Zach's Draft Corner: Top Draft Targets for 49ers/What to Watch
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
Now that the 49ers got Bosa over the past two weeks… Bosa deeeeeeeeez wins (sorry, I can't do this much longer, so I need to take advantage of it while I can), there's a lot more uncertainty as to who they will take at the top of the draft
There are three positions that are widely seen as the biggest needs for the 49ers: cornerback, wide receiver, and a pass-rushing defensive end. There are two other positions where the 49ers could certainly use some help, which are linebacker and safety, though those needs are not quite as drastic and may potentially be addressed in free agency. Now that we fans have to move on from our Nick Bosa dream, it’s a good time to take a look at the other prospects that have a chance to go in the top ten picks and fit the 49ers’ needs. Here are the prospects that you should get to know intimately, as there is a great chance that one of these players will be a 49er come April.
Greedy Williams - Cornerback, Louisiana State University
Williams is a member of my all-name team, and was seen as the number-one corner for most of the season. Some scouts are worried that Williams didn't seem to improve over the course of the season, but many teams simply avoided throwing his direction. He has the prototypical size (6'1", 182 pounds) and speed required to play the position. He’s also very strong in his press and man cover techniques, though he can be a little slow to process route combinations in zone coverage. This makes him, from a skill standpoint, a great fit for the defense Shanahan wants to put on the field.
However, his mentality may be an issue. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have made it a point to draft high motor players, and have called out players who don't play the way they want. Williams does not attack in run support, and has shown poor effort to catch up to a play if it gets behind him. This wouldn’t be an issue if Williams was the clear CB1, as the 49ers would likely have their shot at whatever cornerback they want.
Byron Murphy - Cornerback, University of Washington
Murphy has gained a lot of ground on Williams, and some now see him as a CB1. He’s not quite as big as Williams, but still has adequate size at 6'0" and 175 pounds. He also doesn’t have the length to press bigger receivers at the line, but has the strength and technique to be successful in press techniques if he gets into the receiver. He excels in both man and zone coverage, partially due to his elite intelligence when processing plays.
Murphy also has an incredible motor. As much as Williams may turn coaches off, this will be a player that appeals to John Lynch and Robert Saleh with the “all gas no brakes” mentality. Murphy also has good ball skills when attacking the catch point. Williams is the big name because he was a known commodity coming into this season. Murphy may have outplayed him, though, and has the translatable skills and mindset that drive successful, modern cornerbacks.
D.K. Metcalf - Wide Receiver, Ole Miss
Metcalf is definitely the top receiver in this class, and his stock will only rise after the combine when his neck injury can be cleared by NFL teams and scouts. He has the full wish list of size (6'3", 225 pounds), speed, and hands, and he may be the only receiver in the class that can truly say he has all three.
Metcalf also showed the ability to get in and out of his breaks cleanly and quickly despite his limited route tree. He has the ability to be a game-changing wide receiver, and would be a consensus top ten pick if his neck injury checks out. While there are certainly bigger needs on the roster, Shanahan might not be able to pass on a potential elite receiver for his offense.
Josh Allen - Defensive End, University of Kentucky
The 6'4", 258-pound Josh Allen's game can be reduced to a single word: speed. He has the ability to explode off the snap, run past the tackle, bend to turn the corner, and get to the quarterback. Watch the highlight video and you will see this with consistency. The issue is that he gets to the quarterback only with this speed and does not have the counters, at this point, to consistently win and generate pressure at the NFL level.
Watch his Florida tape, and you will see that he is very slow to change directions in his counter moves. The tackle would kick back in an attempt to cut off his speed rush, and then could easily react to him trying to change directions and crash forward, taking him out of the play. Allen is also not much of a run defender, though that may not be an issue with the bevy of run defenders the 49ers currently have along the defensive line.
Ultimately, I liken Josh Allen to Desean Jackson. On highlight tapes, he's going to make plays that wow you. But since he has only a single weapon, he will disappear on every other play. If you take Allen, you need to either hope that he is so fast that he can consistently get around NFL-level tackles, or that your coaching staff can develop him into more than just a pure speed rusher. Otherwise, Allen has a high bust potential.
Clelin Ferrell - Defensive End, Clemson University
Ferrell is my personal favorite of the non-Bosa edge rushers. At 6'5" and 260 pounds, Ferrell shows enough in run defense that he won't be a liability as a three-down defender. More importantly, he still has an explosive first step out of his stance and is a good speed rusher. The difference between Ferrell and Allen is that Ferrell couples that speed with strength and counter moves that are just as effective as his bend around the outside, showing the quickness and athleticism to consistently generate pressure.
Clemson's defensive line was elite across the board this season. Their schedule was also a mess, meaning he played with a lot of leads and had reduced snap counts because of it. However, if you look at the full game tapes, he consistently generates pressure with a variety of moves, and that type of variation translates to the NFL.
Brian Burns - Defensive End, Florida State University
Burns is very similar to Josh Allen. At 6'5" and 231 pounds, Burns is a very long rusher. He might be a tick slower than Allen, but he makes up for that with well-developed counter moves. Burns also shows good explosiveness and flexibility, both of which are very important to modern pass rushers.
