NFL Draft 2011: 7 Blue-Chip Players for San Francisco 49ers To Watch

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IApril 20, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: 7 Blue-Chip Players for San Francisco 49ers To Watch

0 of 8

    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Missouri Tigers passes during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 27, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    There are no sure things in this world...or are there? The NFL draft is right on top of us, and there are several players guaranteed to make a big splash sooner than later in the NFL.

    Certain athletes are just leaps and bounds above the rest, and these guys will help improve any team regardless of need.

    Fantastic combinations of size, strength, speed and explosiveness make them worth the large rookie wages they're likely to receive.

    They may be untested at the NFL level (as all rookies are) but when their achievements in college are totaled, and all their attributes are measured, they are as close to a sure thing as there is in the zany world of the NFL draft.

Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

1 of 8

    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Von Miller of Texas A&M works out during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Von Miller is an explosive player like no other this year. His pass rushing is definitely his main strength, as Texas A&M created his own special "Joker" position for him, but his speed and backfield penetration should also translate into success against the run.

    Miller's ability to accelerate and change direction fluidly could also benefit his coverage when a fake blitz is in order.

    The top-rated pass rusher this year could be the next coming of Lawrence Taylor, and his worst-case scenario is well above average for an OLB.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    Opposing quarterbacks had far too long to throw last year, and a nimble (yet incredibly explosive) pass rusher for Fangio to move around on passing downs would be just what the doctor ordered.

Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama

2 of 8

    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Quarterback Garrett Gilbert #3 of the Texas Longhorns tries to tackle lineman Marcell Dareus #57 of the Alabama Crimson Tide who would score after intercepting the ball during the second quarter of the Citi BCS National Champio
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Marcell Dareus is going to be a star. Whether it's at defensive tackle, nose tackle or even 3-4 end, his ability is plain to see.

    Standing 6'3" and weighing in at 320 lbs., Darius has true NFL size. On top of this, his 4.93 40 time is great for a man that big.

    Dareus showcased his talent in the 2010 BCS championship game where one of his (totally legal) hits knocked Colt McCoy out of the game. Dareus also returned an intercepted shovel pass 30 yards for a touchdown and received MVP honors for the game.

    Two words describe Dareus: sure thing.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    If Aubrayo Franklin signs with another team when free agency eventually comes back, a strong nose tackle with bigger upside than even B.J. Raji would be a nice boulder to build the village around. And if Franklin returns, another playmaking presence at end wouldn't hurt either.

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

3 of 8

    BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Patrick Peterson #7 of the Louisiana State Univeristy Tigers celebrates after scoring a touchdown by posing as the Heisman Trophy against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Tiger Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Baton Rouge
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    When a defensive back is nominated for the Heisman Trophy, it's because he stands a cut above the rest. Such was the case with Patrick Peterson in 2010.

    The best-case scenario for Peterson is he'll be an elite corner in the league for years. The low ceiling for him is that he adds weight with age and moves to safety, where he would also excel in all probability.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    The hole at corner has been gaping for years in San Francisco. The 49ers haven't had an elite secondary since the '90s. Nate Clements turned out to be a liability for them last year, and he needs to either restructure his contract, move to safety or both. Probably both.

    A young stud like Peterson to go along with the growing Taylor Mays could be hazardous to passing games around the league.

Mike Pouncey, Interior O-Line, Florida

4 of 8

    MIAMI - JANUARY 08: Mike Pouncey #55 of the Florida Gators reacts after a play against the Oklahoma Sooners in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    His brother left school early last year. All he did was play his heart out with the Steelers, as they took a little trip to the Super Bowl.

    Mike is projected to be a top-rated center, and the worst-case scenario is he becomes an above-average guard.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    While David Baas played admirably when Eric Heitmann went down with an injury, it took a certain degree of on-the-job learning. Drafting (guard) Mike Iupati turned out to be a good decision, but Chilo Rachal hasn't shown anything close to All-Pro potential. Pouncey would give the 49ers a strong partner for Iupati on the offensive line for some years. He would give them another mobile interior lineman, and eventually (maybe) an All-Pro center.

