Much of the 49ers discussion heading into the 2013 NFL Draft centered on the 49ers need for greater depth on the defense line. The team needed help at safety, but there were just as many, albeit different questions about the 49ers defensive line depth.
Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are locked in as starters at this point, but with an absurd amount of snaps under their belt, eventually they were going to wear down. The 49ers secondary has been criticized quite a bit over the last few months, but while the secondary struggled late in the season, a boost to the defensive line was one more way to boost the secondary.
After last week's draft, it is clear the 49ers agreed on the need for improvement along the front seven. We'll discuss Corey Lemonier in the coming week, but for now, the 49ers selections of Cornellius "Tank" Carradine and Quinton Dial, to go along with the signing of Glenn Dorsey, mean the 49ers are serious about increasing the defensive line depth, and slowly considering the future.
Justin Smith is entering the final season of his 49ers contract, and likely has two or three more years left in the league (possibly more). The 49ers needed to consider their options as they move forward. The addition of Tank Carradine is a big step in that direction. He is a bit "undersized" compared to Justin Smith now, but Smith was a bit smaller when he came over to the 49ers. Tank stands at 276 pounds, and will have ample opportunities to add to his 6'4 frame. I suppose he could lose some pounds and move back to outside linebacker, but that seems unlikely, particularly with the addition of Lemonier.
The team added Carradine to play on the line, and added Quinton Dial to play all along the line. Dial will move right in and start competing for any playing time he can find. Carradine is in a bit of a tough situation as he works to recover from an ACL injury. He suffered his ACL tear the day before Kyle Williams tore his ACL. This will be an interesting study in the potential differences in ACL injuries, particularly among different positions.
Williams is expected to be ready for training camp, but it's still a developing process. For Carradine, I would not be surprised to see him relatively limited through offseason training activities as he works back toward 100%. How will that impact him in his attempts at rookie year playing time? He gets to attend all OTAs as Florida State is actually ending their semester today. Finals wrap up today and commencement ceremonies are today and tomorrow. This is pertinent because aside from rookie minicamp, rookies cannot join their team until after their school wraps up the academic semester.
Carradine was brought in with the future in mind, but he has a chance to provide a rest for everybody on the defensive line aside from the nose tackle. He will get some opportunities at defensive end in the base and nickel defenses, but he'll also likely get some opportunities at defensive tackle in the nickel. Obviously we're all plenty optimistic right now. It remains to be seen how it plays out, but Tank will get plenty of opportunities to make a long-term impact. Add in a chance to learn from one of the best defensive lineman in the league, as well as a fantastic defensive line coach, and he is going to be placed in a position to succeed.