2012 NFL Draft: Will the San Francisco 49ers Look at Zach Brown for Versatility?

Casey CrailCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2011

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 10:  Zach Brown #47 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts to making an interception against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Kenan Stadium on October 10, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

While the San Francisco 49ers' season is (hopefully) far from over, news and rumors surrounding the NFL draft have taken over sports headlines.

For the first time since 2008, when the 49ers traded with the Colts and selected Kentwan Balmer, San Francisco will not be on the board until the end of the first round.

While there are needs on the roster, playoff teams often find themselves taking a luxury pick and selecting the best player available rather than drafting for need.

An example of this occurred in 2010, when the Colts selected Jerry Hughes out of TCU, despite the fact that defensive end was their strong point on that side of the ball.

While it is the Niners' defensive unit that is playing at a very high level and the offense that has not jelled to become elite, a prospect on either side of the ball could be targeted on draft night.

With Ahmad Brooks a pending free agent, contract negotiations may not go as smoothly as both sides are hoping for. This could lead to consecutive first-round selections of rush linebackers.

Aldon Smith, at the moment, is a pure pass rusher. He has not cracked the starting lineup yet because he is still being coached how to drop back into coverage.

Therefore, if a prospect like Zach Brown from Chapel Hill is on the board, Trent Baalke may pull the trigger. He could not only potentially replace Brooks, but bring versatility to the defense.

Brown would be best served as a 4-3 linebacker. However, he has the outside speed and athleticism to play on the edge as a rush linebacker in the 3-4.

According to Mel Kiper Jr., Brown "has a versatile skill set and can go outside in a 3-4 or be a good weakside in a 4-3."

The best part of Brown's game is that he could line up anywhere on the defensive side of the ball.

Besides the 3-4 rush linebacker position, he could thrive as the weak-side linebacker or potentially line up as a defensive end when the team goes with the nickel defense.

While Manny Lawson was a disappointment during his tenure with the 49ers, he did bring athleticism and versatility to the position in coverage that has been missed.

Larry Grant has been great stepping in as an inside linebacker in Patrick Willis' spot, but the three-year rotational player is scheduled to be a free agent and may look to take an opportunity as a starter on a different roster.

Brown, like NaVorro Bowman, could play inside in the 3-4 scheme on downs when either Willis or Bowman are sidelined, despite being scouted primarily as a great 4-3 weak-side linebacker

You could insert Brown at any position on any down and his athleticism would be a great final piece to a linebacking corps already comprised of Aldon Smith, Bowman and Willis.

While there are greater needs, the value and versatility that Brown would present himself with could be of value to Vic Fangio. What's more, arguably the strongest defensive unit in the league could get another piece to solidify the front seven.

With athleticism and scheme flexibility, Brown has the potential to play four positions between San Francisco's traditional 3-4 and their third down nickel package.