Former running back Marcus Lattimore might have been the only person who was even remotely surprised when the 49ers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
Lattimore sustained a grisly knee injury at South Carolina in 2012. Everyone knew there was a chance it was a career-ending injury. But the 49ers took a calculated gamble and drafted Lattimore in 2013.
"I mean, why would you take a running back with two horrible knee injuries?" Lattimore told SB Nation this week. “I did pretty good. I played good in college, but if I’m a GM, I don’t think I would do it."
Lattimore was one of three injured players who were not expected to provide contributions as rookies after being 2013 draft picks. The 49ers continued the trend in 2014 with three more so-called “redshirt” selections.
General manager Trent Baalke has also selected other injured players, such as guard Joe Looney (foot), Jimmie Ward (foot) and Kaleb Ramsey (knee), but those players received clearance no later than the start of training camp as rookies.
The 49ers continued the trend this year with the selection of wide receiver DeAndre Smelter in the fourth round. Smelter is rehabbing a torn ACL. While he is expected to be placed on the non-football injury list at the beginning of camp, the 49ers believe he could be activated at some point in camp.
Here are updates on the six other players the 49ers drafted in 2013 and ’14 with the understanding they would not contribute as rookies:
DL Tank Carradine (ACL), second round, 2013: After months of rehab as a rookie, he spent five weeks on the 53-man roster before he was placed on injured reserve. That time on the 53-man roster means he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after four seasons instead of being a restricted free agent. Last season, Carradine was inactive for seven of the first eight games. He finished the season with his only three NFL sacks in the final three weeks of the season. He’ll be fighting for a spot in the 49ers’ rotation in Year 3.
RB Marcus Lattimore (ACL), fourth round, 2013: He gave it a shot, but his knee never felt right. He announced his retirement in November.
DL Quinton Dial (toe), fifth round, 2013: He played in just three games at the end of his rookie season. Last year, he provided the biggest dividends the 49ers have received from any of their “redshirt” picks. He appeared in 14 games with six starts. He figures to be a prominent member of the team’s rotation in his third season.
G Brandon Thomas (ACL), third round, 2014: The 49ers rated him as a second-round prospect, but they grabbed him in the third round after he sustained his knee injury in a pre-draft workout with the New Orleans Saints. Thomas should be in the competition to replace guard Mike Iupati, who signed a free-agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
CB Keith Reaser (ACL), fifth round, 2014: A very talented player who had a strong offseason, Reaser has a strong chance to win a roster spot and could work his way into a significant role in the future.
FB Trey Millard (ACL), seventh round, 2014: Millard is a versatile player whose chances of sticking with the team could hinge on his play on special teams. Even if he does not make the 53-man roster, Millard figures to have a strong chance of remaining on the practice squad.