San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke has been known to take risks on small school prospects in later rounds evident by selecting players like CB Phillip Adams (South Carolina State), FB Bruce Miller (Central Florida), G Jason Slowey (Western Oregon), G Mike Person (Montana State), CB Curtis Holcomb (Florida A&M), and T Carter Bykowski (Iowa State). However, another trend Baalke favors is the ability to identify big school prospects whose draft stock has taken a downward spiral due to injuries. Recently Baalke has selected DE Tank Carradine (Florida State), RB Marcus Lattimore, and NT Quinton Dial (Alabama) all of whom played in big conferences and whose draft stock would have been much higher had it not been for injuries.
Carradine, would have easily been a top 20 selection had it not been for a torn ACL suffered in November 2012. A season-ending injury that lingered well into his rookie season, it’s no wonder NFL teams passed on the first-round talent. However, the 49ers had the luxury of selecting the “BPA” (Best Player Available) based on the depth already secured on the roster making Carradine a great value pick up. In fact, they even traded down with the Tennessee Titans from No. 34 to No. 40 and still landed Carradine. Now, with a healthy Carradine in 2014, look for him to explode on the scene as he should be used in third-down packages to spell DE Ray McDonald.
Then there is the best value selection of the Baalke era in Lattimore. By far the best running back of the 2013 Draft class, Lattimore’s last two seasons in South Carolina have been highlighted by torn ACL’s and other knee injuries. However, that did not stop the 49ers from selecting the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year. Another great value selection as the 49ers could afford the risk since they already had a strong stable of running backs in RB Frank Gore, RB Kendall Hunter, and RB LaMichael James, Lattimore will be out to prove his worth in 2014 as he gets acclimated into the offense.
And what about Dial, the other SEC product from ‘Bama that slid down draft boards due to a bum turf toe? His value was made in the fifth-round (No. 157). A behemoth nose tackle that played against top talent in the prestigious SEC, Dial’s potential was well worth the risk. A player that stands 6-foot-5 and 318 pounds, Dial’s frame makes him an ideal fit under DC Vic Fangio’s scheme and has the potential to anchor the line for next few years.
So who is this year’s Carradine, Lattimore and Dial? The answer may be DE Dominique Easley (Florida) and CB Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma).
Easley like Lattimore suffered a torn ACL injury two times during his collegiate career. An injury that also included a torn meniscus in 2013, Easley also tore his ACL initially in 2011 against the Florida State Seminoles. It’s those red flags that would make Easley a nice value pickup in the third-round. And with Baalke coveting SEC talent, do not be surprised if Easley’s name is called by the red and gold. In addition to being a great value in later rounds, Easley’s intangibles is what the Niners scouting department likes. A leader, very coachable, hard worker, and high football character are traits the 49ers value and Easley fits the bill to a tee. McDonald and DE Justin Smith can’t play forever, and with Carradine locked up on one side pairing Easley on the other would be very intriguing.
Colvin is my wild-card simply because he has flown under the radar since suffering a torn ACL in Senior Bowl practice. Another player the 49ers would welcome as Colvin’s intangible are bar-none as he’s a natural leader much like FS Eric Reid, Colvin would be a nice value pick in the fourth-round. Not to mention, Colvin’s toughness and passion for the game is what makes him an ideal fit for HC Jim Harbaugh, I see the Niners targeting Colvin despite the injuries. If that’s not a reason to target Colvin than maybe his versatility is, as Colvin has played both cornerback and safety during his career at Oklahoma, something Baalke favors.
With the 2014 NFL Draft just one month away, we will keep you updated on the latest surrounding the team as it unfolds.