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April 22, 2013
And the rose goes to ... 2013 draft crush revealed

tank1.jpg

You had me at 'Tank Carradine.'

I mean, the name alone is out of central casting for a defensive lineman.

Idea for movie: Long-armed defensive end comes out of nowhere to lead college team in sacks, goes down with devastating injury only to bounce back and become a first-round NFL pick. Main character's name should be something masculine. Maybe Rock Stockton? Or Rhino McSwett? R.J. Hammerheart? I know - Tank Carradine!

Ah, but the armor-plated nickname is not the only reason Cornelius "Tank" Carradine gets my draft-crush rose this year. Finding a crush at pick No. 31 is no easy task. There are no obvious choices that deep in the first round. The winner has to have the rare mix of specialness, which secures him the title, and flaws that would send him nearly out of the first round.

Carradine has that blend. He's a one-year starter who only got his starting role at Florida State when Brandon Jenkins went down with a Lisfranc injury in the season opener. Most of Carradine's college experience came at Butler (Kansas) Community College. That alone should give teams pause.

More than that, however, is the elephant in the room: Carradine isn't even five months removed from ACL surgery. He tore his right ACL Nov. 24. Carradine will sign a four-year deal with any team that drafts him, and a reasonable question is, how effective can he be his rookie season? If a quarter of his first-contract production is spent rehabilitating, is he worth a first-round pick?

It's impossible, of course, to predict how a player will come back from an ACL, but all the signs look positive for Carradine, who ran a very good 40-yard dash time on Saturday considering he was only 135 days from surgery. Carradine has been going through his rehab in Houston with the same physical therapist who worked with Adrian Peterson, who had a near-miraculous ACL recovery last year.

Yes, Carradine would be a risk. But if you're looking for a potentially great player at pick 31, you might have to take a gamble. Top 15 picks don't fall into the bottom 15 for no reason.

And Carradine fills a need. The 49ers' vaunted defense fell apart late last season when one of its front four defenders, Justin Smith, went down with a torn triceps and another, Aldon Smith, began dealing with a torn labrum. That double whammy had a ripple effect throughout the defense, especially in the secondary, which went from a Top 5 unit to a liability in the span of a month and a half.

One question is whether, at 6-5, 276 pounds, Carradine is best suited to be a 3-4 outside linebacker like Aldon Smith or a 3-4 defensive end like Justin Smith. The answer: Who cares? Over the last decade or so, the best 3-4 teams - Pittsburgh, Baltimore - have had a large stable of capable pass rushers, which came in handy when one or more of them moved on in free agency.

Moreover, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's scheme is variable enough to find a role for a good pass rusher no matter his size. Indeed, Carradine is similar in a lot of ways to Aldon Smith, who made a huge impact as a rookie despite playing 48 percent of the team's defensive snaps as a situational pass rusher. That would seem to be an excellent first-year role for a player coming off an ACL injury.

Movie idea: Talented sports reporter comes up with fantastic scenario to make already very good team even better. Note: see if Daniel Craig interested in role.

Whatever became of Barrows' previous draft crushes?

2008: Carl Nicks. He's one of the best guards in the league. Probably would have made a kick-ass right tackle, too. 49ers went with Kentwan Balmer instead. How'd that work out?

2009: Percy Harvin. He was an NFL MVP candidate early in the 2012 season. Now he's on the enemy Seahawks. Draft-crush chickens (seachickens?) coming home to roost this year, 49ers fans.

2010: C.J. Spiller. Some numbers: 207 carries, 1244 rushing yards and a 6.0 average. The only running back last year who had six yards every time he ran the ball - Adrian Peterson.

2011: Von Miller. Maiocco & Dave Razzano couldn't wait to trash this crush. He who laughs last ...

2012: Coby Fleener* He finished second among rookie tight ends in receiving last year (to teammate Dwayne Allen). He's also on draft-crush probation after dissing me at Stanford's pro day.

-- 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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