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49ers look to the draft for answers

Apr 10, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Kickers and Punter prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

Special teams has always been the weak arch in the San Francisco arsenal of weapons, they have failed miserably over the years to establish any real sense of accomplishment in this area. The 49ers continue to struggle at both the kicking and punting aspects of the game on a season by season basis.

They tried to make drastic changes in this by cutting both Jose Cortez and Jason Baker midway through the season and going with their 2002 fourth round draft pick in Jeff Chandler and acquiring a practice squad punter in Bill LaFleur from the San Diego Chargers.

Both have had a mixed bag of results, but Chandler is being relied upon to improve with some experience under his belt. Chandler failed in training camp back in Stockton to unseat Jose Cortez for the starting position, but with one failed crucial kick after another as the 2002 season wore on the 49ers made the change. Jason Baker also failed as the season went on and was eventually cut to make room for LaFleur.

LaFleur was expected to be an upgrade over Baker’s shady punting accomplishments but proved to be his equal rather than his improvement. LaFleur was brought in for the last five games of the season and the post-season and did little to muster any positive recognition. Still the 49ers have signed him to a one-year contract and will go with him into the 2003 season under my objections as well.

There is still a real likelihood that the 49ers will consider drafting a punter or a kicker to compete with these incumbents or the worse of the two. I would say that the need is definitely there based on what I saw throughout the 2002 season. Certainly making the crucial field goals and securing the playing field by denying the enemy good field position has to be a top priority in my playbook.

A) Tulane’s kicker Seth Marler 5 feet and 11 inches and 190-pounds.

Marler’s strength is his approach to the kick and his weakness is his accuracy unfortunately. But he seems to be the very top prospect for someone in dire need of a replacement or an upgrade at this position. He continues to have questions regarding his range and the accuracy of his kicks but he is very smooth and sound in his approach and he should be a prospect the 49ers will consider. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.0.

Marler did encounter problems in his senior year in Tulane by having a few of his field goals blocked, but he is very quick in his approach to the ball regardless. The other side of the coin with Marler is that he has a 42.9-yard punting average and that should interest the 49ers and other clubs as they look to upgrade their special teams. You can expect Marler to go somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds of this draft.

B) Cincinnati’s kicker Jonathan Ruffin 5 feet and 10 inches and 180-pounds.

Here is another sure prospect that will hear his name called on draft day. His strength is in his accuracy and his weakness is kickoffs. He is a former Lou Grozer award winner though and does not have a great booming leg that can nail the 50-yard field goals but is very accurate from within 40-yards. He is without a doubt one of the most accurate kickers in the country having missed only three of 22 attempts. He ran the 40 in 5.07 and is a potential star the 49ers may consider somewhere in the seventh round of this draft.

A) Maryland’s punter Brooks Barnard 6 feet and two inches and 195-pounds.

Here is a punter that is probably the very best offered in this draft, His strength is punting inside the 20-yarline and his weakness is his hang time. Barnard has the expert ability of pinning the opponent inside their 20-yard line, something the 49ers have only dreamed about for a very long time. He ran the 40 in 4.74 and his hang time although a registered weakness did improve in his senior year with Maryland.

He takes a three step approach to punting the ball but has the ability to shorten that to two if necessary. He averaged 43.2 yards per punt in 2002, a great accomplishment for a punter in search for employment in the NFL.

If I had to pick a difference maker on special teams my vote would go to this guy. The 49ers have real concerns at this position especially after not upgrading at this position after replacing Jason Baker. La Fleur needs to make a strong case in training camp and the only way to manufacture that is to provide real competition.

B) Kentucky’s punter Glenn Pakulak 6 feet three inches and 230-pounds.

Pakulak is another very strong candidate to consider should the 49ers fail to land Barnard in the mid to late rounds of this draft. His known strength is his valued hang time allowing our special teams units to converge quickly down the field, and his weakness is his directional skills in placing the ball. He shows great consistency and has improved almost every year while with Kentucky. He does struggle when trying to kick away from someone or trying to angle the ball out of bounds.

He has a 45.6-yard gross average in punts though which ranks him very high up they’re in top-flight punters at the college level. He is a powerful left-footed punter that used to play linebacker while in high school. He needs to work on shortening up his approach to the ball from three steps to two, he ran the 40 in 4.98 and is expected to be drafted somewhere in the seventh round.

