San Francisco 49ers

Take a number: Rookie roles for 49ers draft class

Third-round pick Eli Harold played defensive end at Virginia. He’ll transition to outside linebacker with the 49ers.
Third-round pick Eli Harold played defensive end at Virginia. He’ll transition to outside linebacker with the 49ers. AP

The 49ers' 2015 draft class will begin trickling in this week in advance of a three-day rookie minicamp that runs Saturday through Monday. Here's a stab at where the 10 players will fit when the entire team assembles.

LDE Arik Armstead.

Even with Ray McDonald in Chicago and Justin Smith teetering on retirement, this group has impressive depth. The 49ers have done an excellent job in recent years of figuring out ways to keep young players on the roster. Not as impressive: Getting those young players meaningful snaps. With McDonald and Smith deservedly gobbling up playing time, and with a scheme that sent the nose tackle out of the game on third downs, that was difficult to do. This year finally may be the one in which the youngsters get to show their stuff, although there are several young players already in line ahead of Armstead. Armstead played on the left side of Oregon's defensive line, the side that both Tony Jerod-Eddie and Quinton Dial played with the 49ers last season.

Asked if there might be more platooning along the defensive line this year than there's been in the past, Jim Tomsula had this to day:

“You obviously would like to play guys more in those roles and keep people fresh for when you get into the two-minute drill and you get to the end of the game and you get a win. You always want to do that. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Yeah, that’s a goal that we always (have). That’s why there’s never been a depth chart put in the defensive line room. Everybody that’s up, we want to play.”

SS Jacquiski Tartt.

At nearly 220 pounds, Tartt is very much a strong safety. He said on a conference call that he was eager to play special teams, and that very well may be his primary role as a rookie. But it's notable that fellow safety -- and Tartt's former high school teammate -- Jimmie Ward spent his rookie year in a very specific role, playing nickel cornerback when opponents trotted out three wide receivers. Could Tartt's role similarly be as a dime defender? The 49ers rarely used that formation in the past because they had two inside linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who were as fast as defensive backs. Willis is retired while Bowman is coming back from major knee surgery. Given that, it might make sense to have the big, aggressive Tartt on the field this season in dime situations instead of two inside linebackers.

OLB Eli Harold.

Harold rushed from the right side of Virginia's defensive line last year, and he did so mostly from a three-point stance. He'll have to learn how to play standing up, which has not been a tough transition in the 49ers' scheme in recent years, at least when Vic Fangio was running the defense. Harold's role in 2015 obviously will rest largely on which outside linebackers are still around in early September. It could end up being similar to Corey Lemonier's role in 2013. Lemonier, who also was a third-round pick, ended up playing a robust 26 percent of the team's defensive snaps as a rookie, most of them occurring when Aldon Smith was away from the team for five games while recovering in an alcohol rehabilitation facility.

TE Blake Bell.

You might think that a one-time quarterback would be heavy on finesse as he transitions to a new position. Bell, however, appears to be quite the opposite. He spent a lot of time at the point of attack in Oklahoma's offense, either at the end of the offensive line or as a lead blocker from the backfield. Bell obviously needs to work on his technique and improve his strength. His 14 repetitions on the bench press in Indianapolis, while good for a quarterback, were the lowest of any tight end there. But has the frame to get bigger and stronger and the aggressive nature to put any newfound strength to good use.

RB Mike Davis.

The 49ers' preseason rushing leader? The smart money (if you consider betting on preseason games "smart") is on Davis, not only because he's a rookie runner likely to get a lot of action in the second half of games but because he's an accomplished pass protector. That's rare among rookie running backs and is invariably the reason when they get stuck on the sideline. Davis had to learn how to pass block in Steve Spurrier pass-centric offense at South Carolina and he arrives well-polished in that area. That promises to earn him practice repetitions and practice reps are what allows a player to climb the depth chart.

WR DeAndre Smelter.

The 49ers would not rule Smelter out for this season despite his late November ACL injury. Still, it's hard to remember any good 49ers outcomes for players who came back quickly from ACL tears. Tank Carradine tore his in November 2012 while with Florida State, then needed an additional surgery to remove scar tissue following his rookie year with the 49ers. Receiver Kyle Williams made a speedy return after his November 2012 ACL tear, then tore his ACL again the following November when he was with the Chiefs.

P Bradley Pinion.

He'll compete with Andy Lee on punts and perhaps handle kickoffs alongside Phil Dawson during the preseason.

OL Ian Silberman & Trent Brown.

Taken in the sixth and seventh round respectively, the 49ers are looking at Silberman and Brown as developmental players. Silberman, who played tackle at Boston College, is a bit undersized and likely will get his chance at guard. Brown, who played guard at Florida, is oversized and likely will get his chance at tackle. Brown is a bit like Alex Boone, who went undrafted in 2009. He was a sloppy 340 pounds his rookie season, and his body fat measured 25 percent. The following offseason, however, he transformed his body and put himself on a path to become a starter. It sounds as if Brown, who was once as big as 387 pounds, is already on the right track.

TE Rory "Busta" Anderson.

Anderson dealt with a number of injuries while at South Carolina and was not able to run in the lead up to the draft because of a hamstring injury. (It's unknown whether he will take part in the upcoming rookie minicamp). All of that, of course, hurt his draft stock. He appears to be more of a pass-catching tight end in the mold of Derek Carrier. If he had been able to run the 40-yard dash, he likely would have been one of the fastest tight ends in the draft. Anderson needs to become a better, more physical blocker, which Carrier was able to do over the past two seasons.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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