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The 49ers have gotten little return for bold drafting of torn ACLs

San Francisco 49ers Introduce Chip Kelly

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 20: San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke speaks to the media during a press conference where Chip Kelly was announced as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on January 20, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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It’s entirely reasonable that the 49ers extended Tank Carradine’s contract yesterday because they thought his transition to outside linebacker was going smoothly, and he’d be a valuable part for years to come.

But it’s at least plausible that the move was done in part to save face, as he’s the only real contributor of the seven-man class of outside-the-box draft picks of General Manager Trent Baalke.

At a time when the 49ers were awash in picks, Baalke developed a habit of drafting guys with torn ACLs, the ultimate buy-low strategy in hopes of getting a bargain once those guys got healthy. The only problem was, they either never did or never played to a form to suggest they were worth the gamble.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com breaks down the list, which tilts clearly in one direction.

Carradine, their 2013 second-rounder, is the star of the class. But he was perhaps miscast to begin with, as he gained weight to play defensive tackle, then lost it so he could be a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

Running back Marcus Lattimore, their 2013 fourth-rounder, never played a regular season or preseason game for the 49ers after a grisly knee injury in college (which was more than a simple ACL tear). Guard Brandon Thomas, their 2014 third-rounder, tore his ACL in a predraft workout with the Saints, and Baalke said he had a second-round grade. He was traded to the Lions two weeks ago without playing a snap, and the Lions cut him and put him on their practice squad.

Cornerback Keith Reaser, their 2014 fifth-rounder, played in 13 games last year with no starts. Fullback Trey Miller, a 2014 seventh-rounder, was released in first cuts last year, and he went on to tear another ACL for the Chiefs last week.

On Monday, the 49ers announced 2016 third-round cornerback Will Redmond was going on injured reserve, and they reached an an injury settlement with 2015 fourth-round wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, who never played a preseason game.

Whether the kids were mishandled (Redmond played in the preseason finale), or whether the 49ers simply made bad decisions is a matter for debate.

But it seems clear that after burning so many picks on unconventional players, that there might be a reason they were outside the box to begin with. Because maybe, that’s where they belonged, no matter how hard Baalke tried to jam them in there to prove how clever he was.