Sometimes when an NFL rookie lines up for his first few pre season games, you just know. Often you know that the guy may not be cut out for the professional ranks; take for example former quarterbacks Giovanni Carmazzi of the San Francisco 49ers and Heath Shuler of the Washington Redskins.
Ironically neither were the best quarterback taken by their team in those particular drafts, but that's a different story altogether. Other times, a player steps onto the field and you just know he has what it takes not only to make it, but to be an impact player in this league.
This preseason, the latter category's best example is 49ers running back Glen Coffee from Alabama. The bruising tailback rushed for a solid 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior for the Crimson Tide last season, and surprised many on Jan. 9 by announcing he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Another year of starting may have helped him improve his draft status, but again, that's a different story altogether, and irrelevant at this point in time.
After deciding to let running back Deshaun Foster go after one season by the bay, the 'Niners needed a running back to spell their starter, Pro Bowler Frank Gore.
Entering his first full season as head coach, Mike Singletary also wanted someone that would help the power running offensive approach being implemented under offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.
The 49ers took Coffee with the 74th overall selection, which comes in third round of the league's annual draft. The 49ers may have made one of the best selections with their pick, but it's hardly the first time they have drafted a contributor in the third round. I
n fact, they have struck gold in the third round many times.
In 1953, the team selected Tulsa offensive lineman Bob St. Clair in the third round of the NFL draft. True, there were less teams, so St. Clair's selection was only the 32nd of the draft, but it was the third round, no less.
St. Clair played 17 seasons, all for San Francisco, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
The year after St. Clair retired, the 49ers drafted linebacker Dave Wilcox out of Oregon. During his 11 seasons, also all with the 49ers, Wilcox made the Pro Bowl seven times, and in 2000, was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But he wasn't alone, two other 49ers went into the hall that year, defensive back Ronnie Lott and a quarterback named Joe Montana.
Montana was not highly regarded coming out of Notre Dame, despite having won a National Championship in 1977, but that didn't stop the 49ers from drafting the mobile quarterback with the 82nd pick in the draft. Four Super Bowls later, Montana is considered by many as the greatest quarterback of all time.
"Joe Cool" didn't win all of those championships alone, however. The late Bill Walsh, the team's coach for four of five of the teams Super Bowl victories, had an eye for talent like no other.
In 1981, he drafted cornerback Carlton Williamson out of Pittsburgh with the 65th pick. Williamson would make two Pro Bowl apperances and win two Super Bowls in his seven year career.
In 1984, the team selected guard Guy McIntyre with the 73rd pick, which isn't bad for a guy that made five pro bowl appearances with the team, and also won two Super Bowls.
As a rookie, McIntyre was used in a formation Walsh called the "Elephant" in which the big guard was used as a fullback in short yardage and goal line situations. It would inspire Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka to do the same with William "Refrigerator" Perry the following year.
Two seasons later, Walsh struck thrice in the third round. With the 56th overall selection, fullback Tom Rathman was selected, with the 64th pick it was cornerback Tim Mckyer, and with the 76th pick the team took receiver John Taylor.
The trio combined for five Super Bowl rings with the team, and Taylor caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXIII. Rathman is currently the team's running backs coach.
In 1996, the 49ers were looking to add depth to their receiving core after Taylor retired, and despite drafting J.J. Stokes with a first round selection the previous year, they selected a little known wideout named Terrell Owens out of Tennessee Chattanooga with the 89th pick.
Owens would appear in four Pro Bowls with the team, catch the winning touchdown in the 1998 NFC Wildcard game against the Green Bay Packers, and break a 50-year-old record by hauling in 20 passes in one game in 2000.
Currently Owens is second in NFL history in receiving touchdowns.
In 2005, under then-new coach Mike Nolan, the 49ers were looking for a running back to take the workload off 2001 third round pick Kevan Barlow. With the 65th selection of the draft, they drafted Gore, a player who tore both ACLs at Miami, and wasn't expected to be taken until the fourt of fifth round; but Nolan liked what he saw.
After running for 608 yards as a rookie, the team handed Gore the keys and he hasn't looked back since. In 2006, he ran for 1.695 yards, a team record, and last season he became the first back in team history to top 1,000 yards in three straight seasons.
That takes us to Coffee, a bruiser who prefers to run through opponents rather than around them. Through two pre seasons games, Coffee leads all NFL rushers with 196 yards, and has shown that potential to become an immediate impact player for a 49ers team that is putting an emphasis on the power rushing attack under Singletary, Raye and Rathman.