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April 29, 2013
49ers draft notes: WR Patton thrived under the bright lights

Still trying the digest after the 49ers' draft bacchanalia? I am, too. Here are some notes and observations on the 11 picks and the undrafted free agents the team has acquired.

* First a quick summation. As we all know, it takes three years and blah, blah, blah to fully assess yadda, yadda, yadda. But the first blush on this draft class is that it is very, very good. The 49ers had a tricky situation heading into Thursday. They had to reconcile a league-high 13 picks with perhaps a league-low number of roster openings. I thought they handled that well by drafting some talented but injured players - Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore - who aren't needed right away and others, Nick Moody (special teams) and B.J. Daniels (jack of all trades) who could make the roster because they have varied roles.

* Receiver Quinton Patton got short shrift on Saturday because just a few minutes after the 49ers selected him they took popular South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. But Patton is interesting for a number of reasons, including the fact that his best game didn't come against one of the weak sisters of college football but against one of the nation's powerhouses. Patton caught (and this isn't a typo) 21 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns against Texas A&M last year.

"I did a stop at Texas A&M this year and happened to watch that game while I was at Texas A&M and that's where he kind of caught my eye, personally," general manager Trent Baalke said. "Certainly the scouts that went through there really liked him, liked him as a competitor, liked him just as a football player and felt that from a character standpoint he was a good fit as well. Then he jumped out at us at the Senior Bowl. Went into the Senior Bowl, just as you said, Matt, the lights weren't too big, they weren't too bright for him. He got off the bus ready to go, competed very hard, showed very well there, so another big stage. That always helps in the evaluation of these guys."

The ultra-confident Patton seemingly has a chance to be the team's No. 3 receiver this year. Two other candidates, Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham, are coming off ACL injuries. Another candidate, A.J. Jenkins, is last year's top draft pick. Practice squad players Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall will be in the mix as well.

* I'll never forget where I was the first 500 times I heard that Tim Tebow had been cut ... Yes, Jim Harbaugh loves tough guys like Tebow who use up one roster spot but who can fill multiple roles. But he already has two multi-tool quarterbacks on the roster. He drafted Daniels in the seventh round. Daniels, a read-option quarterback, is expected to work out on special teams, perhaps as a punt returner, as well.

"Can he be a running back? Can he be a wide receiver?" Harbaugh said. "Can he be a kick returner? Can he be a punt returner? That idea of being a Swiss army knife kind of comes up again. And we'll see just how many things he can be good at. But, he's a tremendous athlete with great foot quickness, strong arm, two-time captain. I think we're fishing out of a good pool there that he'll be able to contribute to this football team."

The team also will sign former Minnesota tight end Marqueis Gray as an undrafted free agent. Gray (6-4, 240) began his college career as tight end/H-back before being utilized the last two seasons as a quarterback. In 2010, he caught 42 passes for 587 yards.

* Some have wondered why the 49ers chose Vance McDonald over some other more highly acclaimed and better accomplished college tight ends like Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce or Gavin Escobar. The answer is upside. The 49ers looked at McDonald's frame - 6-5, 265 - and his arms and hands - 34 ½, 10 inches - and saw more clay to mold than they did with the others. (Arm length was **huge** in this draft; more on that later). Garrett Celek is a good example from last season. He hardly had any receiving background at Michigan State and was one of the most unlikely rookies to make the roster. But the 49ers saw his frame and figured that with an offseason's worth of coaching, they could make him into a quality, third tight end. He ended up making the 53-man squad. This year, Celek must hold off Cameron Morrah, Gray and any other undrafted tight ends the team brings in to keep his job.

* If this indeed turns out to be a memorable draft class, it might be at the expense of last year's class. For example, Jenkins gets more competition at receiver, sixth-round draft pick Trenton Robinson gets more competition at safety from Eric Reid and Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson will be pushed by third-round pick Correy Lemonier. The 49ers likely will keep four outside linebackers on the 53-man roster. As of now they have six: Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Fleming, Johnson and Lemonier. (You can bet that other teams will be keeping a close eye on which players the 49ers cut in late August; some talented players will be let go).

* I never thought the 49ers were serious about Tavon Austin, so why did they bring him in as one of their 30 or so official visits? Perhaps it was indeed an attempt at a smoke screen. Baalke said he didn't bring in Reid, Carradine or McDonald before the draft because he didn't want to signal his interest. If that's the case, then the reverse would be true. Or maybe it was because the 49ers figured there was an excellent chance that Austin would end up with the division-rival Rams, and they wanted to learn as much as they could about him.

* Speaking of Austin and Smurfy, quick receivers, I wrote about the subject - the Seahawks and Cardinals also added similar receivers - in today's Bee. Not included in that story is what Baalke said when asked who else, besides Carlos Rogers, could cover the opponent's slot receivers in the 49ers' nickel package. The first name out of his mouth was Chris Culliver, which I thought was interesting. He also mentioned Perrish Cox, who was Rogers' backup last year, and Nnamdi Asomugha, who has played that role in the past. The bottom line: Look for a lot of press coverage against the Tavon Austins of the league by the 49ers.

* The 49ers began the draft with a defensive back, Reid, and ended it with one, cornerback Marcus Hudson Cooper. Why wait so long to take a cornerback? "There definitely were times in the draft that we wanted cornerbacks," Harbaugh said. "Had them targeted. But, that's the way it worked out."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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