At the outset of the season, Brock was slated to be San Francisco's No. 4 cornerback behind fellow corners Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Nnamdi Asomugha.
When Asomugha went down with an injury after Week 3, Brock took over the role as the 49ers' No. 3 corner and never looked back, eventually allowing the 49ers to part ways with Asomugha later in the season.
So what can we expect out of Brock next season?
For starters, we can bank on San Francisco's faith in him following the decision to sign him to a four-year contract extension through 2017.
Secondly, it is impossible to overlook the fact that the 49ers may part ways with corners Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.
According to Maiocco, Rogers is one expensive player that San Francisco may consider releasing. He writes:
Rogers’ scheduled salary for next season jumps to $6.5 million, including a $250,000 roster bonus. With the salary cap expected to remain virtually static, the 49ers are not likely to be willing to invest that much next season in Rogers, who will turn 33 years old in July.
Barring a contract renegotiation, it is likely that Rogers could be cut by the team following this season.
Brown, on the other hand, will be a free agent after his three-year, $9.11 million contract expires. At 29 years old, Brown will be highly touted on the market and should command a lofty salary.
Is that something the 49ers would like to pursue?
Instead, the plausible scenario would be the 49ers giving Brock a much larger role in 2014. The team can also bank on the return of fellow corner Chris Culliver next season, so parting ways with both Rogers and Brown may not be that bad of a thing.
As it stands, Brock should be the primary beneficiary.
Corey Lemonier, Outside Linebacker
2013 Games Played/Started: 16/0
Drafted: Drafted by the 49ers in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft.
When the 49ers drafted Corey Lemonier in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, they were hoping for yet another pass-rushing specialist to add to their dominant defensive front consisting of Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald.
In three collegiate years at Auburn, Lemonier amassed 17 sacks and 24 tackles for a loss.
Like so many other San Francisco draftees, Lemonier was not brought into the 49ers organization to have an immediate impact in a featured role; rather he would help supplement an already formidable defense.
Yet Lemonier was able to get the most out of his opportunities, especially when the 49ers lost Aldon Smith to personal leave and Patrick Willis to injury early in the season.
Lemonier did not disappoint. In two games without Smith, the 6'3", 255-pound Lemonier had two quarterback hits and five hurries in 45 pass rushes, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Bill Williamson of ESPN broke down some of the things that make Lemonier so special of a pass-rusher here.
Barring any sort of injury, Lemonier will not be seeing any starting duties in 2014. He would have to overtake one of the 49ers' venerable linebackers to do that.
Still, we should expect a much larger role for Lemonier as he enters his second full season with San Francisco.
In all likelihood, the 49ers will probably utilize Lemonier in various packages that feature more pass rushing. This same element has been used by San Francisco's rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, this past season to great effect.
In addition to giving Lemonier more playing time, the 49ers' fellow pass-rushers will be granted a number of plays off—saving their strength and energy for late in the season.
Lemonier should be able to handle the job just fine.
Marcus Lattimore, Running Back
2013 Games Played/Started: 0/0
Drafted: Drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Being drafted by the 49ers was probably the perfect scenario for former-South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
After a disgusting knee injury ended his 2012 collegiate campaign, Lattimore's draft stock plummeted from a first-round talent, per NFL.com, to a fourth-round pick, where he was eventually selected.
Instead of being drafted by a team that needed to rush him into production, Lattimore was picked up by a franchise that was still counting on its incumbent back, Frank Gore.
Like Lattimore, Gore was another one of those backs whose collegiate injuries thwarted his draft stock. Yet Lattimore did not have to spend his first season in open competition with Gore for the No. 1 back.
Instead, Gore took Lattimore under his wing, reaching out to the rookie back shortly after he was drafted. Of the interaction, Lattimore commented via Jarrett Bell of USA Today:
[Gore] was just asking me how I'm handling all of this—because he's been through the same thing with the injuries and all. He's just told me to keep that positive mind-set, and that's what I've been doing these past five, six months. And I feel like that's why I'm doing so great with my rehab.
After spending the entirety of the 2013 season on the non-football injury (NFI) list, Lattimore should get his chance to shine in 2014.
