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Despite being negated by an unrelated offside penalty, rookie corner Kenneth Acker (No. 38) showed off his coverage prowess with an interception against the Broncos.
Following a period of nagging injuries that plagued various members of this 2014 draft class, it soon became apparent these 49ers rookies were pretty good.
We already covered Ward. Despite missing a huge portion of the offseason while recovering from foot surgery, the hard-hitting defensive back immediately began making plays. And when practice turned into preseason games, the solid work defending both run and pass continued.
It’s only a matter of time until he synthesizes the intricacies of Vic Fangio’s complex defensive schemes into regular-season production.
Then there’s second-round pick Carlos Hyde. The high-IQ, freight train of a running back wasted no time leading the 49ers in rushing yards during his first NFL game. Breaking off a 19-yard run and averaging a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry against a stout Baltimore Ravens defense were impressive feats indeed.
More noteworthy, however, is how offensive coordinator Greg Roman depicted the No. 57 overall selection in this year’s draft, per CSN Bay Area’s Maiocco:
As you’re describing it to him, certain guys can just know immediately what you’re describing because they saw that snapshot in their head and it immediately makes sense to them…And they’re not seeing words coming out of your mouth, they’re seeing a picture. I think Carlos, up until this point at least, has displayed that kind of characteristic.
Recall that whole thing about elevated football IQ?
I think for running backs it’s a great thing because they have so many adjustments to make in protection, and even it’s simply running the football, seeing things moving in front of them, things in constant motion and reacting to that quickly. And that’s a Frank Gore type of trait, and so far, Carlos has afforded himself very well in that area.
Or as the man himself put it, via Maiocco: “It’s starting to click. I’ve been able to be relaxed, play fast, know my job and execute.”
Moving on to Round 3, Borland is much more than a mistake-prone rookie. He is too savvy, too instinctual and too sound a tackler for his early mishaps to carry over into the regular season. We already learned how quickly he improved against none other than Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
A similar upward trajectory applies to the Niners’ first third-round pick Marcus Martin. This year’s top collegiate center stumbled out of the gates and lost his chance of winning the starting job to Daniel Kilgore, who Maiocco reports is the “clear front-runner.”
Yet Martin already produced a much better showing against Denver after his disaster of a performance in the Baltimore-based scrimmages. Barrows of The Sacramento Bee also notes how the rookie center has fully recovered from his ankle injury and is in much “better shape.” Pro Football Focus honored him with a positive grade in pass protection versus the Broncos as well.
Of the Niners’ eight remaining picks, four are all but confirmed for redshirt status in 2014 (OL Brandon Thomas, CB Keith Reaser, DT Kaleb Ramsey and FB Trey Millard). The other four, meanwhile, have proved worthy of a spot on this contending roster in one form or another.
Ellington passes the eye test on the field and fills the box score off it. Maiocco confirms he’s a lock for the 53-man roster.
The once-embattled Aaron Lynch has made a strong return from a hamstring that sidelined him early in training camp. The first-round-talent-turned-fifth-round-pick has said and done all “the right things,” according to The Chronicle’s Lynch. He has also shown Aldon Smith-like qualities in both physical appearance and practice, per Barrows.
An interception-negating offside penalty against the Broncos will at worst put the 6’5”, 276-pound pass-rushing force on the practice squad.
As for Dontae Johnson (Round 4, No. 129) and Kenneth Acker (Round 6, No 180), either cornerback would provide a highly underrated asset to San Francisco’s secondary. The former offers great length with his 6’2” frame, while both bring pro-level intelligence to the game.
Johnson made a name for himself first with four tackles, one pass breakup and a positive grade in pass coverage from PFF against Baltimore. He ruled practice three days later by knocking down another pass and registering a pick-six versus those same Ravens, per Maiocco.
Acker joined the coverage party by picking off two throws on a Wednesday practice, followed by a “three-play stanza in which he knocked a pass away, intercepted a pass...and drew an offensive pass interference in the 34-0 loss to Denver,” per Lynch. PFF awarded him with one of the highest grades any 49ers player has received in the preseason thus far.
Unlike a certain 2012 draft contingent, most—if not every—member of this latest class will make the 53-man roster. We learned through the benefit of hindsight about the former; the latter won’t require such historical reflection.