Full 2014 Projections for Key San Francisco 49ers Second-Year Players
Even with a sizable crop of rookies poised to enter the fold, there may be no group more important to the 49ers’ success than the draft class of 2013. From a rookie Pro Bowler in safety Eric Reid to redshirts such as running back Marcus Lattimore, this eclectic group should play critical roles on both sides of the ball.
This 49ers team is in the middle of a youth transition, moving forward in a new era with high-end salary restrictions at quarterback. Cheap, young players will be critical to the team’s continued success, and that wave should start in 2014.
While not all second-year players will retain their spots on the roster, these projections should reflect those with an inside track on playing time this year.
Last year's production was taken into account, while changes on the total roster helped shape the projected role for each player. Listed in order of their 2013 draft status, there should be plenty of players making the leap in their sophomore campaigns.
On the Bubble
Nick Moody, Linebacker
Selected in the sixth round in 2013, linebacker Nick Moody recorded three tackles in four games last season. The Florida State product mostly contributed on special teams, as noted by David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
Injuries may allow Moody to crack the roster at first, but depth at inside linebacker is already competitive before the return of All-Pro NaVorro Bowman. Linebackers Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland all have an inside track over Moody, who should duke it out with undrafted signee Shayne Skov.
Carter Bykowski, Offensive Tackle
Offensive tackle Carter Bykowski spent 2013 on the practice squad after being drafted in the seventh round out of Iowa State. Though Bykowski brings great size to the table (6'7", 306 lbs), offensive line depth is no problem for the 49ers with newcomers Jonathan Martin and Marcus Martin.
At best, Bykowski will likely compete for a second season on the practice squad.
Darryl Morris, Cornerback
As noted by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, cornerback Darryl Morris started the season on the 49ers practice squad after going undrafted in 2013. However, the Texas State product clawed his way onto the roster for 13 games during his rookie season.
Barrows believes that Morris is the fastest player on the roster, which should help him stand out in the competition for nickel cornerback. Defensive back is the thinnest position on the roster, of course, which should give the underdog Morris a fighting chance to make the roster once again.
Quinton Dial, Defensive Lineman
Drafted: Round 5, No. 157
2013 Recap: One tackle in three games
2014 Projection: 15 tackles and one sack
Defensive lineman Quinton Dial spent a good part of 2013 on the non-football injury list, recovering from a toe injury suffered at Alabama. Active for three games as a rookie, Dial spent time in relief of fellow linemen Justin Smith and Glenn Dorsey, per Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com.
Mostly serving as a nose tackle or defensive tackle in the 49ers defense, Dial managed just one tackle in his limited time on the field last season. However, his massive frame (6'5", 318 lbs) and experience in the system should allow him to take the next step.
Dial won't open as a starter in 2014, but he should earn quality snaps behind Smith, Dorsey and defensive end Ray McDonald.
With Smith getting up there in years and Dorsey entering a contract year, per Spotrac, Dial should be counted on to show what he can do for next season. When given the opportunity, expect the big man to make his case for a big role in 2015.
Marcus Lattimore, Running Back
Drafted: Round 4, No. 131
2013 Recap: Did not play (injury)
2014 Projection: 40 carries, 190 yards and two touchdowns
Running back Marcus Lattimore was one of the best in the nation during his time at South Carolina, but knee injuries derailed what could have been a legendary career. These issues forced Lattimore to fall into the fourth round, where the 49ers took a chance on the battered back.
While that goal may be unrealistic, Lattimore will certainly compete for snaps this season. Even with running backs Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde and LaMichael James also in the reserve role, starting back Frank Gore will need some breathers to stay fresh for the stretch run.
Lattimore may have the most natural ability at the position, at least if the injuries have not taken too much of a toll. If his health stands, he'll get more than a few chances to show how far he's come in 2014.
Quinton Patton, Wide Receiver
Drafted: Round 4, No. 128
2013 Recap: three receptions and 34 yards in six games
2014 Projection: 10 receptions and 135 yards
Injuries plagued the rookie campaign of wide receiver Quinton Patton, with a broken foot keeping him sidelined from Week 4 until Week 16.
The Louisiana Tech product reeled in 104 passes during his final collegiate season, but he made his biggest impact last year with two crucial catches in Week 17. After showing promise throughout the preseason, Patton unfortunately never had a full chance to show what he could do in 2013.
