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There are only a few more days until Paul Tagliabue makes his final announcement, "The number one pick is on the clock" as the NFL Commish. The Houston Texans might not even use up their allotted fifteen minutes as they are already in contract negotiations with both Southern Cal's Reggie Bush and NC States Mario Williams. Of course, the two wildcards in all this would be potentially taking hometown superstar and reigning NCAA championship MVP Texas quarterback Vincent Paul Young, Jr. or perhaps swinging a trade with a team that wants that number one pick themselves (Jets?). One thing is for sure, this year's NFL Draft bash will include Mike Nolan and his San Francisco 49ers as one of the top partiers yet again.
The 49ers already held the #6 spot and added #22 of the first round after trading up with the Denver Broncos by giving up a 2nd (#37) and 3rd (#68). In day one, they still have the 20th pick of the 3rd round (#84) after they hilariously fleeced the Washington Redskins in the trade of the mediocre and media-hyped wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Honestly, when word came out that the Redskins sent us their 3rd and a 2007 4th, I literally went "L-O-L."
Laughter aside, this draft should be an exciting one, as its one of the deepest and most talented pool of prospects I've ever seen. Certainly with some of the freakish talents like Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Vernon Davis, Manny Lawson, Mario Williams and Brodrick Bunkley among many others -- this class very well could be the best ever.
Being that we were ranked near the bottom on both sides of the ball last year, this team needs a ton of work. The most paramount needs are 3-4 specific weakside outside (WILL) linebacker, free safety, cornerback and most of all, offensive playmakers. After that are depth along the lines on both sides of the ball, inside and outside linebacker, a fullback to replace Chris Hetherington next year, tight end and halfback.
The reason why "offensive playmakers" are so important is that team simply could not move the ball last year consistently. The offense so often went 3-and-out or turned the ball over that the players on the defensive side of the ball were left high and dry and were downright exhausted towards the end of the 3rd quarter of every game. It's imperative that this team get themselves players that are a threat to take it the distance every time they touch the ball -- whether the player is a running back, wide receiver or tight end. It is also imperative that the team builds a good core of the players around 2006 number one pick Alex Smith so he can succeed.
Reggie Bush, HB, USC - possibly the most electrifying player in college football history. He's a terrific talent with blazing speed and outrageous cutting ability. While he's lacking in lower body power in comparison to the typical running back, his elusiveness and change of direction ability is astonishing. However, he certainly will not be there at our pick and I cannot see Nolan wasting so many picks to move up to #1.
Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland - the most amazing athlete in this draft and certainly deserves to be considered up there as possibly the top prospect in the entire draft. Davis stands at almost 6-4 and weighs 263 lbs. while putting up unreal athletic numbers. Blazing 4.38 forty yard dash (3rd overall among all receivers) with a 42 inch vertical and putting up 33 reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press. He also has amazing lower body strength with a near 700 lbs. squat. But he's not just some workout warrior. Davis was also the second leading receiver amongst all NCAA Division I-A tight ends while playing in the extremely tough defensive conference and has a mind-boggling career yards per catch average. He also finished with more yards and superior YPC (1,371 and 16.5) than previous first round TE selections Kellen Winslow II (1,365 and 11.5), Tony Gonzalez (1,302 and 14.6) and Jeremy Shockey (815 and 13.4). I have no doubt Davis SHOULD be the 49ers selection at #6, and it looks like he will be the pick.
DeAngelo Williams, HB, Memphis - great speed, cutting ability, power and most of all vision. Williams is as great a running back prospect as I've ever seen. He has shades of LaDainian Tomlinson combined with Garrison Hearst with a touch of Barry Sanders - simply a marvelous runner. Production-wise he is NCAA Division I-As all-time all-purpose yards leader (7,573), 100-yd rushing games (34) and fourth all-time rushing (6,026). Physically, he has 4.4 speed while having terrific lower and upper body strength and explosion.
