Latest 49ers NFL draft buzz, scouting combine chatter

By | March 5, 2024

The latest 49ers NFL draft buzz, scouting combine chatter originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Free agency is top of mind, but the NFL Scouting Combine indicated last week that draft season is here and isn’t going away anytime soon.

The 2024 NFL Draft is scheduled for Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27 in Detroit, so be prepared for a lot of draft talk and speculation over the next seven weeks.

The college all-star games were, of course, overshadowed by the NFL playoffs in January. So each year, the Combine is the first event on the calendar where everyone in the football world watches and talks about the draft prospects.

Here are some of the conversations overheard in Indianapolis, where the event has taken place for the past 37 years:

— This draft is top loaded with offensive talent. There may not be a defensive player selected in the top 10. The defender most expected to break the offensive streak: Alabama is ahead of Dallas Turner.

– The way this draft looks for cornerbacks, wide receivers and defensive linemen should be a good spot for the 49ers, who have two picks in both the third and fourth rounds.

— This is a good year for cornerbacks, but perhaps no one is at the same top level as a year ago. Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez were widely believed to be the top two. Seattle drafted Witherspoon fifth overall. Then Washington selected Emmanuel Forbes at 16, one spot ahead of Gonzalez (New England).

— There should be a cornerback running back starting in the middle of the first round. About half a dozen corners can be selected from, say, 15 to 30. Then, at the end of Day 2 and the beginning of Day 3, another run on corners and potential nickel backs can take place.

– New 49ers defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen will have a huge influence on the team’s plan at nickel back, the position he coached the past two seasons. Three to keep in mind for the mid-rounds: Michigan’s Mike Sainristil, Missouri’s Kris Abrams-Draine and Kentucky’s Dru Phillips.

— This design features the sons of Jerry Rice and Frank Gore, a pair of 49ers legends. Wide receiver Brenden Rice has good size, strength and 4.51 speed. He thinks he’s the mix in the third through fourth rounds. Meanwhile, Frank Gore Jr. probably won’t know until a little later where his NFL career will begin. Gore’s running style is strikingly similar to that of his father, the third-ranked all-time rusher in NFL history. The young Gore is smaller than his father and has a little more lateral quickness, but not the strength between the tackles.

— The elder Rice was at Lucas Oil Stadium to babysit his son and quickly showed he’s still a perfectionist. After Brenden made a low pass along the sideline, Rice criticized his son. “He’s got to drag that back foot now,” Rice said on the NFL Network as he watched the replay.

— This isn’t a great class for running backs. It is possible that no back will be selected in the first two rounds.

– Any team that was looking for an offensive lineman in last year’s draft is probably still looking for an offensive lineman. A year ago there were few players of starting quality. This year the O-line is one of the strong points of this design. It’s the deepest run by offensive linemen in a long, long time. That could work out well for the 49ers in the first round, with the consensus being that one or more of these players will be available if they pick at No. 31 overall: Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson, Duke’s Graham Barton and Amarius Mims of Georgia.

– Also keep an eye on West Virginia offensive lineman Zach Frazier. He’s smart and tough. He could start Year 1 at guard and eventually move to center.

– Quarterbacks going 1-2-3: USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Next up is JJ McCarthy of Michigan, followed by Bo Nix of Oregon and perhaps Michael Penix of Washington to round out the first round.

– An NFL executive felt that if the 49ers get a bad feeling about the possibility of a long-term contract extension for Brandon Aiyuk, the depth and quality of the wide receiver class could tempt them to deal with him and try to cover themselves with it. or more draft choices. But the consensus seems to be that the 49ers will make it work with Aiyuk, taking full advantage of having a quarterback tied to his rookie contract for another season.

– Looking for a Deebo Samuel-like player? There’s wide receiver Malachi Corley from Western Kentucky. Standing 6 feet tall and 215 pounds, he was nicknamed “YAC King.”

– Wideout Xavier Legette (6-1, 221) also fits that bill … and he’s spent a lot of time in recent summers working out with the 49ers’ star receiver, who also attended South Carolina.

— The 49ers like receivers who are physical and willing blockers. On Day 3, Georgia’s Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint has a mentality that will certainly be attractive to coach Kyle Shanahan.

– There’s a poor man, Christian McCaffrey from the University of New Hampshire. His name is Dylan Laube. He is the best pass-catching running back in this draft. “CMC is that guy,” Laube said. “Also Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler, I base my game on them as versatile backs.”

— And then there’s the other McCaffrey: Rice wide receiver Luke McCaffrey, Christian’s brother. He is a converted quarterback who ran 0.01 seconds faster in the 40 than his better-known brother. Don’t be surprised if he goes a little earlier in the draft — late in the third or early in the fourth round, for example — than most expected as the combine approached.

– Before Brock Purdy, the thinking was that teams would swing big if they took a flier on a quarterback on Day 3. In this draft, that would be the strong-armed yet erratic Joe Milton of Tennessee. He has a huge arm and a lot of physical talent. But after Purdy, someone like program lifter Michael Pratt of Tulane is drawing more interest as a potential mid-round target.

— The best part for the media during combine week is the player interviews. It offers those who cover the sport the chance to get a sense of the person behind the song. Some news broke Friday when “WO-11” – the camp song for Marvin Harrison Jr. at Ohio State – became the only known combined invitee to opt out of the exercise. A big problem? Absolutely not. He is a great talent. And he will end up in the top five – unless of course there are more and enough teams don’t feel good about the person.

-The worst part of player interviews with the media during Combine Week are the same questions they ask on fan sites: “Have you met the (team name)?” Folks, here’s something to provide some perspective: Every team gets acquainted with each prospect that led to the design. When a prospect answers that he met informally with the 49ers (or any other team), that’s not news.

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