10 Draft Prospects Who Would Be Perfect Fits for the San Francisco 49ers
For years the San Francisco 49ers were known as a "finesse" team, a derogatory term that did little to encapsulate the way the team played during its glory years of the 1980s and 90s. The fact is that they played physical football on both sides of the line of scrimmage with guys like Ronnie Lott and Tom Rathman.
Now, no one is calling the 49ers a finesse team. Quite the opposite, actually. The team has a clear-cut identity on both sides of the ball and that identity is tied to their physicality. Players like Aaron Hernandez and Pierre Thomas can attest to how physical the 49ers play football.
The following players are draft prospects expected to go within the first three rounds and whose style of play would be perfect fits for this very physical team.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
At 6'3" and 300 lbs, he has the size and strength to play the nose tackle position in a 3-4 defensive scheme, but he also has the speed to play the end position as well. Floyd is an excellent run-stopper, a must for linemen hoping to play for the 49ers.
With big running backs like Stephen Jackson and Marshawn Lynch in the NFC West, Floyd's size and physicality would be a perfect fit opposite Justin Smith next year, and with Smith on the wrong side of 30, Floyd could very well be a very effective replacement within a couple years.
Floyd could probably use a little more development but, with Ray McDonald and Justin Smith on the roster, he could immediately step in and be part of an effective rotation of linemen without having to shoulder too much of the load early on.
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Jesse Williams is one of the strongest players at any position in college football today. He is also a bit raw, having not started playing football until he was 15 and only has two years of experience at the D-I level.
That being said, the guy is a monster who has the size and strength to become a very effective nose tackle in the NFL at 320 lbs. He doesn't offer much as a pass-rusher, but in the 3-4 and playing nose tackle he won't be asked to get after the quarterback as much as he'll be asked to occupy multiple blockers so others can run after the quarterback unabated.
His stock has dropped some after a slow, injury-plagued start to the season, but all eyes will be on him in the BCS title game, where he'll have a chance to show off his unique strength. Should Williams drop into the second or third round, he would be an excellent addition to the defensive line and could easily replace Isaac Sopoaga or Ricky Jean-Francois at the nose tackle position.
Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
As big as Jesse Williams is, Jonathan Jenkins is even bigger. Weighing in at 351 lbs, Jenkins is a load-and-a-half and has proven he can manhandle the best the SEC has to offer throughout his collegiate career.
Jenkins might be a stretch to drop to the end of the first round where the 49ers are likely to be picking from, but with a draft class loaded with quality defensive linemen, it's entirely possible that he's available by the time the 49ers pick.
What makes him a perfect fit for the 49ers is not only his size but the fact that he's played the nose tackle position for Georgia this year and last and has a lot of experience there.
Other good fits along the defensive line for the 49ers that have been mentioned have all moved around the line. Not Jenkins. He is as pure a nose tackle as there is in this draft, and nose tackle is a position the 49ers will surely be looking to address this offseason. If he's sitting there at the end of the first round, expect the 49ers to snag him.
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
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With Delanie Walker expected to depart via free agency this offseason, the 49ers will be looking to add another tight end who can serve as an effective complement to Vernon Davis. Dion Sims could very well be that guy. At 6'5" and 285 lbs, Sims is more like an undersized offensive tackle who happens to have good hands.
Sims is perhaps the best run-blocking tight end in college football, and getting good blocking from the tight end position is imperative for a team that likes to run as much as the 49ers do. He isn't nearly the dynamic playmaker that Delanie Walker is, but with teams so heavily committed to shutting down Vernon Davis, he won't have to be.
He's definitely a good enough receiver to beat single coverage and is smart enough to find holes in zone defenses. Sims probably won't go until the third round, and with at least two picks in the third already, the 49ers could very well take this big, mauling tight end.
If he drops a little weight he might gain some speed without losing too much of the strength that makes him an excellent fit for the 49ers as a blocking tight end.
Matt Elam, S, Florida
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Matt Elam has a game very similar to current 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner. He's a big hitter who plays with a reckless abandon that strikes fear into opposing receivers going across the middle, and he has the speed and coverage skills necessary to succeed at the next level.
His brand of football would be a perfect fit alongside the wrecking ball that is Dashon Goldson—if Goldson returns next year.
There is actually a good chance that the 49ers explore parting ways with Whitner this offseason; Elam looks capable of immediately stepping into the starting role should that happen.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
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You probably didn't expect to see a quarterback on this list, but with the presumed departure of Alex Smith this offseason, the 49ers will be in the market for a quality backup quarterback who could step in and provide a spark should Colin Kaepernick go down with an injury.
