The San Francisco 49ers open their 2016 rookie minicamp on Thursday, and we get to hear a little bit more about the team's draft picks and undrafted free agents. Rookies are arriving to Santa Clara throughout the day, and they have their first formal practice on Friday.
Since the rookies will be out on the field for the first time as members of the 49ers, I thought I would put together some quick thoughts on what we might expect from each of the draft picks in their first year. Some players will compete for starting roles, while others are just looking to make the roster. Here are a few thoughts on each of the draft picks.
DT DeForest Buckner
The 49ers went defensive line for the second straight season. A year ago, Arik Armstead slowly worked his way into the defensive line rotation. I suspect in Armstead's second year, we see him operating in base downs, and Buckner coming in on passing downs. Buckner might be able to get into the starting lineup sooner rather than later, but even if he does not, I think we see him get plenty of work. Depending on the status of Ian Williams' ankle, I think Buckner ends up with the third most defensive line snaps behind Quinton Dial and Arik Armstead.
OG Joshua Garnett
The 49ers moved up into the first round to get Garnett, so they expect him to make an immediate impact. Look for him to be starting at one of the guard positions, with Zane Beadles at the other guard position.
CB Will Redmond
He tore his ACL in October, but he and Trent Baalke both have said he will be back for training camp. If that is the case, he will be competing for nickel and dime playing time. I don't think the Jimmie Ward transition to free safety will be happening fully this year, but maybe we see some rotation. Baalke has never really been this forceful in stating an ACL All Star will be ready, so we'll see how that pans out by August.
CB Rashard Robinson
I would not be surprised to see him get more preseason snaps than most anybody else on the roster. He has not played football in 18 months due to various off-field issues, so the 49ers will want to get him as much work as they can. I think we see Tramaine Brock and Dontae Johnson starting on the outside, but Robinson could be the guy who costs Kenneth Acker his job. He actually needs to perform to that level, but while Redmond will be a guy on the inside, Robinson will be looking to earn a role as the man on the outside behind the starters.
DE Ronald Blair
Many view Blair as the sleeper in this draft. However, the 49ers have a good deal of defensive line depth. My guess is he makes the roster and ends up inactive fairly frequently as a rookie. His upside initially could be as a replacement for Tony Jerod-Eddie sooner rather than later.
OT John Theus/OT Fahn Cooper
Without knowing a lot more at this point in time, it is hard to separate these two out. The 49ers starting line will likely be Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore, Joshua Garnett, and Trenton Brown. After that, competition is pretty wide open. Erik Pears, is likely the front runner as the utility guy. Theus and Cooper will be competing with Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, Ian Silberman, Colin Kelly, and Jordan Devey for whatever playing time remains. Ideally one of Theus or Cooper earns the swing tackle role, or whatever first spot after Erik Pears. I think both make the roster, with one of them active, and the other inactive most of the season.
QB Jeff Driskel
Best case, he makes the roster and is inactive all 16 games. Otherwise, the 49ers try and slip him to the practice squad. I suspect it will be one or the other.
RB Kelvin Taylor
This is a tough one to project. We don't really know how exactly Chip Kelly views the current crop of running backs behind Carlos Hyde. The 49ers just spent a fourth round pick on Mike Davis, but will draft pedigree matter? Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris each did good things filling in for injured players, but what are their ceilings? And for that matter, what is Taylor's ceiling? He's got the name, and it sounds like he's got the drive and work ethic, but there are questions about his power, and some have described him as "more quicker than fast", whatever that might mean. He's got a decent chance of making the roster, but that's no guarantee. If he does make the roster, I could see him inactive early on, and eventually work his way into a primarily special teams role his rookie year, but with some touches.
WR Aaron Burbridge
With Anquan Boldin likely out of the picture, the wide receiver position is pretty wide open after Torrey Smith. DeAndre Smelter and Eric Rogers are the two guys I am probably paying the most attention to this summer. With those two plus Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton, it's hard to tell what's going to be available. And we can't forget DeAndrew White, DiAndre Campbell, and Dres Anderson. Although Burbridge had a huge season last year, his roster chances do not strike me as great. They're definitely not non-existent, but he's got a few people he needs to outperform just to earn a roster spot.
CB Prince Charles Iworah
He's a physical freak, but there are too many cornerbacks competing for too few spots. I think we end up seeing the 49ers trying to slide him to the practice squad at the end of the preseason.