Running back Marcus Lattimore, a former South Carolina star, will get his chance to play for the 49ers this year. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Just as they did last year, the 49ers will go into the NFL draft with a deep roster and a boatload of picks.
The 49ers will have 13 selections, including a first-rounder, two second-round picks and three in the third round.
Because they know they won’t be able to find a home for 13 rookies on their 2014 roster, the Niners will be able to do what they did last season: use extra picks to trade up for impact players, trade for future selections or select “redshirt” players.
For the Niners in 2013, there were two such “redshirt" picks – players who, as in college situations, were expected to sit out the year but contribute later. One was former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. The other was former Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine.
Both sat out all of 2013 with injuries, and both should be able to contribute greatly in 2014, giving the 49ers an infusion of first-round-type talent.
Carradine, a second-round pick, suffered an ACL tear in his final season with the Seminoles. Lattimore, a fourth-round choice, suffered a horrific injury in a game that tore two knee ligaments and dislocated his kneecap.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh expects both to compete for big roles in 2014.
“I have great hope for that,” Harbaugh told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee this week. “There’s a path there. Nobody owes anyone a career in professional football. Your career is literally your business. But I have great faith that those men have what it takes.”
Lattimore was able to practice with the 49ers for a time late in the season, and said he felt strong enough that he could have contributed if needed. But with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon, the 49ers were deep at the position.
The 49ers liked what they saw from Lattimore in his brief time on the field in practice and in his rehab work.
“This has been an outstanding year for Marcus,” Harbaugh told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “Tough at times, but great things will happen for him.”
Gore will be 31 next season and, though he had a strong season – his third straight season of more than 1,000 yards, at 1,128 – Lattimore could be his heir apparent as the No. 1 back.
At South Carolina, Lattimore was one of the best college backs in the nation. The 5-foot-11, 221-pounder rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 TDs as a freshman in 2010, but then had both his sophomore and junior seasons cut short by knee injuries.
By sitting out all of 2013, Lattimore was able to regain his strength, learn the playbook and watch the veterans and listen to running backs coach Tom Rathman to soak up what’s expected of him.
One thing he came to realize was that playing running back in the NFL doesn’t mean just running the ball. Rathman expects running backs to block and protect against the pass rush.
“That’s the biggest thing you have to know,” Lattimore told the team’s website. “If you can’t protect the quarterback, you can’t play.”
Meanwhile Carradine should be able to compete against the Niners’ second-tier defensive linemen for playing time, and perhaps start the climb toward eventually replacing starters Justin Smith or Ray McDonald in the coming seasons.
Carradine, who’s 6-foot-4 and 273 pounds, says he’s fully recovered from the ACL tear.
Carradine was placed on injured reserve in early December after being activated during the season, but he never played in a game.
“The doctors, the medical staff thought it was something that would be in Tank’s best interest,” said Harbaugh, of letting Carradine sit out the entire year. “Not everybody comes back from ACL injuries fully recovered in one year. He did get a lot of good practice time, and I think that’s the best thing for his career.”
Before he was injured in his senior season with the Seminoles, Carradine was being discussed as a possible first-rounder. Through 12 games in 2012, he had 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.