Patton's competition won't make those chances any easier to come by in 2014. Wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin will unquestionably start, while the 49ers also brought in veteran Stevie Johnson from the Bills and rookie Bruce Ellington from South Carolina.
Patton's health should allow for a few more opportunities in 2014, but the depth chart won't do him any favors. A significant leap would require some injuries above him, though he should be expected to make the roster at minimum.
Corey Lemonier, Outside Linebacker
Drafted: Round 3, No. 88
2013 Recap: 12 tackles and one sack in 16 games
2014 Projection: 40 tackles and six sacks
Linebacker Corey Lemonier did not start any games in 2013, but he did play significant reps during All-Pro pass-rusher Aldon Smith's suspension. Though he split reps with linebacker Dan Skuta last season, David Fucillo of Niners Nation noted that Lemonier handled more snaps as the season progressed.
With legal proceedings coming to a close on July 25, Smith is once again expected to miss time for disciplinary reasons this season, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Lemonier should be in line to receive the bulk of any playing time created by Smith's absence. With linebacker Ahmad Brooks on the other side of the formation, the second-year pro should also see several favorable looks on his way to the quarterback.
Skuta will also see his opportunities in the rotation, but Lemonier's skill is hard to ignore as a potential breakout candidate in 2014.
Vance McDonald, Tight End
Drafted: Round 2, No. 55
2013 Recap: Eight receptions, 119 yards and zero touchdowns in 15 games
2014 Projection: 20 receptions, 255 yards and one touchdown
Praised for his versatility coming out of Rice, tight end Vance McDonald failed to make a true impact as a rookie.
McDonald started one game in place of an injured Vernon Davis and was regularly on the field in 2013. Unfortunately, significant reps didn't translate into an on-field rapport with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, even with a need for quality pass-catchers throughout the year.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, per Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com, indicated that McDonald will see more action in the passing game but passes should be hard to come by. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is healthy to start 2014, while slot receiver Stevie Johnson has been added from Buffalo.
According to Doug Williams of NBCBayArea.com, Davis has indicated that his contract holdout will not extend into training camp. With the threat quelled of their top tight end missing significant action, McDonald should remain in a fairly subdued role.
Tank Carradine, Defensive End
Drafted: Round 2, No. 40
2013 Recap: Did not play (injury)
2014 Projection: 20 tackles and two sacks
San Francisco fans were robbed of the chance to see defensive end Tank Carradine in 2013. After spending the first eight games on the non-football injury list, the Florida State product was placed on injured reserve before appearing in a single game.
According to Carradine's NFL Scouting Combine profile on NFL.com, the defensive end was projected as a first-round talent before suffering an ACL tear during his final season of college ball. This injury carried over into his rookie campaign, rendering him unable to contribute right away.
Patience should pay off in 2014, however, where Carradine's immense talent should do wonders in spelling aging defensive lineman Justin Smith.
Carradine's impressive frame (6'4", 276 lbs) and pass-rushing ability should help him see the field often this season. Coach Jim Harbaugh has also been impressed, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation, seeming unconcerned about the knee injuries of 2013.
If health allows, 2014 should provide some tantalizing flashes of the future.
Eric Reid, Safety
Drafted: Round 1, No. 18
2013 Recap: 73 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 16 games
2014 Projection: 83 tackles and four interceptions
The 49ers struck gold with safety Eric Reid, trading up with the Cowboys to select the LSU product with the 18th overall pick in the draft.
Despite suffering two concussions during his rookie season, Reid started all 16 games on the way to a Pro Bowl nod in 2013. Replacing an All-Pro such as departed safety Dashon Goldson was no small task, but the rookie filled in spectacularly.
In 2014, Reid will be the only member of the starting secondary to start 16 games in a 49ers uniform. Cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver will be entering their first full season as NFL starters, while free-agent safety Antoine Bethea begins his transition after eight seasons in Indianapolis.
Despite entering just his second season, the talented safety will have to take over as a clear leader of the defensive backs. Thankfully for the 49ers, Reid proved to be more than capable of leading the way in 2014.
All statistics and accolades according to Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise attributed. Tom Smeaton is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and can be found on Twitter by following @ByTomSmeaton.