Underrated Prospects 49ers Must Prioritize in 2021 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2021

Underrated Prospects 49ers Must Prioritize in 2021 NFL Draft

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    When the San Francisco 49ers traded up to secure the No. 3 pick in this year's draft, it was clear they had a prospect or prospects in mind for that selection. Presumably, they'll be targeting one of the class' top quarterbacks, like Ohio State's Justin Fields or Alabama's Mac Jones.

    It's fairly safe to say that whoever is picked at No. 3 won't be one of the draft's sleeper prospects. However, some underrated prospects can and should be on San Francisco's radar.

    One interesting aspect of the trade is that, while it included multiple picks, the 49ers didn't surrender any additional 2021 selections. While the 49ers sold out to land the No. 3 pick, they can still search for value in other rounds.

    Here we'll examine three under-the-radar prospects San Francisco should prioritize on Days 2 and 3 of draft weekend.

Alim McNeill, DL, North Carolina State

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    The 49ers aren't going to use the No. 3 pick on a defensive lineman, but it would be wise to add one at some point in the draft. San Francisco lost a major contributor when it traded away defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason, while defensive end Solomon Thomas departed in free agency this offseason.

    While San Francisco drafted Javon Kinlaw to replace Buckner, he hasn't been an elite game-changer along the interior thus far.

    San Francisco won't likely be in a position to draft a player of Buckner's caliber, but it could bolster the rotation with a prospect like N.C. State's Alim McNeill.

    Listed at 6'2" and 320 pounds, McNeil is on the shorter side for an NFL interior defensive lineman, but he has the strength and the athleticism to be a valuable rotational piece.

    "He might not have the overall length and mass to withstand the rigors of two-gapping in the NFL, but he does have plus flexibility and fluidity for a big man and should create problems for centers as a shaded nose with the ability to attack or counter either A-gap," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of McNeil.

    McNeil produced 6.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and an interception over the past two seasons with the Wolfpack.

Aaron Robinson, CB, Central Florida

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Cornerback is another position where San Francisco should seek depth. The 49ers did re-sign cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley, K'Waun Williams and Jason Verrett, but Richard Sherman remains unsigned, and Verrett sports a notable injury history.

    Verrett played 13 games last season but missed a combined 58 games over the previous four.

    Adding a prospect like Central Florida's Aaron Robinson could help boost San Francisco's cornerback rotation while providing injury insurance for Verrett.

    Listed at 5'11 1/2" and 190 pounds, Robinson has a tremendous combination of length and athleticism. With plenty of schematic versatility, he would be a terrific addition to defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans' squad.

    "Robinson is a versatile defender that can function in both man and zone coverage, and he will make the run defense better with his ability to fill and defend the D-gap," Joe Marino of The Draft Network wrote. 

    Last season, Robinson amassed six passes defended to go with 31 solo tackles and a fumble recovery.

Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    As intriguing as Florida's Kyle Pitts is, using the No. 3 pick on a tight end wouldn't make much sense. San Francisco has an elite starter in George Kittle, and it has him under contract through the 2025 season.

    Targeting more of an under-the-radar tight end, however, could make a ton of sense. Having two receiving tight ends provides the potential for some major mismatches, and having a little insurance for Kittle—who missed eight games last season—wouldn't hurt.

    Miami's Brevin Jordan could be a perfect draft target. Ranked 78th on Bleacher Report's latest big board, Jordan is a player San Francisco could conceivably get in Round 3 or later. While San Francisco doesn't have its original third-round pick—surrendered in the Trent Williams trade—it does have a compensatory selection at 103rd overall. Trading up to secure a solid backup tight end like Jordan could be worth it.

    "Potential Y tight end if he can improve blocking technique and grit at the point of attack," Zierlein wrote. "Jordan can work the field in-line or from the slot and has improved his route-running over time."

    Interestingly, San Francisco has "consistently" been in contact with Miami prospect Brevin Jordan—according to Justin Melo of The Draft Network.

    Last season, Jordan played eight games for the Hurricanes and caught 38 passes for 576 yards and seven touchdowns.