Cornelius “Tank” Carradine was a 49ers conundrum for the first three years of his pro career. Taken in the second round of the 2013 draft (40th overall) out of Florida State, San Francisco was expecting to get an edge rusher who racked up 11 sacks in his final collegiate season.
Instead, the 49ers got a player who appeared uncomfortable, as a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Also, the four total sacks and 54 total tackles in three seasons served as testament to that.
But then came 2017, new defensive coordinator, new scheme and an empty Tank went full real fast. 49ers DC Robert Saleh, a disciple of the Seattle Seahawks aggressive 4-3 defense, made Carradine the “big end” on the line.
“At first, they didn’t think I could play the run like that,” Carradine said. “But I think once I got into a scheme that fits me, I showed that I’m capable of stopping the run in this defense.”
Stuffing the run has been an iffy prospect for the Oakland Raiders defense for a long, long time. Therefore, it was no wonder to see the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Carradine brought into the fold in free agency.
He joins an Oakland defense with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin as the unquestioned starters at end. However, depth is wide open. Mario Edwards Jr. and this year’s third-round pick Arden Key are likely to get snaps, but it is Carradine who provides a much stouter presence on the edges of the four-man front with his size. Similar to Edwards Jr., Carradine also gives leeway for coaches to put him on the interior.
What the 28-year-old flashed in the 4-3 attracted Raiders new defensive boss Paul Guenther’s attention.
“Because you had guys in a scheme that didn’t fit them,” Carradine said of his past troubles fitting in to the 49ers defense. “Moving to a 4-3, we have guys who fit the scheme and can just attack, get up the field. Last year with the 3-4, it was reading and playing your keys. When we moved to a 4-3, we had more guys with 4-3 potential.”
The caveat when it comes to Tank is availability.
When Carradine was healthy — he played in only 8 games last season and 44 of 64 regular season games in his career — he took advantage of his size and speed. He lined up opposite of tight ends with the 49ers, totaling 19 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. It was apparent to Carradine his lack of availability would hurt his chances when his contract expired.
“But, hopefully, I can finish strong these last couple of games and come back next year and play because I love this scheme. I’d love to come back next year and play for the 49ers. If not, I have to move on and try to go to a team with a scheme that fits me.”
Fortunately for Carradine, the team across the bay — he also visited the Seahawks in free agency — had the scheme fit. Now it is time to see if he can continue an upward trend he started in San Francisco in Oakland.