The 2014 NFL Draft is only a week away, which means we're that much closer to the next batch of sure-fire talent, and KSWOF candidates. We'll have plenty of time to talk about them, but before we get overrun with another 17 or so additions to the roster, I thought we'd take a look at the current roster and who might emerge from that group.
Every year, players come out of nowhere or at least relative anonymity to make big contributions across the NFL. Last year, I think we can make a reasonable argument that Tramaine Brock was one of those guys. He had stuck around the roster a couple years making contributions here and there, but last year, as injuries shook up the secondary, Brock emerged as a starter and earned himself a new contract and a starting nod this fall.
The 49ers are a fairly deep team though, so there were not a whole lot of players that come out of nowhere to play a big role. Eric Reid probably could count to some extent, but given that he was a first round pick, I don't think he'd really count. He had a better year than I think most expected, but expectations were still somewhat high.
Tony Jerod-Eddie did not emerge as a starter, but he was a pretty big contributor to the defensive line rotation. He established himself as a pretty big part of the defensive line rotation behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Although he did not put up a bunch of flashy numbers, his contributions were valuable in getting Smith and McDonald much needed rest.
As we look at this year's roster, one of the early candidates could be Michael Wilhoite. I suppose most of us are already assuming that given that he will likely slot into NaVorro Bowman's ILB spot. However, he is still a guy who has worked his way up, so there is some consideration there. I don't expect him to emerge as a long-term starter at ILB given the two guys already there, but he has a chance to have a pretty huge impact on the 2014 season.
Cornerback Darryl Morris is a guy who worked his way into special teams work in 2013, but will likely get a decent amount of opportunities in 2014. Last preseason, the 49ers seemed to want to hide him to some extent to get him to their practice squad. He performed quite well on special teams last season, which is important to gaining further trust from this coaching staff. I think we see him get a lot of opportunities in the preseason. Eric Wright, Perrish Cox and Chris Cook have more experience, and are likely favorites for more cornerback playing time, but a strong preseason by Morris could push on of them aside.
On the offensive side of the ball, a guy I'll be keeping an eye on in training camp is Chuck Jacobs. The 49ers signed Jacobs as an undrafted free agent, and he ended up spending the season on the practice squad. Of course, prior to that, he put together an impressive body of work in the preseason. It was all in garbage time, but for a UDFA, that's the first step forward. The 49ers are likely going to add a wide receiver or two in this draft, and of course Quinton Patton will get his share of opportunities. But Jacobs is a guy who could sneak his way up the depth chart. Given his performance last preseason, I have to think he gets bumped up to slightly more pertinent playing time in 2014.
Who do you see as potential under-the-radar players that end up as important contributors in 2014? Given how closely we all follow the team, I suppose it's not a simple task, but there are still "under-the-radar" players. I suppose these guys could also qualify as the current "was our future" types.