Honorable Mentions: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State HB LenDale White HB Laurence Maroney
As you can see from the list there, the top offensive talent in this draft is pretty sparse, however the players at the top - Bush, Davis and Williams are certainly among the very elite. I certainly could see Mike Nolan collecting whatever he could of this talent pool to surround Alex Smith with the best weapons available. And luckily enough for him, with the other wants of previously RB-needy teams combined with free agent signings such as Edgarrin James to the Cardinals, it's very possible that DeAngelo Williams could fall to the 49ers at #22 and very possible that Mike Nolan would take him as the best player available especially after he sang so many high praises about the Memphis back when he coached him at the Senior Bowl.
Well they are dead wrong. One of the reasons there are so few teams that run the defense out there are that it's very difficult to find the players that fit and excel within the scheme. Particularly with the outside linebackers, the player first and foremost must be a superior pass-rusher. Why? The outside linebackers role in the 3-4 defense is to pass rush. Due to the defensive ends being two-gap "converted" defensive tackles that more so are there to occupy blockers and run gap control, its imperative that the linebackers get consistent pressure on the quarterback otherwise the defensive backfield will be shredded due to the quarterback having all day to pick and choose. Confused? Don't be. Its relatively simple -- the linebackers blitz and stunt from all different directions and knock around the quarterback instead of the traditional 4-3 where it's more the defensive lines job to create pressure. Think of it almost as the defensive line like an offensive line as "blockers" and the linebackers as the playmaking backs on attack trying to score a touchdown "sack."
This is why if you look around the league as well as the 3-4's history, traditionally almost all 3-4 outside linebackers are converted athletic defensive ends and almost all 3-4 defensive ends are converted defensive tackles, often athletic nose tackles with superb motors. Obviously it's only natural that an athletic defensive end will be a superior pass rusher flying in from the edge than a linebacker and usually will also have the superior lower body strength and size to shed bigger blockers like tight ends and offensive tackles. This is why previously named (by certain famous "draft experts" and other journalists) linebackers such as Alabama's DeMeco Ryans, UTEP's Thomas Howard and Iowa's Chad Greenway are not ideal 3-4 OLBs. I actually believe NC State's Mario Williams, who is another potential prospect for the 49ers at #6, would be utilized far better as a WILL (weakside OLB) linebacker than as a defensive end in this scheme, regardless of his gigantic size. Playing him at end would be a terrible waste of his amazing talents and athleticism.
At the very end, the primary objective is to find a very athletic defensive end that is not only a great pass rusher and is intelligent enough to learn how to cover down the line so eventually they can move from WILL (weakside OLB) to other positions in the 3-4 system like SAM (strongside OLB) or inside. Since the 49ers already have designated a starting SAM backer in Brandon Moore, their main objective in this draft will likely be to find a pass rush specialist for the WILL position.
Regardless of which round the team takes an OLB prospect, the beauty is we'll get a starter.
Due to the tremendous depth this year, the 2nd tier OLB/DE prospects: Mark Anderson (Alabama), Stanley McClover (Auburn), Ray Edwards (Purdue), Chris Gocong (Cal-Poly), Mike Kudla (Ohio State), Brandon Guillory (Louisiana-Monroe), Parys Haralson (Tennessee), Victor Adeyanju (Indiana), Ryan LaCasse (Syracuse), Pierre Woods (Michigan), Elvis Dumervil (Louisville), Charles Bennett (Clemson), Eric Henderson (Georgia Tech), Jeremy Mincey (Florida) and Darryl Tapp (Virginia Tech)are really no worse than the 1st tier ones: Manny Lawson (NC State), Kamerion Wimbley (Florida State) and Bobby Carpenter (Ohio State) - All who are mentioned as potential choices for the 49ers at #22. And of course there's the possibility of drafting Lawson's other half Mario Williams who while being nearly 300 lbs, is even faster and more athletic than most of the other prospects available! We'd most likely move back to a 4-3 if he were drafted, but he'd make quite the monster WILL backer.
