Senior Bowl 2011 Wrap-Up: 15 Players the 49ers Should Consider
The Senior Bowl is officially over, with the week-long event ending yesterday. The work, however, is far from over.
There is a three-week gap between the end of the Senior Bowl and beginning of the NFL Scouting Combine. Players, scouts and general managers will all use those three weeks to improve their 40 times, narrow down scouting lists and re-visit film on prospects who stood out, respectively.
The 49ers let head coach Jim Harbaugh stay in San Francisco this week, where he can evaluate prospects via film and rely on his general manager Trent Baalke to do the in-person work. This is not a rarity as many NFL coaches choose not to come to Mobile for the week.
Harbaugh will be facing his first-ever NFL Draft as a head coach this April, and how well he does will determine the future of the San Francisco 49ers. With immediate needs at quarterback, outside linebacker and cornerback, the 49ers have many directions they can go with their 10 picks through seven rounds.
Here is our look at 15 players who stood out at the Senior Bowl who the 49ers should consider.
Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
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Like many people, I was impressed with Von Miller this week, but for those who follow our work at NewEraScouting, you will know we have been high on Miller for two years now.
He is the versatile, attacking outside linebacker the 49ers have been missing on defense, and a perfect replacement to Manny Lawson should he leave in free agency.
Miller proved this week that he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, drop back into coverage when asked and break down quarterbacks and running backs in the open field.
Miller is definitely worth the No. 7 overall pick. The only question is will he still be available when the 49ers' pick is up?
When should the 49ers look at Miller? Round 1.
Cameron Jordan, DE, California
A local prospect from across the Bay, Jordan had a stellar week in Mobile.
Some are questioning whether Jordan is a left end, a defensive tackle or a player with no true position. We would argue those people are missing the obvious: Cameron Jordan is the perfect 3-4 defensive end.
At 6'4" and 285 lbs, he has the build every 3-4 scout is looking for, and the length to disrupt the running game and passing lanes.
Jordan is not a sexy pick like Von Miller, Patrick Peterson or Blaine Gabbert; but this is the type of pick that builds a franchise. Just look at what Richard Seymour and Ty Warren did in New England.
When should the 49ers look at Jordan? Round 1 (if Von Miller is off the board).
Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa
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Ballard is another defensive lineman who had a great week and really proved to NFL teams his value as a 3-4 defensive end.
Ballard has the height, weight, length and strength to play left end in a three-man front, but he also has great lateral agility and burst to disrupt the offensive line and make plays in the back field.
We like Ballard and feel NFL teams will move him up their boards after this week, which could push him out of range for the 49ers in Round 2.
When should the 49ers look at Ballard? Round 2.
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
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Dalton had an up-and-down week in Mobile. He did show the intelligence, accuracy and poise that many expected, but his arm strength looked off at times, as did his footwork.
It's impossible to grade Dalton based on the actual game play, largely because of the poor play by his offensive tackles and expected miscommunication with new receivers. We were able to pick up on a few things, though.
When running left and throwing back across his body, Dalton looked crisp and accurate. He also looked very good when running the spread option play. How does that translate to the 49ers? In Jim Harbaugh's system, quarterbacks are asked to roll out often, but also given the green light to run when there's space in front of them.
Dalton, love him or hate him, is an ideal fit for the West Coast offense. His lack of elite arm strength will be masked by the timing routes used, and his mobility/accuracy will be on display.
When should the 49ers look at Dalton? Consider trading back into late Round 2.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
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Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Locker, a one-time No. 1 overall prospect, looks like a second round pick this week.
Locker's accuracy is just not where it needs to be to play quarterback in the NFL. While many saw this two years ago, we also thought his accuracy would improve. It hasn't.
Locker is a great athlete and has a live arm that really excites you. Unfortunately, until his accuracy improves, he is of no value to play in the NFL.
Locker will take patience, and a good quarterback coach.
When should the 49ers look at Locker? Round 2.
Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
Let's assume for the moment there will be a new collective bargaining agreement before the 2011 NFL Draft and we will have free agency this spring. Should this happen, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is a free agent coming off a season in which the 49ers used the franchise tag on him.
Franklin may not be back in 2011, depending on his demands and how the new CBA shakes out. Either way, Franklin has never been a Pro Bowl caliber player, nor does he have many years left at his best.
Taylor is your ideal nose tackle prospect. He's big, he is immovable and he can drive a guard/center double team off the line. Taylor would be a great replacement for Franklin.
When should the 49ers look at Taylor? Round 2.
Owen Marecic, FB/LB, Stanford
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Marecic is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the 2011 NFL Draft.
