Clemson OL Brandon Thomas tears his ACL; add him to 49ers red shirt radar

Kevin C. Cox

The San Francisco 49ers used multiple 2013 NFL Draft picks on injured players. If they continue that strategy this season, Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas could be on their radar.

Last week, Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas tore his ACL during a private workout with the New Orleans Saints. With only a month left until the draft, and five months until the start of the 2014 season, Thomas is unlikely to play in what would have been his rookie season in the NFL. Many draft prognosticators considered him a likely second or third round pick. The torn ACL will impact his draft stock, but it's hard to say just how much at this point.

Over the last couple months, we've taken a look at a couple draft prospects that might fit into last year's redshirt strategy. Last year, the San Francisco 49ers drafted DL Tank Carradine, RB Marcus Lattimore and DL Quinton Dial, and signed OT Luke Marquardt as an undrafted free agent, and effectively red-shirted them while they recovered from injuries. There is no indication this is meant to become a regular occurrence, but when you've got 11 draft picks and limited roster availability, trading up this year, acquiring picks for next year and red-shirting have a chance to become more and more the norm.

We started this all back in January when we discussed Aaron Colvin. The Oklahoma cornerback tore his ACL during Senior Bowl week. It is tough to tell how much it will affect his draft stock, but it will likely drop him from day 2 to potentially day 3.

We followed it up with some discussion of Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley. He has suffered two ACL tears during his time at Florida. He tore his left ACL in 2010, and tore his right this past season.

Now we get to consider Brandon Thomas. The Clemson product arrived on campus as a guard. He played a mix of guard and tackle in 2011, and then became the starting left tackle for 2012 and 2013. It sounds like he is most likely to end up inside at the NFL level due to concerns against speed rushers.

The 49ers have their starting offensive line mostly set up, with Daniel Kilgore appearing to be the front-runner at center. The 49ers have options behind them, but there are questions. Adam Snyder enters 2014 as the primary backup on the line, but he'll be pushed by Joe Looney at guard, and by Luke Marquardt and Carter Bykowski at tackle. If the 49ers decide the younger guys can handle the work, they might be inclined to cut Snyder during training camp. It's not a sure thing by any means, but if you can get cheaper and don't think you'll lose much of a step in the process, that's the general business model at this point.

The 49ers red-shirted Marquardt as he recovered from his foot injury, but he should be back in the saddle to compete for reserve work. If Brandon Thomas were to slip down far enough, the 49ers could consider him as a 2014 red-shirt option. Mike Iupati is entering the final year of his contract. Maybe they draft Thomas, and have him and Looney competing for that starting left guard position in 2015.

Other teams could very well decide they like Thomas, and maybe he does not slip far enough. The 49ers do not yet know what Carradine, Lattimore, Dial and Marquardt will contribute this year, but I wonder if he see other teams with solid depth considering more of a red-shirt strategy in next month's draft. The NFL is a copy-cat league after all.

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