The only difference between them are that Lawson and Wimbley are considered slightly better athletes than the rest while Carpenter has experience playing linebacker (but is probably the worst pass rusher of all of the 3-4 OLB prospects). Later round prospect Pierre Woods is actually the most experienced 3-4 OLB as Michigan plays the scheme; while Stanley McClover, Mark Anderson, Darryl Tapp and Elvis Dumervil have better overall pass rush skill than Wimbley and Lawson. Mike Kudla and Chris Gocong are probably the strongest of all of the OLB prospects. And Charles Bennett plays in a system that utilizes defensive ends frequently dropping back into coverage ("Bandit Ends").
Any of the above listed players would be instant starters for us. It's not like other positions where you have guys that are clearly better at the projected position.
All of these guys other than Carpenter were undersized defensive ends that specialized in speed edge rushing that are projected to be WILL linebackers as rookies in 3-4 systems. The 3-4 caters to the fact that ends are inexperienced in drop back pass coverage, which is the one of the great things about the scheme.
The WILL backer, on passing downs, almost always will pass rush and not cover. That's why you see guys like Lawrence Taylor, Charles Haley, Ricky Jackson, Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman at 100+ career sacks and other than Haley they all are Top 10 all-Time sackers. They were rarely asked pass cover because they were obviously much more useful in attacking the quarterback!
There are 4-3 linebackers that tend to be considered potential 3-4 OLBs. Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, Iowa's Chad Greenway, Miami of Florida's Rocky McIntosh and Leon Williams and Miami of Ohio's Terna Nande tend to be mentioned the most often. Of this group, probably Hawk and Nande would make the best outside linebackers due to their superior overall body strength. However, being that none of these backers are pass rush specialists, they really fit better inside where they could utilize their coverage and tackling skills more and play a more traditional linebacker role. Playing outside forces them to play at the line of scrimmage and take on blockers much more often.
Here are some of the best ones that could potentially be taken at #22: Richard Marshall (Fresno State), Johnathan Joseph (South Carolina), Antonio Cromartie (Florida State), Tye Hill (Clemson), Ashton Youboty (Ohio State), Kelly Jennings (Miami-FL).
If the position is shored up later, these would be excellent options in the mid-rounds: Charles Gordon (Kansas), Danieal Manning (Abilene Christian), Darrell Hunter (Miami-OH), DeMario Minter (Georgia), Dee Webb (Florida), Gerrick McPhearson (Maryland), Alan Zemaitis (Penn State) and Eric Bassey (Oklahoma).
Another problem stemming from the Mike Rumph situation is that it seems Nolan has given up on the notion of Rumph being the future of the free safety position. Therefore, unless he's planning on starting Mike Adams, he'll likely be considering a safety potentially also at #22 or even with #6. Nolan has also stated that in his defensive scheme, both sides have the responsibilities of both strong and free safety.
Here are the top safety prospects in the draft: Jason Allen (Tennessee), Mike Huff (Texas), Jimmy Williams (Virginia Tech), Donte Whitner (Ohio State), Ko Simpson (South Carolina), Darnell Bing (USC).
And if the position is addressed later, these are good mid-round safeties: Danieal Manning (Abilene Christian), Patrick Watkins (Florida State), Bernard Pollard (Purdue), Anthony Smith (Syracuse), Roman Harper (Alabama), Dawan Landry (Georgia Tech), Greg Blue (Georgia), Calvin Lowry (Penn State), Marcus Hudson (NC State) and Antoine Bethea (Howard).
Simply one of the premier offensive playmakers in the draft. Adding an explosive playmaker to help Alex Smith in the passing game over the middle will do wonders for this offense. Terrific work ethic and astonishing athlete.
