It is feasible that a large number of young 49ers may have impactful seasons in 2014. Essentially, this is what every 49ers fan would want to see—the younger crop of San Francisco talent showcasing itself on the field and warranting attention from within the franchise and around the league.
Here are a few who should at least be discussed to a certain degree. They are listed in no particular order.
Eric Reid, Free Safety
Second-year pro Eric Reid doesn't make the list because no one at this point considers him a sleeper. He is a bona fide NFL talent—justified after his Pro Bowl rookie season.
He has already broken out.
After being selected by the 49ers in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Reid immediately took his talents to the field and started all 16 regular-season games for San Francisco.
There were some concerns, however. Most notably, some concussion issues, but we can bank upon Reid putting together an impressive year considering he has a full season of practical NFL experience under his belt.
Add on top of this the fact that San Francisco shook up its secondary during the offseason. Along with veteran free-agent acquisition Antoine Bethea and returning veteran corner Tramaine Brock, Reid should take a leadership role in the 49ers' secondary this season, as Al Sacco of SportsOutWest.com suggests.
I'd put plenty of faith in that.
Marcus Martin, Center
OK, so rookie centers do not typically garner plenty of attention when it comes to projecting a breakout candidate.
But USC's Marcus Martin may be the exception as the 2014 season approaches.
The 49ers had to fill the void along the offensive line left by veteran center Jonathan Goodwin when he departed via free agency this offseason. The team inked backup Daniel Kilgore to a three-year, $4.845 million contract extension, but this does not guarantee him the starting job.
Martin figures to battle with Kilgore during training camp and into the preseason—a battle he could very likely win, per Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com.
Adding to Martin's likability is the fact that he can also play guard. This flexibility gives Martin increased value in determining his role with the 49ers' O-line.
If he impresses enough to earn a starting role, San Francisco's offensive line—especially at center—should be just as venerable as it was a year ago.
Corey Lemonier, Outside Linebacker
Auburn pass-rushing specialist Corey Lemonier may see a bit of an increased role in 2014 after impressing the 49ers' coaching staff well enough during his rookie season a year ago.
Lemonier filled in amiably for fellow outside linebacker Aldon Smith when Smith was absent during a portion of the season while participating in a rehabilitation program. During this stretch, and throughout the season, Lemonier totaled 12 tackles, three assists, a safety and one sack.
Smith's off-the-field issues could again open the door for Lemonier in 2014. While we don't know just how long Smith could be suspended by the NFL this season, we should at least speculate that he will miss some time. This gives Lemonier an added chance.
It's hard to say that Lemonier will be a complete breakout candidate in 2014 based on what happens with Smith. Given Smith's talents, the 49ers would obviously like to have him on the field as much as possible.
But if San Francisco is considering life after Smith, Lemonier could get some additional looks this season.
We'll have to see how he responds.
Darryl Morris, Cornerback
Typically, undrafted free agents (UDFAs) don't wind up providing much of an impact at the NFL level, especially within their first couple of seasons.
But second-year corner Darryl Morris may be an exception to that trend.
Morris' contributions during his 2013 rookie season were primarily on special teams, but he did get on the field for 13 games and the 49ers liked what he saw in coverage roles. His combination of speed and smarts makes up for his lack of size (5'10" and 188 pounds).
As one of the fastest guys on the team, Morris is hoping for more than just a special teams role.
Entering training camp, Morris is looking to compete for the open position of nickel corner, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Morris will compete for this job alongside fellow special teamer Perrish Cox and 2014 first-rounder Jimmie Ward.
But Morris does bring a lot to the table and the 49ers have been excited about him for some time now. It will be interesting to watch how this develops.
He isn't necessarily guaranteed a roster spot, which keeps him out of consideration for the top five, but Morris has plenty of upside that fans will want to see.
Nick Moody, Outside Linebacker
Outside linebacker Nick Moody was picked up in Round 6 of the 2013 NFL draft and managed to see four games during his rookie season.
Had All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman not suffered a gruesome knee injury during the NFC Championship last season, Moody's role with the team in 2014 would likely be as a backup and special teams contributor.
Yet Bowman is injured and figures to miss a sizable chunk of the regular season.
This opens the door for a number of backups. Michael Wilhoite is the favorite to fill in for Bowman, but will be challenged by rookie Chris Borland and Moody, per Barrows.
What Moody brings to the table is this—he is a hard-hitting, athletic linebacker, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
Moody will likely be utilized on special teams, but if he gets significant looks during training camp and during the preseason and subsequently impresses, don't be surprised if we see him on the field alongside fellow linebacker Patrick Willis from time to time.
Quinton Patton, Wide Receiver
Second-year wideout Quinton Patton will look to rebound after an injury-plagued rookie season a year ago.
What we do know is this—Patton developed a nice chemistry with quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the preseason. Go look at some of his highlights for an example. Patton also netted some excellent grabs down the stretch after he returned in Week 15.
Now the 49ers added plenty of receiving help this offseason. Added to the mix are wideouts like Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington. We should also expect a lot from veterans Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
One might speculate that this means Patton receives fewer touches in 2014. That person could be correct.
But Patton still offers plenty of upside and the fact that he has already established a rapport with Kaepernick goes in his favor.
We should see some nice numbers put up by Patton this season.