5 Defensive Linemen the 49ers Should Be Evaluating at the NFL Scouting Combine
Without a doubt, the San Francisco 49ers defensive line has more questions than answers right now. Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois are impending free agents, and Justin Smith is coming back from a fairly serious triceps injury.
There's no guarantee that Sopoaga and Jean Francois will be back with the club, nor is there any guarantee that Smith will be back at 100 percent. Which can only mean one thing, it's all but set in stone that San Francisco will be drafting more than one defensive lineman in the 2013 NFL draft.
And I have a feeling that those draft selections will come on both Days 1 and 2 of the draft. There are plenty of intriguing names and prospects coming out as both seniors and underclassmen, so it will be exciting to see who shoots up draft boards from now until April 25.
With the defensive linemen portion of the combine already completed, I'll take a look at five linemen Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh should be paying close attention after Monday's impressive workouts.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
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Justin Smith won't last forever. The 33-year-old defensive end will be entering his 12th NFL season come September, so one has to think it may be time to start looking for his potential replacement. Injuries and a decline in production from the 2012 season has undoubtedly jump started the 49ers' search at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Insert Margus Hunt, one of this year's most sought-after defensive linemen in the entire draft.
Many view Hunt as the perfect replacement for Smith considering his size, strength and athletic ability. The Estonian born multi-sport athlete is viewed as the most "freakish" athlete in all of college football by CBS writer Bruce Feldman.
And his stock is continually rising after impressive results at the NFL Scouting Combine Monday. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, he jumped 34.5" and put up 38 reps on the bench press. Is he another "workout warrior," or the real deal?
His lack of football experience may say "workout warrior," but his fast, strong hands coupled with his ability to shed blockers will be a real asset when he takes his game to the NFL level.
If the 49ers envision Hunt as a 3-4 defensive end, it wouldn't surprise me to see them use their first-round pick on the 275-pound specimen.
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From one position on the defensive line to the next. Like Justin Smith, Isaac Soapoga is one of the eldest members of Vic Fangio's defense. There's no guarantee he will be back next year at his age and free-agent status, so it would be wise of San Francisco to look at a long-term, viable option at nose tackle.
And to some, there isn't a more viable option than Jesse Williams of Alabama. Williams will never be the most athletic or quick nose tackle to play the game; however, there's few that will out-hustle him. Not to mention it's doubtful that there is a stronger defensive player in the draft this year.
His 30 reps on the bench were underwhelming after many thought he would come close to breaking the combine record. Yet the letdown on bench press shouldn't detour teams from making him the first nose tackle taken in April.
NFL.com compares him to Sione Pouha given his two-gapping ability, which would make him a spot-on fit in the Bay Area. Fangio requires his nose tackle to eat up blockers so his two All-Pro linebackers can roam free on defense.
It will be intriguing to see if general manager Trent Baalke likes Williams as much as the national media does.
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Senior defensive lineman Datone Jones has something that neither Hunt nor Williams has—a lifetime full of football experience. As a member of the UCLA Bruins, he appeared in 51 games total, making him one of the most tenured members in this year's draft class.
His versatility as a defensive end in both odd and even fronts makes him one of the most sought-after prospects in the 2013 draft. Scouts and media members alike envision him as a player who will only continuously get better after an ultra productive senior season.
Under Jim Mora Jr., a former NFL head coach, Jones had the best season of his collegiate career. He tallied 19 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and he blocked two kicks. Yet stats aren't everything. When you turn on the tape, you see a player who can disengage from blocks with ease and anchor himself so he can move up and down the line with speed.
If San Francisco is looking for a player who can be moved around the line of scrimmage as a multi-dimensional rusher, then it needs to look no further than the 6'4", 275-pound monster.
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When the draft train rolls into the station with the 31st pick, the No. 1 nose tackle in the draft may be off the board. Which means the 49ers would have to re-evaluate their board and decide whether Ohio State nose tackle Johnathan Hankins would be worth a late first-round selection.
In my eyes, he definitely would be. I have him as the second-best nose tackle in this year's draft despite the fact he's often viewed as a sloppy player because of his large figure. Sure, he's not the most athletic player, nor is he the most consistent, but when he's on and he flashes, watch out.
He will need to be taught technique at the pro level; he often relied on his natural ability at the collegiate level. With his weight being a concern, he may also need to drop a tad bit of it. However, his wide frame and quick feet would make him a perfect anchor on the defensive line in place of Isaac Sopoaga.
For the sake of the 49ers, let's hope he is there for the taking if Williams is off the board. A few mock drafts have him being selected ahead of the 31st pick, so San Francisco may need to rely on a bit of luck if it wants to land "Big Hank."
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John Jenkins may be the last prospect I'm talking about, but he's definitely not least. The Georgia Bulldog hasn't received as much hype as some of the other nose tackles in this year's class, but after watching him at the combine and on tape, he should be in the question.
Like Williams of Alabama, he put up 30 reps on the bench press, making him a top performer for his position. I personally was expecting more because of the strength I saw him display while watching his in-game performances.
Jenkins took on single- and double-team blocks like it was no problem whatsoever.
His massive girth simply overpowers offensive linemen at times, yet with quicker linemen he tends to lose his balance easily. His upper body seems to be stronger than his lower body, so it would be wise of him to focus on improved leg strength going forward.
Although, that doesn't take away from his overall productivity. At the nose in Georgia, he had three sacks, six tackles for loss and 10 quarterback pressures. For a man of his size, I'm sure Vic Fangio would relish for that type of production at the nose.