Landry Jones has all the physical tools to be a good NFL quarterback. It's his decision-making that has hurt his draft stock—something that a great quarterback guru like Jim Harbaugh can certainly help to improve.
Jones might slip to the third of fourth round, and even then that is a high spot to draft a quarterback who won't have much of a chance at all to compete for the starting position. But the nature of the NFL is such that teams are more willing to trade draft picks for a promising quarterback, and should Jones land with the Niners and have some good showings in a backup role, his value may surpass his draft position.
At worst, he might be a nice bargaining chip in a trade with a team looking to make a change at quarterback, much like Smith and possibly Washington's Kirk Cousins will be this offseason. At best, he steps in and effectively replaces Kaepernick should he go down with an injury, again much like Cousins has done this year.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
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Stepfan Taylor is a perfect fit with the 49ers for two reasons: he's a tough, between-the-tackles runner similar to Frank Gore, and he has played in the same system the 49ers are running longer than the 49ers have been playing in it.
Jim Harbaugh recruited him at Stanford, and if he is available in the second or third round I expect Harbaugh to land him again.
Niners football is all about running physically. LaMichael James is a nice change of pace from Frank Gore, and he might turn into one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL, but the bread and butter of this team's running game is based on power football running right down the middle of the defense's throat.
That is Taylor's specialty, and his familiarity with the offense should allow him to step right in and at least be a serviceable third-down back as a rookie. He might even be good enough right away to steal significant carries from Gore.
He isn't a flashy runner by any means, but he's as complete a back as there is in the draft. Several years from now there will be a lot of running back-starved teams kicking themselves for not snagging Taylor when they had the chance. Hopefully, the 49ers are not one of them.
Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Jonathan Cooper is probably the best center available in the draft, and he doesn't even play center. Barrett Jones from Alabama will probably go before him, but Jones was manhandled at times by some of the bigger linemen he squared off against. Not Cooper.
He's played guard at North Carolina but his size is a little lacking and he will most likely move to center in the NFL. But he plays with a mean streak and has all the requisite physicality for the guard position despite "only" weighing 295 lbs. Cooper has excelled as a guard, where he is asked to consistently square off against linemen looking to go right through him.
His experience as a guard will make him a great fit for the 49ers at the center position. He has the speed and quickness to excel at the position, and his time as a guard has given him valuable experience against bigger, stronger linemen, which he'll need to survive in the NFL.
As a center, he'll need experience directing the line in terms of blocking schemes and that sort of thing, but on the 49ers he will have the luxury of apprenticing under Jonathan Goodwin while also providing valuable depth at guard as well.
Barrett Jones, G, Alabama
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Barrett Jones is another guard who will probably be best served switching to the center position in the NFL.
It's not Jones' physicality which makes him a perfect fit for the 49ers but his versatility. He's logged significant time at guard, center and tackle in his collegiate career and has done well everywhere. Given where Jones will likely be taken (somewhere between the 20th and 50th picks), it might be a stretch to take him in order to add depth to the line. But like Cooper, he might be best suited for center, where he could compete for a starting job right away.
Joe Staley and Jonathan Goodwin are the oldest starting linemen on the 49ers. Staley has played at a high level this season and shows no signs of slowing down. But Goodwin has been a bit of a weak link along the line, and Jones would be a perfect fit providing depth along the line while challenging Goodwin at center.
If Staley or right tackle Anthony Davis were to get injured, the 49ers would likely slide guard Alex Boone over to his natural position to fill in for Davis or Staley, and Jones could replace Boone at guard. Or he could simply step in as the center in his rookie season and further solidify what is already arguably the best offensive line in football.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
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Le'Veon Bell is a Mack truck in pads. At 240 lbs, he isn't shy about running right into and over middle linebackers. He also has shown that he can handle a heavy workload as he's averaging about 30 carries per game to the tune of 4.7 yards per carry.
Michigan State's opponents knew Bell was getting the ball but he's found a way to make that irrelevant. Brandon Jacobs was supposed to provide the tough, short-yardage carries for the 49ers offense this season, but that didn't pan out and he was all but kicked off the team.
That doesn't mean that the 49ers don't covet a big back like Bell. Frank Gore is arguably the toughest running back in the NFL but that style also has worn him down some. He's only had four games with more than 20 carries (three with 21 carries and one with 23 carries) and he isn't getting younger.
Bell would be a perfect addition to the stable of running backs the 49ers have for next season as the short-yardage back, but he also has the pedigree to eventually replace Gore as the feature back for an offense built to run between the tackles. I expect the 49ers to draft either Bell or Stepfan Taylor this April, and Bell might be the better long-term fit while providing something in the short term next year.