San Francisco 49ers: Early Rookie Progress Reports
With Marcus Martin on board, the San Francisco 49ers have signed all 12 members of their 2014 rookie class. We can finally shift our attention to actual football.
Training camp is still over a month away, but for these 12 rookies, it starts with OTAs. While optional for veterans, rookies are required to attend. It should give some of these first-year players a mental sharpening of sorts.
More often that not, though, this time of the month usually brings nonsensical information. It's usually about the players' off-the-field life or journey to the NFL.
I'm not complaining, but most want true football-related content.
As always, you should take these reports or stories with a grain of salt. We had some real gems last year with Quinton Patton and Marcus Lattimore, but this year's class seems short on dramatics.
Of course, I could be wrong. Time will only tell.
For now, let's focus on some early progress reports. Let's get started!
Carlos Hyde, RB
The 57th overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft, running back Carlos Hyde was certainly not the player many envisioned donning the red and gold. Yes, the 49ers have a history of selecting at least one halfback in each of the last three drafts, but with other more pressing needs, this was a questionable pick at first.
In fact, the 49ers moved up the draft board to grab Hyde. Folks, Hyde may have dropped in the draft, but it seems general manager Trent Baalke had his sights set on drafting the former Ohio State product.
Now, what does Hyde bring to the table?
Hyde brings a physical presence to the running game. Like Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore, Hyde is a physical, downhill runner who is an ideal fit in a power run scheme.
With Hyde now in Santa Clara, California, it wasn't surprising to hear the former Big Ten player talk glowingly about the two veteran halfbacks mentioned above in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News:
"Being able to watch Frank Gore and have an opportunity to learn from him is awesome," said Hyde, a second-round draft pick last week out of Ohio State. "Not too many people get to learn from a guy who's probably going to the Hall of Fame. I'm going to really pay attention to him and take notes."
Hyde may be the future at the position, but he'll likely play a far smaller role to start his career. Expect Hyde to play a similar role to what Anthony Dixon did for the 49ers last year.
Dontae Johnson, DB
Jimmie Ward was an excellent first-round selection for the 49ers, but there was still a pressing need at the cornerback position. Granted, Taylor Price of 49ers.com reported that Ward is expected to compete for a job as a nickel corner or safety.
With the cornerback position needing an infusion of youth and talent, the 49ers decided to take a chance on a very athletic but raw specimen in Dontae Johnson.
Johnson stands at an intimidating 6'2'', but comes into the NFL with a few question marks. Mainly, what position will Johnson assume?
If you asked me 10 or 15 years ago, I would say Johnson is strictly a safety. In today's NFL, Johnson has a legitimate shot at becoming a very solid pro corner.
Speaking with the team's official website, Baalke seemed to agree. "Versatility, intelligence and A-plus-plus character guy. We’re going to lock in and get him at corner, let him go to work," he said.
Now, Johnson is still a developmental prospect. He has all the athletic gifts to succeed at the position, but it should take him some time to put it all together.
Regardless, Johnson told Taylor Price of 49ers.com that he will attempt to pattern his game after two of the more established names at his position: Champ Bailey and Richard Sherman.
I wouldn't say never, but I'd be shocked if Johnson sees the field this year outside of special teams. Nevertheless, he is a name 49ers fans should watch for in the coming years.
Bruce Ellington, WR
Despite the addition of Stevie Johnson, the 49ers still needed an infusion of speed in the receiver corps. Bruce Ellington is that answer.
Ellington isn't a speed demon, but he has enough in the tank to be a legitimate vertical threat for Colin Kaepernick and Co. As we all have surmised to this point, Ellington will make his money in the slot.
The 49ers offense is centered around their power run scheme. That's why the 49ers love utilizing two-tight end sets, though their lack of depth at the receiver position in previous years has also played a role.
Regardless, the addition of Ellington could maybe force the 49ers to use more "11" (1 TE, 3 WR) or "10" (1 RB, 4 WR) personnel—not to mention the addition of Brandon Lloyd, who has received rave reviews from Jim Harbaugh.
Even if the former basketball player plays a minimal role in the 49ers offense in 2014, Ellington still should make a sizable contribution in the return game. With that quickness and stamina, he could become a very dangerous punt returner in the NFL.
According to 49ers.com, Jim Harbaugh already loves the kid—especially his versatility.
"He’s a heck of an athlete, a very productive football player… Another versatile, very good athlete. Look forward to exploring how many different ways we can use him," he said.
Like Harbaugh, I'm excited to see what Ellington can potentially bring to the table in his rookie season.
Jimmie Ward, DB
With players like Marqise Lee and Bradley Roby still on the board, the selection of Jimmie Ward was a bit of a head-scratcher at first. Yes, Ward is a versatile player in the secondary, but his natural position of safety wasn't an immediate need for the 49ers.
Baalke immediately silenced many of the critics by stating that Ward would compete at the nickel corner spot in addition to safety to start his career.
Eventually, Ward will pair with Eric Reid to form one of the more potent safety combinations in the league.
For now, Ward has settled in quite nicely with the 49ers. He's already met Kaepernick, which should deliver a laugh or two.
"Pretty cool guy. He looks like my cousin, that’s what I told him when I first met him. I was like, ‘Hey, you look like my cousin.’ And his name is Nick, so it’s kind of a coincidence," Ward told Taylor Price of 49ers.com
Of course, Ward will have to wait until training camp to show his starting quarterback that he means business. This should give him time to wallow in the playbook while his injured foot heals.
Until training camp, we probably won't hear much from Ward.
Marcus Martin, C
Of the four rookies mentioned before, Martin has the best shot at earning a starting gig. Like Ward, Martin has some positional versatility that should make him quite useful in his first season.
Martin and Daniel Kilgore will compete for the starting center position. As I stated in a previous piece, this is Kilgore's job to lose, but competition will ensue nonetheless.
Martin also has a chance to compete at either guard spot. At the very least, we should see him contribute as a situational player in the 49ers' jumbo or heavy packages.
According to 49ers.com, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock thought Martin was a perfect fit for this 49ers club.
"This was the No. 1 center on my board. This is a big-bodied kid who fits exactly what San Francisco is ... a big, powerful, run-the-football kind of team," he said.
For a third-round pick, Martin was an excellent value addition to a team already stacked with talent on the offensive line.