The 2014 NFL Draft saw the San Francisco 49ers continue the red shirt strategy they employed in 2013. In 2013, the 49ers added a handful of injured players either not expected to play in 2013, or at least more than a little bit unlikely to play. This group included Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore, Quinton Dial and Luke Marquardt. Dial spent a majority of the season on the 53-man roster, and even was active a few games, but was still a quasi-red shirt given that he was on the NFI list through training camp and the first six weeks of the season.
The 49ers followed this up with another handful of injured players in the 2014 NFL Draft. The team drafted Brandon Thomas and Keith Reaser who are both expected to miss the season while recovering from ACL injuries. Thomas suffered his in April while working out for the Saints. Reaser suffered his last fall, but needed a second surgery in February. Trey Millard could potentially fit into this group as well, but given that his ACL tear was last fall and things seem to be going OK with it, he could very well participate in training camp, and avoid the NFI list.
Earlier this week, Albert Breer wrote about the 49ers red shirt strategy and how it is spreading around the league. This year's other injury all stars include Dominique Easley, Aaron Colvin, and Aaron Murray. All three are players who could still end up on 53-man rosters in 2014, but it is possible one or more of them spends some time on the NFI list to at least start training camp.
For the 49ers, the red shirt strategy could prove fruitful, but it's also too early to tell. Last year's injured players will get their first real opportunities this year, but that group has already lost one player for now. Luke Marquardt was signed as an expected red shirt player, but a subsequent foot injury last month will cost him at least some of the 2014 season. He expects to return to the 49ers, but we'll have to wait and see how it plays out.
This fall, Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore, and Quinton Dial will all be watched closely. Lattimore and Tank a bit more so, but Dial as well to some extent. We'll start to see just how this strategy pans out, if at all. Tank had to get some scar tissue removed in January, and Lattimore will not be going full out until training camp. Until we see them in action, we don't know how succesful this strategy will have been. And of course, we also have to wait until next year to see what the 49ers get out of this year's class.
At some point, there will be statistical analysis and discussion of the success of this strategy. Unfortunately, it could be a long time before we can make any particularly useful conclusions. It's such a small sample size, leaving most of our conclusions over the next couple years as qualititative in nature. That won't stop us from making conclusions, of course. The 49ers have access to some of the best doctors in the world, so I can understand their confidence in using this kind of strategy. Now we'll just wait and see if their confidence is justified.