San Francisco 49ers

49ers’ draft class will have five ‘bonus’ players

Brandon Thomas, a left tackle at Clemson, will compete at left guard for the 49ers this year.
Brandon Thomas, a left tackle at Clemson, will compete at left guard for the 49ers this year. AP

The 49ers technically have nine picks in the upcoming draft. But you might as well boost that number to 14. After all, five members of the team's 2014 class never suited up as rookies because most were injured when general manager Trent Baalke picked them last May.

That is, he knew most of that group would have a "rookie red-shirt" season and would, for practical purposes, be part of the following year's rookie class.

Is drafting injured players a sound strategy? Baalke will argue that it allows you to select a player later in the draft than his talent warrants and that it enables you to keep a player on the roster -- through various injury lists -- that might otherwise have been cut and picked up by another squad.

The practice also provides a buffer against free-agency losses. The 49ers, for example, lost cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver in free agency last month but will have two cornerbacks from last year's class -- Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker -- as well as perhaps more from this year's class to compete for vacancies.

Having five "bonus" players from last year's draft also might convince Baalke to use some of this year's picks to move ahead to snag players he really likes. Baalke traded ahead in the first round in 2010 and 2013.

There are downsides, too, of course. Some players -- Marcus Lattimore, for instance -- never bounce back from their injuries while others, like Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial, fall down the depth chart due to their injuries and spend two seasons of their four-year rookie contracts doing very little.

Who are the five that didn't play last year and what might their roles be?

Guard Brandon Thomas.

6-3, 317, 34 3/4-inch arms

He tore his ACL while going through a pre-draft workout with the Saints in early April last year. He was expected to be a high second-round pick and instead went to the 49ers with their complimentary pick in the third round. That means he suffered perhaps a two-round fall. Thomas has been taking part in the 49ers' offseason program and appears to be one of the frontrunners to take over for Mike Iupati at left guard. His main competition is veteran lineman Erik Pears. Thomas also tore his ACL in high school. That’s him doing a box jump at the 54-second and 102-second marks below.

Cornerback Keith Reaser

5-10, 189, 30 3/4

He had left ACL surgery in October 2013 then a second surgery in late February 2014 after doctors determined his body was rejecting the graft. Reaser was a productive cornerback at Florida Atlantic before the injury and ran track in high school. He's been taking part in the team's offseason program. He'll compete at cornerback and perhaps also as a returner.

Cornerback Kenneth Acker

6-o, 190, 31

The light seemed to click on for Acker late in training camp last season, and he had a good preseason as well. He had a sequence against Denver in which he drew an offensive penalty, knocked away a pass and came up with an interception, though the turnover was called back because of a 49ers penalty. Had he not suffered a stress fracture in his foot and been placed on injured reserve, Acker likely would have made the 49ers’ 53-man roster – or another team’s. His experience last summer gives him a nice leg up on any rookie cornerbacks from the 2015 class.

Defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey

6-3, 293, 32 7/8

Ramsey dealt with a number of injuries at Boston College -- head, hip, shoulder, foot, knee and calf -- and spent last season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Ramsey, in fact, will turn 26 in June -- old for someone who has yet to play an NFL snap. He's one of a number of unproven players who will be fighting for a spot in the rotation at defensive line this offseason. Judging from their pre-draft interviews, the 49ers also could add another lineman during the draft.

Fullback Trey Millard

6-2, 237, 31

Millard tore his ACL in October 2013 but like the others has been taking part in the 49ers' offseason program. Millard showed good hands while at Oklahoma -- seven touchdown catches in three and a half seasons -- which, combined with his size, seems to make him an option at H-back as well as fullback. It's not yet known whether starter Bruce Miller will face any discipline in relation to his offseason arrest last month on suspicion of spousal battery, a misdemeanor.

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The sweet spot of Baalke's 2014 draft? It may have been the fourth and fifth rounds where he took, in succession, Bruce Ellington, Dontae Johnson and Aaron Lynch, all of whom played at least 13 games. A number of other draft picks either began -- or ended -- the season on injury lists. To wit:

1st. S. Jimmie Ward -- ended season on injured reserve with foot injury suffered Nov. 9

2nd. RB Carlos Hyde -- was inactive to end season with ankle injury suffered Dec. 14

3A. C Marcus Martin -- started eight of the last nine games after beginning season with knee injury.

3B. LB Chris Borland -- ended season on injured reserve with ankle injury suffered Dec. 14

3C. G Brandon Thomas -- Spent season on non-football injury list (ACL)

4A. WR Bruce Ellington -- Played in 13 games; missed three due to ankle sprain

4B. CB Dontae Johnson -- Played in all 16 games, starting the final three

5A. OLB Aaron Lynch -- Played in all 16 games, starting three

5B. CB Keith Reaser -- Spent season on non-football injury list (ACL)

6A. CB Kenneth Acker -- Placed on injured reserve before the season (foot)

7A. DL Kaleb Ramsey -- Spent season on physically-unable to perform list

7B. FB Trey Millard -- Spent season on non-football injury list (ACL)

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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