49ers Draft Class Will Have Minimal Impact In 2015
For 2014 rookies such as Odell Beckham Jr, Teddy Bridgewater and Khalil Mack, success came almost immediately in the league. While other first-year players had success as their careers moved forward, the concept of a redshirt season certainly has its own place in San Francisco.
Former top draft picks such as Carlos Hyde, Tank Carradine, Vance McDonald, A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, and Colin Kaepernick were all drafted to compliment starters at their respective positions. Granted, all were within the Jim Harbaugh era. Assuming that this year's class will be no different would be a correct. With the exception of Armstead, who could see himself thrust into a starting role (baring the return of Justin Smith), the rest of San Francisco's draft class will be comfortable on the bench.
If Justin Smith makes his highly-anticipated return to San Francisco, all bets are off on Arik Armstead's playing time. The former Oregon star will most likely find himself splitting reps with the 15-year NFL veteran, and can learn from one of the best 3-4 ends in the league. However, there is a genuine possibility that Smith does not return, in which case, playing 16 games will become a reality for Armstead. Classified as a "project", Armstead boasts impressive measurables, but has a high chance of struggling if thrown into the fire known as the NFL trenches.
Former Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt proved to be dominant at the FCS level, and became a late riser on many draft boards through his exceptional performance at the senior bowl. While a great story Tartt may be, an immediate starting safety he is not. With established veterans Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea holding down the safety position currently, Tartt will have the benefit of sitting, and proving himself on special teams. Tartt's impact should be minimal to none on defense.
Eli Harold is considered to be one of the steals of the 49er's draft class, with many evaluators giving the Virginia pass rusher a second-round grade. Falling in the third, Harold brings an excellent presence on the edge. However, this does not exclude him from the bench. Competing with the likes of Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier, and Aaron Lynch do not bode well for Eli Harold. Harold will likely see his impact again on special teams, and an occasional situational passing down.
As for prospects outside of the third round, fourth round receiver DeAndre Smelter probably has the best chance (still not very high) of producing results his rookie season. Boasting supreme physicality and football intelligence, Smelter draws comparisons to current Jets' wide receiver Eric Decker. Due to the lack of depth on the 49ers roster in terms of receiver, Smelter could possibly see action later in the season on 4-wide receiver sets.
Late round tight end prospects such as Blake Bell and Rory Anderson will be buried on the depth chart behind Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, and Derek Carrier. Running back and former South Carolina Gamecock Mike Davis will also be placed behind a long line of veterans including Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter, and Reggie bush. 6th and 7th round rookies Ian Silberman Trenton Brown will both be insurance on the offensive line, which was proven to be a turnstile in 2014.
Undrafted free agents usually are next to irrelevant when it comes to immediate on the field impact. However, there are always cinderella stories in the NFL, and every year is a chance for these players to write them. Former Utah Ute Dres Anderson fell off many people's boards per medical reasons. Anderson has a chance to crack the roster as a 6th wide receiver, a point of weakness for San Francisco the past 3-5 years.
Bottom line, don't expect greatness for this year's class in year one. Forgetting the talent level for a moment, no rookie for San Francisco is even in a position to make an impact currently. In a "what have you done for me lately" league, fans and coaches must be patient with this year’s bay area crop.