On paper, the San Francisco 49ers defense is in shambles. Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Chris Borland and Ray McDonald are all gone. They added Darnell Dockett in free agency, but he's coming off a serious knee injury. This year's first-round pick, Arik Armstead, looks to be more of a long-term project rather than a day one starter. It's going to be vital that Tank Carradine and last season's backups step up big-time in 2015 if that defense has any chance of living up to the high standards of play they've set for themselves.
Carradine was one of those luxury draft picks that the 49ers have been so adept at accumulating lately. This kid was a fucking terror his last season at FSU, coming home with 11 sacks on the year. Unfortunately, he tore up his ACL at the end of the season, so it wasn't likely he would play right away, if at all, during his rookie year.
The 49ers spent a second-round pick on him in 2013 anyway, knowing that had he never been injured he would've probably been a top-10 pick. Besides, the team was already stacked, so it wasn't like they needed Carradine that year anyway. They could be patient and wait until he was 100 percent healthy knowing that he had tons of potential.
After missing his rookie year, the investment the 49ers put into Carradine started to pay off last season. San Francisco headed into 2014 still pretty stacked along the defensive line. It took Carradine a while to break into the line up. After getting his feet wet in Week 2, Carradine was a regular part of rotation by Week 10.
Carradine flashed quite a bit in those last seven games. He did a great job of getting full extension with his arms when he took on offensive linemen and controlling them before coming off to make a play. He also showed some nice quickness and the ability to turn his hips as a pass rusher. That eventually paid off with three sacks in the final three games.
Is Tank Carradine going to make everybody forget about Justin Smith this year? Highly unlikely. But he could be productive enough that at least 49ers fans aren't openly pining for Smith all season. I expect him to be fully confident in his knee now and ready to unleash the uncanny athleticism of a man his size.
Justin Smith was a special dude, physical as all hell and a non-stop wrecking ball. I don't think Carradine will be that kind of player, but I expect him to provide a lot of pressure inside as a pass rusher and be hard to move in the running game. With more playing time, Carradine's production should skyrocket.