2. Offensive Guard prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

We have been hearing this for many years in that the 49ers need to address their offensive line once and for all. With aging left tackle Derrick Deese the 49ers have made every indication based on their salary cap moves this season to either replace him or groom someone that will eventually take his place.

Upgrading in both the guard and tackle positions is a necessity that the 49ers cannot go on ignoring, many of the elite players that have come from the 49er offensive line have been low round draft picks and even un-drafted players that suddenly became impressive under great coaching.

The highest pick for the offensive line happened back in 1998 when the 49ers drafted center Jeremy Newberry in the second round of that draft. The list of greatness from the San Francisco offensive line is incredible, as it has manufactured many Pro Bowlers. Of that list includes Kevin Gogan in 1998, Jeremy Newberry in 2001 and 2002. Ray Brown in 2001 and Ron Stone in 2002.

Both offensive linemen in Eric Heitmann and Kyle Kosier have proven most effective, especially Heitmann who was pressed into service last season due to Dave Fiore’s knee injury. Since then Fiore has been let go and Heitmann named the starter for the 2003 season based upon his sound performance last year. The 49ers look at Deese as the next area of replacement counting on him maybe for one more year or any at the most. Derrick Deese though has answered the critic’s each and every year and continues to shine as the lead man protecting Jeff Garcia.

The 49ers most likely will look at an offensive tackle rather then a guard, but should the one they want get passed over a guard that is of the elite class could always be transformed into a tackle. Of those guards there are good prospects to pick from just a bit weaker than a year ago when this position class was a bit stronger.

A) Iowa’s Eric Steinbach 6 feet six inches and 290-pounds.

Here is the top guard prospect inside the draft and he should be a valuable commodity for someone’s offensive line for a long time to come. His strengths are his mobility and versatility and his only weakness is his experience. He has the ability in being versatile to protect like a left tackle, which opens the door for the 49ers to consider this intriguing prospect. He ran the 40 in 4.92 and that is very impressive for an offensive lineman. He will go in the first round of this draft based upon his credentials and hard work ethic.

The 49ers probably will not spend their first round pick on him but then who can really know? Steinbach’s only knock is his lack of experience having come to Iowa as a tight end in the first place. He has so many upsides and is a proven physical specimen in being quick off the snap and able to explode into his blocks.

He is very intelligent and plays with great leverage as well as balance to boot. He isn’t overly big or bulky and has had some injuries that have severely hampered his playing time leading to some inexperience. However we should expect that to be an afterthought in whoever drafts him.

B) Texas Derrick Dockery 6 feet six inches and 350-pounds.

This is a mammoth of an offensive lineman; one that will clog up the middle and require double-teams to move. However his weight leaves questions as to his endurance on the field and the longevity of the game. His strengths are his wingspan and leverage and his weaknesses are weight and lateral movement. He ran the 40 in 5.56 so you know that it is not speed that is a factor with this guy.

Although he carries significant weight he is athletic and moves really well. He most easily rides opposing defensive tackles right out of their angle of attack. He also has a quick setting in pass protection and allows the quarterback ample time to find a connection. He has adequate footwork but needs to really work on his lateral abilities, along with being quick into his blocks and taking on speedy and agile opponents that will use his weight to his disadvantage.

He fills the same mold of the massive linemen just two years ago in the draft of Leonard Davis and Mike Williams. He needs to work on is conditioning but he has a wingspan that will scare a lot of opponents once he gets a handle on you. The 49ers are going with bigger and bulkier linemen lately a contradiction to the light and speedy ones they have been accustomed to go with for so long.

3. Center prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

Here is a position that is still up in the air in regards to the back-up position. It has been Ben Lynch that has been the mainstay at this position for a long time. However whenever his veteran’s salary comes up the 49ers feel propelled to try and find a cheaper prospect. Jeremy Newberry is the starting center and is a two time Pro Bowl one at that. He gives the 49ers stability and tenacity at this position like never before.

However should injury befall Newberry who would take his place remains a question. Ben Lynch has been that force but his versatility has been limited causing the 49ers to think about someone else almost every season.

I honestly wish that Ben could be resigned and that the position of center would once again be secured. At the same time I feel Ben would blossom as a reserve guard or tackle should the 49ers give him the nod and the opportunity. Finding a cheaper alternative is not always the answer in my view, it seems the 49ers have been transformed into letting more and more of its very own walk on out the door.