Rd 1, #22 - HB DeAngelo Williams, Memphis - 5-9, 214, 4.40est
It's no secret that Mike Nolan grew extremely fond of the running back at the Senior Bowl, and I suspect the move up to #22 is for him. Kevan Barlow has been downright dreadful the past couple of years and while Frank Gore shows potential to be a very good running back, his injury history is as poor as Barlows rushing average. Nolan also made comparisons of Williams to Emmitt Smith, and with Norv Turner joining the team as offensive coordinator, Davis and Williams could be just what the doctor ordered to wake up this offense.
Rd 3, #84 - OLB Mike Kudla, Ohio State - 6-1, 265, 4.70
With so many 3-4 teams looking for help at the OLB spots, I suspect the pool will dry up quickly by the time the late 3rd rolls around. Kudla or Chris Gocong would probably be the best available athletic defensive ends available to convert to WILL backer. Nolan has been researching extensively Ohio State's linebacker prospects, so I'm sure Kudla is on his radar.
Rd 4, #100 - S/CB Danieal Manning, Ab. Christian - 5-10, 202, 4.46
Due to Nolan trading away the 2nd and early 3rd round picks, it looks like the defensive back pool would be lesser by the time the 4th rolls around. Manning is a versatile, athletic player that dominated in Division I-AA with Abilene Christian but is expected to do very well in the pros. He's a good prospect to eventually take over either at free safety or cornerback.
Rd 5, #140 - WR Hank Baskett, New Mexico - 6-3, 224, 4.49
Nolan and McCoughlan both have said they are looking for big, physical wide receivers and not short, skinny ones. Baskett has good speed (4.49 at the combine) and the big, powerful body very reminiscent of Terrell Owens, but without the bad attitude. His personality would actually fit very well with Nolan's team-first style.
Rd 6, #176 - G Matt Lentz, Michigan - 6-6, 320, 5.40est
Offensive line coach George Warhop coached Dallas' monster offensive line during the late 90s and has brought the same type of scheme and personnel over here. Currently the projected starting lineup should be Jonas Jennings, Larry Allen, Jeremy Newberry, David Baas and Adam Snyder. However given Newberry's injury history and himself saying that he will play one or two more years, we'll need a replacement right guard to step in when Baas moves over to starting center. Who better than Baas Michigan teammate who also dominated the Big Ten?
Rd 6, #192 - FB Victor Mann, Kansas State - 6-1, 279, 4.50est
With Fred Beasley gone and Chris Hetherington old and on a one-year contract, the 49ers will likely be looking for new blood at the fullback position. A big, nasty lead blocker with good athleticism would really help the running game dominate. Norv wants his "Moose." Mann is a 6-1, 279 lb. powerhouse who ran an amazing 4.49 at his pro day. He also has decent hands and is a good goal-line runner to boot.
Rd 7, #213 - OLB Ben Ishola, Indiana - 6-2, 248, 4.55est
Nolan was looking at Ishola's other runningmate Victor Adeyanju, but with the trade up, most likely lost out on him as a potential 3-4 OLB. However, Ishola is no slouch either. He posted 4.50 forty time and 30 reps on the bench press at Indiana's pro day which sparked him from a potential undrafted free agent to a late day two selection.
Rd 7, #236 - DE Fred Evans, Texas State - 6-4, 305, 5.15est
Athletic defensive tackle that Nolan invited to 49ers headquarters for another workout and interview. He'd make an excellent backup 3-4 end.
Rd 7, #254 - OLB Ryan Neill, Rutgers - 6-2, 256, 4.85est
My personal favorite, I've watched him for several years terrorizing quarterbacks in the Big East. He was the captain of the NCAA Division I-A team sack leaders in 2005 and has terrific athleticism and a nonstop motor. He's constantly causing chaos in the backfield due to his effort and intelligence and draws many holding penalties on opposing left tackles. He's got a bit of Mike Vrabel in him.
George Chaung was kind enough to share his 49ers Draft Preview with 49erswebzone.com. He is the draft analyst/editor for another 49ers fan site, NinerCapHell, and maintains his own detailed NFL Draft Section.