Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard Fournette gaining popularity as 49ers’ pick in mock drafts

Apr 19, 2017 at 2:45 PM--

Every week, we survey a large database of mock drafts to see who each has as the first-round selection by the San Francisco 49ers. Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas remains the favorite in the vast majority of those mock drafts with nearly half (42) of the 87 surveyed listing him as their projected selection.

There is a new player listed at the number two spot in the mock draft selection ranking. That player is LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who is among the numerous players who visited with the 49ers this week. Seven mock drafts now have Fournette as the 49ers' selection when, last week, only one listed him.

The 49ers are reportedly high on Fournette who, as a freshman, rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he rushed for a school-record 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on 300 carries. In 2016, Fournette struggled with a high ankle sprain that occurred during a camp scrimmage prior to the season. He missed five games in 2016 but still rushed for 843 yards and eight touchdowns on 129 carries.

The selection of Fournette would be a big statement by the team, which already has Carlos Hyde on its roster. On March 1, Kevin Jones of KNBR first reported the 49ers' interest in Fournette from the NFL Scouting Combine.

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"One crazy rumor I did hear, though, that Leonard Fournette might be in play at number two for the 49ers," Jones said during an interview on KNBR. "That he's that talented of a player. They truly may believe that he's the best player in the draft. That would be wild because you already have Carlos Hyde."

A month later, on April 10, Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst resurrected the rumor stating that the 49ers were interested in drafting Fournette to replace Hyde.

"Sources with knowledge of the situation tell me the San Francisco 49ers are very high on Fournette and are seriously considering using the second pick of the draft to acquire him," Pauline wrote. "The new front office wants a bigger back to run the offense and they're ready to give up on Carlos Hyde, who has had his struggles staying healthy since being drafted by the franchise in 2014."

Two days later, 49ers general manager John Lynch addressed the report by Pauline following the team's local pro day.

"I know that when I was a player and I went through a couple coaching changes, I think as a player, one of the great things about this league and frankly what drove me to get back into it is that you're always proving yourself, I think in particular when there's a new regime," Lynch said. "And, I hope Carlos feels that way, but I can also tell you that we're really high on him and what he might be able to do in this offense. We think he can be a highly productive player, but we're eager to see. You have these thoughts as to do these skills translate to what we do? He's a very talented young man and we're very excited and hopeful just in the interactions we've had that he's come ready to play."

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The 49ers could be concerned about Hyde's durability. Since becoming a starter, he has been available for just 20 of the team's 32 games over the past two seasons. In 2016, Hyde finished the season just 12 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Over the past two seasons, he has rushed for 1,468 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.42 yards per carry.

"[Hyde] remains a bit of an enigma because he shows flashes of brilliance, but hasn't been consistent," wrote our own Al Sacco on Tuesday. "For example, from Weeks 11-15 last season, Hyde was dominant, gaining 507 yards on 82 carries. He ran fast, hard and decisive, and was productive despite the fact that the Niners managed more than 177 total passing yards only once during that stretch. While that run was impressive, you have to wonder if it was just a hot streak, since Hyde had failed to eclipse 3.8 yards per carry in 14-of-20 games before then."

Top 5 Mock Draft 49ers Selections
Player Mocks
DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford 42
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU 7
S Jamal Adams, LSU 6
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M 5
QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson 5

Rounding out the top five 49ers selections among mock drafts were LSU safety Jamal Adams, Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett, and Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. Garrett is the interesting name on that list because that would mean the Cleveland Browns would need to pass on the player who many consider being this year's top prospect – by a large margin.

If Cleveland were to pass on Garrett, the 49ers would face the difficult decision of drafting him or trading the now more valuable selection for a multitude of other picks. Garrett may be too hard for the 49ers to pass up.

The 2017 NFL Draft is just eight days away.

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