Gore has already crested the 30-year-old plateau—an age where most backs have already lost their effectiveness. While Gore is still contributing to a great extent, the time is soon where Lattimore eventually takes over as the team's No. 1 back.
That could be in 2014.
With Gore signed through next season, the most probable scenario is Lattimore and Gore splitting time in the backfield. Gore will probably be the team's No. 1 back to start the season, yet Lattimore is someone who will begin to take over carries as he gains a better understanding of the offense.
The future is bright for this kid, and 49ers fans should be excited to see him take the field.
Quinton Patton, Wide Receiver
2013 Games Played/Started: 6/0
Drafted: Drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
During the 2013 preseason, 49ers fans thought they got one of the biggest steals of the draft as they watched rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton have a promising start at the NFL level.
Yet his rookie season was hampered by a foot injury that limited him to only six games.
This author needs not to go into detail about the lack of wide receiver production that plagued the 49ers for much of 2013. Did Patton's injury affect that to a certain extent? Most certainly.
Still, Patton regained some of the momentum he had from the preseason—most notably thanks to a spectacular catch against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 that helped set up the 49ers' final regular-season win.
They play, which is further described by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, showcased the talent of this young receiver and helps instill confidence in the 49ers' future prospectus at the position.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh is another who has given Patton plenty of praise, saying via Christian Gin of Examiner.com, "Quinton has been a real blue collar guy for us now. Limited action in the NFL, but the big stage doesn't frighten him."
Should we expect that limited action to change next season?
Patton has already taken over the No. 3 wide receiver position following the release of Kyle Williams and the loss of Mario Manningham to a season-ending injury.
With Manningham a free agent after this season, the door is open for Patton to seize the job for 2014.
Whether or not the 49ers elect to re-sign wideout Anquan Boldin—who is also a free agent after this season—or pursue a collegiate wide receiver via the draft, Patton has an excellent chance of gaining a prominent role in San Francisco's offense next year.
He has already showcased some chemistry with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, both during the preseason and late into 2013 and into the playoffs.
Fans should expect more to come.
Cornellius "Tank" Carradine
Tank Carradine, Defensive End
2013 Games Played/Started: 0/0
Drafted: Drafted by the 49ers in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Like running back Marcus Lattimore, the 49ers did not draft former-Florida State defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine to have an immediate impact at the NFL level.
The 49ers could already rely on their incumbent ends, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, to shoulder most of the defensive work along the front seven.
Also similar to Lattimore, Carradine's draft stock took a heavy hit when a knee injury thwarted his senior year at Florida State.
Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network gave high praise to Carradine before the 2013 draft, stating that he would not be surprised if Carradine was a first-round pick.
Meanwhile, Matthew Fairburn of SB Nation also commended Carradine's efforts by saying that Carradine could have been a top-five pick had it not been for his knee injury.
Fortunately enough, Carradine slipped to the 49ers with the 40th-overall pick.
He missed the entire 2013 season, eventually winding up on injured reserve.
While fans have not seen Carradine make an impact at the NFL level, there is no reason to assume he will not be a force to be reckoned with in 2014.
After spending his first NFL season recovering from his knee injury, Carradine will likely be the primary backup at defensive end next season—spelling both Smith and McDonald in various packages and formations.
With Smith's career all but locked up in San Francisco through 2016, and McDonald's contract expiring the same year, it is safe to assume that Carradine's starting prospects are at least over one year away.
Still, Carradine will likely be utilized in the role described herein—various packages that not only give opposing offenses different looks, but also provide the 49ers with an opportunity to rest their veteran starters.
If Carradine impresses, and most like Sports Illustrated's Don Banks think he will, Carradine could play an impactful role in 2014, justifying San Francisco's early pick and further adding muscle to an already stout defense.
As mentioned throughout this slideshow, the 49ers have acquired a significant amount of talent that they did not necessarily have to rush into the fold right away.
They are afforded the luxury of already having a top-tier franchise with younger, developing players having to work their way up the ranks on the team's depth chart.
In a way, this gives these players an opportunity, not only to prove themselves, but also to show that they are worthy of increased roles over coming years.
2014 will be no different.
As these players continue to develop and improve, San Francisco's future looks just as bright as ever. The 49ers know they have talent in the making.
Fans just cannot wait to see it firsthand.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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