He has played fullback and linebacker, he finished 10th in the 2010 Heisman voting and he is a throwback to the days of hard-hitting and powerful football.
Marecic would bring great value to the 49ers as a goal-line back, special teams player and starting fullback. No one knows this greater than Jim Harbaugh, who coached Marecic at Stanford.
A match made in football heaven.
When should the 49ers look at Marecic? Round 3.
Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
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It is hard for me to get too excited about Brown, since I last remember him making boneheaded plays at the University of Texas. Putting all bias aside, though, Brown is a great athlete and a player with good potential in man coverage.
Brown brings value as a punt returner and cornerback. His stock is on the rise after a decent week of practice, followed by one hellacious hit on Vincent Brown during the game.
But 49ers fans may be hesitant to draft another "Brown" from Texas after Tarell Brown has failed to become the lock-down cornerback many expected. However, the two are nothing alike. Curtis Brown is an elite athlete who needs refining at cornerback.
When should the 49ers look at Brown? Round 3.
Christian Ponder, QB, FSU
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Ponder is not a first, second or even third round quarterback at this point—but he is worth taking a look at in Round 4 with one of the 49ers two picks.
Ponder is a high IQ player (3.9 GPA at Florida State) who does not make many mistakes on the field. He also does not jump off the field when breaking him down on film.
Ponder will do the right things. He has good enough mobility to escape the pocket and throw on the run, both important for the West Coast offense. He has the arm strength needed for Jim Harbaugh's system, too.
What you worry about with Ponder are the injuries. Whether a shoulder issue, an elbow or a concussion, it seems like he's always hurt.
When the 49ers should look at Ponder: Round 4.
Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
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Casey is not his brother Clay, let's get that straight right away. He is not a dynamic pass rusher or a freakish athlete.
What he is, though, is a fundamentally strong linebacker with good instincts, natural ability and potential.
Casey will most likely play inside linebacker in the NFL if drafted by a 4-3 team, but we like him as a strong-side linebacker in a 3-4. He has the speed and agility to cover tight ends or backs, and we see the potential in his athleticism to turn him loose on the quarterback occasionally.
When should the 49ers look at Matthews? Round 4.
Charles Clay, FB/TE, Tulsa
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Charles Clay showed this week that he can play a multitude of positions in the NFL.
He worked at running back, fullback, H-back, tight end, wide receiver and even Wildcat quarterback—all in one week.
Clay is a true athlete and someone the 49ers offense could use to be creative and create matchup problems for defenses. Expect more "fun" on offense under Jim Harbaugh this year, but to do that the 49ers must draft players who can cause nightmares for defenses.
Charles Clay will do just that.
When should the 49ers look at Clay? Round 4.
Sione Fua, NT, Stanford
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Expect to see any Stanford player in this draft linked to the 49ers by every media outlet covering the draft. It's common for NFL head coaches who just came from college to draft guys they are familiar with and players who are comfortable with their systems.
Fua is not only a Stanford prospect, but a fine nose tackle. He was a treat to watch during practice this week and again during the game. Nothing is better than watching Fua dispose of Arkansas guard/tackle DeMarcus Love with one well-placed swim move.
Fua is not being talked about much, but we wonder if teams are trying to limit the hype so his "stock" doesn't soar among NFL teams.
When should the 49ers look at Fua? Round 4.
Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
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Reed has played defensive end in the Arizona scheme, but given the chance he would be great standing up and rushing the passer.
Reed is a high-motor player who never stops before the whistle or takes plays off. He will be a coach's favorite in the NFL and could see his stock start to move up because of it.
We heard report after report this week that Reed is the nicest player in the world, until you put pads and a helmet on him.
When should the 49ers look at Reed? Round 5.
Jake Kirkpatrick, C, TCU
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The 49ers have a good, young offensive line with tons of potential at left tackle, guard and right tackle. The one spot on the line that needs help is center.
Kirkpatrick has played in a shotgun-heavy offense and is a consistent snapper in shotgun and under-center situations. He is also a bright player, able to make line calls, and he can get to the second level to block.
Kirkpatrick is not overly big or strong, and he will need time in the weight room and with NFL strength coaches, but we love his potential as a late-round prospect.
When should the 49ers look at Kirkpatrick? Round 5.
Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
In Round 7 you can afford to take chances on players with great measurables who may not be ready for the NFL just yet, or who will only stick on special teams.
Edmond Gates is your man, then.
Gates is one of the fastest players invited to the Senior Bowl, but as a wide receiver he is incredibly raw. There is potential here, but for the first few seasons, Gates will be best used as a situational player (screens, returns, trick plays) until he acclimates to the NFL game.
When should the 49ers look at Gates? Round 7.