The San Francisco 49ers 2013 NFL Draft class has largely underwhelmed at the pro level. But 2016 could be the year in which some of these players wind up living up to expectation.
Everyone knows 2012 was San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke’s worst year, in terms of landing prospective talent via the NFL Draft.
But 2013 was looking pretty bad for a while too.
Eventually landing 11 draft picks that year, the 49ers didn’t have to worry so much about finding immediate upgrades. San Francisco already had a stacked roster and was en route to its third consecutive NFC Championship appearance.
Baalke only needed one impact player right away — safety Eric Reid — who became a mainstay of the secondary.
The rest, for the most part, were intended to be long-term replacements for aging veterans or likely free-agent departures.
So the Niners could feel comfortable taking an injured Tank Carradine in Round 2 as well as another injury concern in South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. Tight end Vance McDonald, a second-round pick, was supposed to be the replacement for former 49ers TE Delanie Walker.
But things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
Lattimore retired before he ever saw the field. Carradine, who was redshirted his rookie season, struggled in the Niners 3-4 defensive end role and didn’t see much action. McDonald couldn’t catch, and wide receiver Quinton Patton remained buried on the depth chart.
And then the disastrous 2015 offseason happened.
As Eric Branch of SF Gate wrote, Baalke’s draft plan backfired. What seemed like a good idea at the time, this strategy left the 49ers without answers when they were needed most.
Yet all this might change in 2016.
Vance McDonald a Late Bloomer?
Reid and defensive tackle Quinton Dial have been the most regular contributors for San Francisco since 2013.
McDonald — who had a 42.1 and 25.0 catch percentage in 2013 and 2014, respectively — was known more for plays like these than being a reliable pass-catcher:
On the bright side, McDonald did flash some promise towards the tail end of 2015.
And that mild success appears to be growing exponentially under head coach Chip Kelly.
McDonald scored the Niners first preseason touchdown — a 43-yard catch-and-run grab from quarterback Blaine Gabbert against the Houston Texans. While it’s still exhibition football, early results have been positive.
At least according to ESPN’s Louis Riddick:
What makes this situation a bit more intriguing are the 49ers’ worries at wide receiver. San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of proven depth here, so the reliance on tight ends could put McDonald in a position where he finally lives up to his second-round draft status.
Better late than never.
Quinton Patton on the Rise?
I recall CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco noting how Patton would be able to contribute right away, after the Niners selected him in Round 4 of the 2013 draft.
That didn’t happen though.
Since then, Patton has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. Who can forget him running the wrong way in the preseason last year?
He did have 394 receiving yards and a touchdown in 2015, albeit on an anemic offense, so maybe Kelly’s offensive style will be the elixir to finally generate some sort of return on the Louisiana Tech product.
Patton hasn’t been a huge factor in the preseason but, as David Fucillo of Niners Nation noted, the wideout has been one of the better contributors in training camp so far. And coaches tend to trust what they see in practice:
"Reports have been consistently positive with regard to Patton. He had a big opportunity with Anquan Boldin’s departure, and he faces one less competitor now that Eric Rogers is out for the season. Ideally he steps up as the intermediate threat to Torrey Smith’s deep thread."
Again, preseason football won’t tell us much. But signs are pointing to Patton’s stock rising.
Tank Carradine a Constant Force
Having Carradine play a traditional 3-4 defensive end wasn’t working. It wasn’t the position in which Carradine thrived at Florida State, so the Niners wisely moved him to EDGE and asked him to drop some weight.
San Francisco’s pass rush, which ranked No. 29 last year with 28 sacks, will need the production to start 2016.
The defense will be without linebacker Aaron Lynch (suspension) for the first four games of the season, so Carradine has some shoes to fill.
After a strong performance against the Denver Broncos in the Niners’ second preseason game of the year, check out what Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney had to say:
Carradine may still not be an ideal fit against the run, but his pass-rushing potential — the same one which earned him collegiate recognition — is going to be what the 49ers bank on this season.
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And, finally, the 49ers might be getting their first solid return from a guy who might have been on just an OK-player trajectory.
So, just maybe, a good chunk of Baalke’s 2013 draft class may not be so bad after all. True, there were some busts — insert linebacker Corey Lemonier here — and the returns might have not been as immediate as desired. But if these preseason contributions carry over, San Francisco could be in that much better shape for 2016.
Never a bad thing.