A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

5 of 8

    AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 13:  A.J. Green #8 of the Georgia Bulldogs fails to pull in this reception against Richard Samuel #22 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    There are a number of talented receivers this year, but A.J. Green is the one who does it all. Green has the height, the hops, the hands and the heart to turn heads at the next level.

    There is virtually no ceiling to how good this kid could be, and for a receiver to have this talent and seemingly lack any semblance of a diva attitude is a very rare thing.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    Michael Crabtree still shows a ton of potential, but what is potential when it goes inactivated? It's possible Crabtree could be traded to a team that wants him (and where he will give 100 percent) like Dallas.

    Green would be better than Crabtree by my appraisal. He wouldn't lug around a diva attitude, and he's a better jump-ball receiver.

J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

6 of 8

    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Defensive lineman J.J. Watt #99 of the Wisconsin Badgers rushes the TCU Horned Frogs in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The strongest prospect on the exterior defensive line is J.J. Watt. He rushes the passer nicely and is a nightmare for running backs behind the line.

    At 6'5" and 290 lbs., he'll be a menace in either a 3-4 or 4-3 system—and at either left or right end position.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    Justin Smith has anchored the 49ers line for the last several years. Watt would be like having another J. Smith on the opposite side where opposing passers often find themselves running scared to avoid the monster. With Watt, these scared quarterbacks would find themselves in the clutches of this 6'6", 290-pound monster.

    He would also be a menace against the run.

Shane Vereen, RB, Cal

7 of 8

    BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Shane Vereen #34 of the California Golden Bears in action against the Stanford Cardinal at California Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    With all due respect to Mark Ingram and Mikel LeShoure (both tremendous talents) Vereen is faster, and  he put up 31 reps to display the best muscular endurance of the running backs.

    At 5'10" and 210 lbs., scouts might see Vereen as being on the small side if he's to make the transition to the NFL. But he has never missed a game because of injury, and played in all 38 games at Cal, starting in 19 of them.

    Although he's not considered a first-round talent, Vereen could make a team with a West Coast offense very happy with his receiving skills.

    The one concern on Vereen is his tendency to leave the ball vulnerable when he dances around defenders, which can result in fumbles. This habit should be easily coached out of him though.

    How He Can Help the 49ers

    Three words: West Coast offense.

    Harbaugh's coached against Cal for a couple years now. I'd bet he saw Vereen on the field a couple times and thought about what he could do for him.

What's Missing?

8 of 8

    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  (L-R) Quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Stanford Cardinal talk against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Stanford won 4
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


    There are just not any blue-chip quarterbacks this year. Perhaps this is because so many college schools use spread offenses; and when Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford for his senior year, the pursuit of a quarterback many experts considered a "sure thing" was delayed for at least a year. Or perhaps calling a quarterback a sure thing is just paradoxical by definition.

    Offensive Tackles

    Last year saw a handful of tackles taken in the first round, and several in the top 10. This year only a couple are likely to go in the first round, and only one may sneak his way into the top 10. Sure, Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi, Nate Solder and Tyrone Smith show a wealth of potential, but none can be called a sure thing.

    Running Backs

    There are a lot of good-looking running backs, but (other than Vereen) none stand out as can't-miss prospects to me.


    The safeties of this year's draft have some interesting skills, and many show good character, but 2010's crop was much richer.

    Tight Ends

    There's not exactly a Vernon Davis out there this year.

    Inside Linebackers

    This year's strength on defense is primarily against the pass, and the linebackers most people are seeing are pass-rushing OLBs.

    Now this is not to say there's no talent at these positions. Certainly a lot of value is out there to be had, and some sleepers will no doubt surface, but players you can bet your franchise on are about as rare as I like my fillet mignon.

    To be a blue-chip draftee, everyone needs to know you're going to be an instant success, and they all need to be right about it.