So the possibility of the 49ers drafting a center is real, or they will go the low budget route in securing a low-priced free agent or waiting for the draft to be over and invite some un-drafted free agents in for workouts. Ben could still be invited to training camp in order to compete for his job with others that are invited to participate. I having met Ben and his family hope that he is granted that notice.

A) Notre Dame’s Jeff Faine 6 feet three inches and 295-pounds.

Faine happens to be a junior that has declared himself eligible for this draft, and it will be a decision he will be proud of because he is one of the very best at this position available. This position beyond the first initial two candidates is very poor far down from what it has been in the past.

Faine is very fast off the ball and is very quick and decisive. He is better at pass protection at this point in his career then he is at run blocking. However he does show the ability to block downfield and has a good average size for a competent center.

His most glaring weakness is short yardage blocking, something that he will grow more comfortable with experience and good coaching. He will need some work on conditioning his lower body strength in order to get better leverage in this area. Faine is very intelligent and displays a leadership role on and off the field.

His speed is one that has to be recognized and will be a real attribute to any interested party that drafts him. Jeff is expected to be selected somewhere in the third round of this draft he ran a 5.23 in the 40-yrad dash and remains near the top as far as prospects at this position.

B) Wisconsin’s Al Johnson 6 feet four inches and 300-pounds.

His strengths are his hands and upper body strength and his weakness is picking up the blitz. He has great natural ability and some very impressive strength as he has better upper body strength in comparison to his lower body. He does bend well for a taller center and is very quick off the snap. He has good ability in moving in all directions and has great use of his hands while playing.

When a blitz is commenced he has trouble picking that up and reading it correctly. He is also susceptible to the double move as well and will have to play more and get proper coaching in order to improve upon these principles. He is a good run blocker who manages to finish his blocks and drives the opponent away from the ball.

He plays the game with a lot of enthusiasm and will contend with Faine for the top spot in getting drafted at this position. He ran the 40 slightly better then Faine registering 5.15 and is expected to be drafted somewhere in the third round.

4. Offensive tackle prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

A) Florida State’s Brett Williams 6 feet five inches and 315-pounds.

Here is a candidate that the 49ers will give serious consideration to in the second round of this draft where it is expected he will hear his name called. The time is very near in considering a youth movement at the left tackle position. His strengths are handling the speed rushers and having sound hands and his weaknesses are his durability and consistency.

Williams is kind of a none name someone that won’t come right out and wow you but he is solid in almost every aspect in regards to his position. Although he does show some inconsistent performance his play elevates as to the seriousness of the game. He has the hands and the ability to move speed rushers right out of the lanes that they attack through as his toughness and intelligence work overtime.

He ran the 40 in 5.23 and is very quick off the snap of the ball and also has the talent at taking out not just one but several defenders within one play cycle. He is very patient and is great at positioning himself to protect the quarterback from speed rushers. Williams is an excellent prospect for the 49ers to replace or which is recommended to groom behind Derrick Deese for the future.

B) Georgia’s George Foster 6 feet five inches and 322-pounds.

George is a bit of a project but has the intangibles to learn with experience and sound coaching. His strengths are run blocking and his size and his weaknesses are his overall durability and blocking on the run. George has shown some stiffness in regards to pass protection but this is something that will be remedied rather quickly. He has great run blocking abilities and very good lateral movement. He also seems to cover a lot of ground at his position having run the 40 in 5.25.

Has the ability to shuffle and slide off the edge during a play and always is keeping his feet active during the play at hand. He has a great initial jolt with his arms that rides a speed rusher right out of their attack angles and eliminates them from the pocket. Williams would be a sound prospect for the 49ers in many senses and is expected to go in the mid to late second round.

C) Illinois Tony Pashos 6 feet five inches and 305-pounds.

Here is an offensive tackle that uses his enormous wing span to lock on to speed rushers and push them to the outside. He is also one of the best run blocking tackles in the draft at this position and has very sound hands. His weaknesses are his footwork and technique. He shows great instincts in hand placement and at establishing good leverage at the time of attack.

He seems to always bend at the knees and stays low while getting into his overall blocking; he also has very solid fundamentals that shine at this particular position. He has an astounding arm punch that really knocks defenders from their angle of attack. Pashos does lack some balance and has some difficulty with some more athletic and nimble opponents especially when he is forced to sustain a block for an extended amount of time.

