Coming off what many considered a successful draft, the San Francisco 49ers are off to a nice start in their Quest for Six. While there are still a few months before the opening kick in Dallas, the Faithful are eagerly anticipating the start of the season. Boasting one of the league’s best defenses, as well as recently acquiring former three-time 1,000 yard receiver Stevie Johnson, the Niners have positioned themselves as a Super Bowl favorite. The fan base expects big years from guys like Kaepernick, Gore, Boldin, Crabtree, Willis and Justin and Aldon Smith, but here are five under-the-radar players who could make an impact this season.
Quinton Patton: Lost in a sea of wide receiver talent, Patton has all the motivation he needs to garner some playing time. While he saw the field in a limited capacity last season, Patton showed flashes of potential, netting a big 29-yard reception on the final drive in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals and a 26-yard grab versus the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs for the team’s initial first down. With good hands and speed, and a compliment of weapons around him to alleviate defensive pressure, expect Patton to see playing time if the 49ers spread the field with four and five wide sets.
Marcus Lattimore: Now fully recovered from his torn ACL, Lattimore also enters a crowded position, running back, but is eager to prove he belongs. One of the best halfbacks in the nation at the University of South Carolina, Lattimore earned just about every prestigious accolade a freshman back could before suffering two major knee injuries. The Niners took a roll of the dice drafting him, but it could pay big dividends. He’ll compete with Kendall Hunter to back up Frank Gore, and while he’ll likely be the number three rusher, don’t be surprised if Lattimore slowly works his way up the depth chart and into more playing time as the season wears on.
Tank Carradine: A Harbaugh and Baalke stowaway from the 2013 draft, Carradine was a second round pick out of Florida State who picked up 11 sacks in 11 games in 2012 before suffering a torn ACL. While the Cowboy’s position on the D-Line is assured, Tank could compete with Ray McDonald for playing time, but would likely be the backup in that scenario. The 49ers could also consider using him as a nose tackle, replacing Ian Williams or Glen Dorsey. Regardless, expect to see Carradine on the field plenty in 2014.
Marcus Martin: With an aging Jonathan Martin likely gone and Daniel Kilgore as the heir apparent, the door is open for a center to swoop in and take that starting spot. Marcus spent two years at left guard for the USC Trojans before shifting over to the center spot for his junior campaign. Some have even said he has instant-starter potential at center or right guard, and Mike Mayock said he was his favorite player at the position in the draft. If he impresses during OTAs and training camp, Martin may see time snapping to Kap.
Jimmie Ward: The Niners first round draft choice, Ward steps into the 49ers biggest position of need, the secondary. While he played safety at Northern Illinois, leading the team in tackles his final two seasons, he’ll likely compete with Eric Wright for nickel corner. Bold prediction time: Ward will win that battle. Ward is an excellent tackler, and despite being undersized for safety, he will give the Niners a much needed boost at cornerback.