This is going to be a big year for the San Francisco 49ers as their off-season has definitely been mind-blowing. They’ve lost three key defensive players to retirement (one was certain, the other two where quite shocking). But, like any other team, they look internally for replacements to fill the void. That leads to my next IDP breakout candidate.
What we know: Tank Carradine was drafted by the 49ers in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft, there were question marks on the pick as he was coming off an ACL injury in November 2012. You can’t question his talent, though. Prior to his knee injury, he dominated opponents in the ACC. He racked up 80 total tackles and 11 sacks as he was a key piece on that FSU defense, it was just a matter of his skills transferring to the NFL once he recovered. He spent his rookie season on the IR. As he recovered from the injury and as we entered 2014, we thought there’d be more progression but a set back held him back and it hindered his development: he couldn’t grasp the game mentally. Not to mention, then defensive coordinator Vic Fangio made Tank inactive for the first nine weeks of the season and many questioned as to whether or not Tank was ready. So, Tank – we ready or what?
Tank then made his season debut during week 10 against the Saints and sadly played just 5 snaps and provided 1 QB hurry and 1 tackle. As the season progressed, his snaps increased and he started to get a feel for the game and flashed what he could do. In 19 snaps against the Seahawks, he put up 2 sacks and later had 1 more sack against the Cardinals to close out the season. The learning curve has definitely been rough for Tank but as the season went on and now as we head into 2015, expectations rise.
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Expectations: With Justin Smith officially retiring and Ray McDonald gone, the opportunity is there for Tank to get full-time snaps if he wants it. He has become one of the more important pieces on this 49ers defense as we enter 2015. The 49ers front line will welcome guys back from injuries (Dorsey and Williams) as well as welcome new comers (Dockett and Armstead) and there’ll be a bunch of shuffling, as most if not all of them are versatile. Whether they’re lining up outside or inside, they can do it. I’m expecting Tank to take the next step and get at least 550 snaps this season, of course that number could be greater, and he could definitely put up some impressive numbers as we all hope he can stay healthy for a full season. At the very least he could be in a rotation with Dial and Armstead, but if Tank is able to create chaos consistently his time off-the field should be slim.
Forecast: Tank is in my top 25 this season for my DL rankings, and definitely has the skill-set to make his presence known and should lead the 49ers linemen in sacks. His price tag shouldn’t be pricey right now, but as he continues to gain steam in the IDP world it’ll rise eventually. I’d draft Tank confidently as my DL3 option in a league where I start 2 DL, and I can see Tank putting up 50-55 tackles 9-12 sacks in 2015.
Bonus Feature: The 49ers have another possible breakout candidate on the defensive side of the ball; his name is Shayne Skov and he plays ILB (Inside Linebacker). With the sudden retirement of future Hall of Famer Patrick Willis, a (then) rookie Chris Borland calling it a career after one season, and All-Pro Navorro Bowman returning from a brutal knee injury in 2013, the Niners are in need of depth and playmaking at the ILB in 2015. They have some depth heading into camp with the likes of (favorite to start) Michael Whilhoite, Desmond Bishop, Nick Moody and newly acquired Phillip Wheeler to go along with Skov.
Skov has definitely seen the struggles, as he went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft to sign on with the 49ers to their practice squad and he eventually got cut. A week later he signed on with the Bucs, four weeks later they released him and finally found his way back to San Francisco as they re-signed him after all their LB injuries that occurred mid-season. Skov definitely has some work cut out for him to make the 53-man roster but it’s not impossible. Coming out of Stanford, he was fast, instinctive, a leader, a tough run defender and an attacking pass rusher. A 2011 knee injury has definitely slowed him down some, but as long as he keeps fighting he’ll make it. I personally think he’s better than Bishop, Moody and Wheeler so it should really come down between Whilhoite and Skov but I’m not running the 49ers so there’s that. In deep leagues that roster 50+ I’d definitely take a swing at Skov in your last round, you just never know. I’m not saying he’ll have a Chris Borland type impact or put up Borland numbers, but he’ll make an impact and could be a Mason Foster type for the 49ers defense, thumper and another LB to blitz. If he makes the roster and even gets around 300 snaps, he could put up 55-60 tackles 3-4 sacks.
“Successful teams and successful players put in the hours.” – Skov