Overall Pashos is a solid prospect that could eventually be a starter but is recommended to groom behind a veteran for a short period to learn the overall sphere of the position at the pace of the NFL. He is another sure talent that the 49ers will give consideration to in the second to third rounds of this draft.

5. Defensive tackle prospects in the 2003 NFL draft

Here is an area the 49ers will seriously look at with the waiving of Dana Stubblefield. They have tried to fill the position with low budget free agents already, and are counting on second-year player Josh Shaw to eventually fill that gap. However it may not be that easy because veteran Bryant Young is starting to show wear and tear as years go by. The time clock on him is ticking in conjunction with losing Dana Stubblefield being cut, so the 49ers will be hard pressed not to address this position with at least one candidate in this year’s draft.

A) Kentucky’s Dewayne Robertson 6 feet three inches and 310-pounds.

This is one of the best defensive lineman available in this year’s draft, anyone considering one will know that this is an immediate starter from the get go. His strengths are speed off the snap and his run defense and his only real weakness is his ability to pursue. He is a three-year starter with Kentucky that declared himself available early in this draft as a junior. He really shot right up the draft charts in part due to the strong showing he had at the NFL combine held just recently.

Robertson just last year had 48 tackles and registered five sacks despite being double-teamed 61% of the time last year. He is in every part of the word a real fighter and one that plays the game with a high burst of energy. He ran the 40 in 5.11 and is able to explode off the line better than any defensive tackle yet in this draft. He has a knack for collapsing the pocket around a quarterback and even better at erasing a double-team move that is applied to him.

He doesn’t have exceptional overall speed though which really limits his ability to pursue someone. However he is very well conditioned and with the proper coaching would be able to correct some of these flaws. He is expected to go somewhere in the first to second rounds of this draft.

B) Georgia’s Johnathan Sullivan 6 feet three inches and 310-pounds.

Georgia is well known for producing some very fine defensive tackles and this one is just another notch in their belt. He has good strengths in footwork and speed off the snap but his weaknesses are changing directions and overall play recognition. He has some pass rushing capability but is still a bit rusty in this area, he also has good size for a tackle but his frame will have to be improved overall to play at the NFL level.

He has unreal speed off the snap of the ball and has a quick release as well. However his technique does need work and his ability to recognize the play at hand is sketchy. With the proper experience in playing time and training along with good coaching these fundamentals can be taught at a high level.

Although a bit of a project he is still a high quality candidate that should excel once in the system. He ran the 40 in 5.02 and will be considered a good project for the 49ers should he fall enough for him to be considered. He is expected to go from mid first to the second round of this draft.

C) Texas A&M’s Ty Warren 6 feet four inches and 305-pounds.

Ty Warren is yet another tackle that needs some polish in certain areas. His strengths are play recognition and penetration and his weaknesses are conditioning and consistency. Obviously both the weaknesses mentioned could be overcome with proper training and coaching and they can be turned into positives rather quickly. He shows incredible penetration once he bursts off the line and attacks, he has an intensity motor that never quits as he continues to attack until he reaches his target.

He has the physical attributes where you could use him in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 alignment but he has been known to give half-hearted efforts before on plays and that will have to be corrected. He is by no means an overpowering type of defensive tackle, but one that with proper development and time will adjust to the rigors of the NFL.

He is expected to go into either the second or third rounds of this draft. He ran the 40 in 5.15 and can be a disruptive force to contend with once he gets his shoulders squared and bends down to low and attack.

In conclusion on this analysis of 2003 NFL draft prospects

The San Francisco 49ers have some very significant needs now especially depth wise in some vulnerable areas. Certainly some of those were addressed in this second analysis of mine on potential candidates that the team will look at come draft day. Again I pretend not to be an expert in this area and this is but a small portion of the candidates at these positions.

I have tried to evaluate with some well known sources as to what the 49ers may be interested in or who may be still around when their number is called on both draft days. Again this is an exciting part of the off-season that we can all be a part of by watching ESPN and giving our moral support to the 49ers.

Despite some of our differences on prospects and the rational of the 49ers in picking some other candidate not listed we must lend our support the best way that we can. I am confident that the front office under Terry Donahue will do another remarkable job as they did over the past several years that they have served us.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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