Strength is an issue, even moreso than it is for Allen. Burns has difficulty getting off of blocks if the lineman can get into his body, and his run defense is predicated more on squeezing through the gaps rather than beating a block and closing the hole. While this could lead to tackles for loss, it also leads to a loss of gap integrity and big runs when he misses. Burns has a higher floor than Josh Allen because he has already developed counters to his speed rush, but likely has a lower ceiling due to his slightly worse athleticism.
Montez Sweat - Defensive End, Mississippi State University
The 6'5", 241-pound Sweat is would probably have the same overall rating as Burns in Madden, but your preference between the two will be the traits you value. Sweat has the strength that Burns lacks, incorporating power moves into his pass rushes in addition to his explosiveness off the line. However, Sweat does not have the same flexibility as Burns and is unlikely to get around the corner if the tackle is able to get hands on him. Burns likely holds the edge as a pure pass rusher, though Sweat is a more complete defender and the better choice if you need to rebuild the entire defensive line.
Jachai Polite - Defensive End, University of Florida
The 6'2", 260-pound Polite is another player that jumps out when watching highlights because his top-end plays are awe inspiring. The issue with Polite is consistency. Polite seems dominant with his first step explosiveness, speed, and ability to counter, even when the lineman is engaged with him. However, on a snap-by-snap basis, he seems to disappear more than most other edge defenders. If coaches can pull something out of him to get the peak Polite on a routine basis, he could end up being the best of the bunch.
It's not an effort issue, though. It seems like the moves just simply don't work sometimes, which may be related to slight technique issues that I haven't caught on tape. He's a befuddling prospect, but some coach is bound to think they can get the most out of him and draft him just as high as the other defensive ends in this second tier of pass rushers. If he can get that consistency, Polite has a good chance of becoming a star. If not, he’s simply Dante Fowler, Jr., who is still a good player, but not a cornerstone.
Mack Wilson - Linebacker, University of Alabama
Wilson has the chance to be Reuben Foster without the injury and character concerns. He has incredible range, is very effective in coverage, and is extremely physical. His aggression (on the field) can get him in trouble, as he tends to overpursue while attacking in space, and can also go for the big hit over the sure tackle a little too often.
At 6'0" and 230 pounds, he is a little on the small size, but fits the mold of most modern weak-side linebackers. However, the 49ers may not be willing to spend a high pick on a linebacker, given their other needs, and it shouldn't be the preferred route of filling the void left by Foster. Linebackers are almost like running backs, where effective players can be found in later rounds (see: Warner, Fred). Further, Wilson has recently indicated he might return for his senior season at Alabama, so Wilson may be a moot point.
Deionte Thompson - Safety, University of Alabama
It seems like a forgone conclusion in some circles that Earl Thomas is already wearing scarlet and gold in 2019. There is a real chance that he would rather sign closer to his home, like in Dallas or Kansas City, who both will also be pursuing his services hard this spring. If that's the case, given how the 49ers have consistently been beaten by big plays this season, even when Adrian Colbert was healthy, then drafting a safety would be a smart idea.
Taking out perceived positional value, Deionte Thompson may be the best football player of those discussed in this week’s primer. At 6'2" and 195 pounds, he has the body, strength, and physicality of a strong safety, but with the coverage skills and range of a single-high safety. If he were to take over at the free safety position, it's very likely that the position would be solidified for the next decade. Unlike the defensive end class, the safety class, as far as single-high candidates go, is extremely thin. Thompson may be the best single-high prospect in years. If the 49ers aren’t able to land Earl Thomas, Thompson has to at least warrant consideration.
It’s everyone’s favorite way to proceed in the draft. Let’s just trade down, get more picks, and still take potential All-Pro players later in the draft. Simple, right? The issue is that you need a willing trade partner, and they have to be willing to give you the picks you desire. Here is a set of realistic trades completed using Rich Hill's draft value chart that examines actual trades made over the past five years and the actual current picks owned by the teams if the same number of compensatory picks existed in each round.
Green Bay Packers
Proposed Trade - 4th overall and 69th overall (1st and 3rd) for 11th overall, 32nd overall, and 111th overall (1st, 1st, and 4th)
562 points outgoing, 570 points incoming
The Packers have a gigantic hole at the defensive end position, and are one of only two teams with multiple first round picks in next year’s draft. The number 11 pick is still a high enough pick that the 49ers could grab one of the players I listed above, while also giving them an additional first round pick to work with for additional trades or a high-end talent of their one.
New York Giants
Proposed Trade - 4th overall and 69th overall (1st and 3rd) for 9th overall, 40th overall, and 106th overall (1st, 2nd, and 4th)
562 points outgoing, 568 points incoming
The Giants are a team in desperate need for a quarterback. The 49ers may be in prime position to take advantage of the limited talent at that position in next year’s draft. However, the best possible return, based on the points, is as good as one would hope. This could potentially be driven higher if the 49ers are able to auction the pick against teams bidding for the spot, but based on the points, this is the likely return.
Proposed Trade - 4th overall (1st) for 5th overall and 105th overall (1st and 4th)
491 points outgoing, 500 points incoming
The Jaguars are the other team in the top ten needing a quarterback. GM John Lynch has already shown that he’ll trade back one spot for a team wanting a quarterback, but moving back from the fourth pick would seemingly bring in quite a bit less than what Lynch got from the Bears in 2017. This deal would still give the 49ers a 4th round pick, which they do not currently have.
Proposed Trade - 4th overall (1st) for 13th overall, 44th overall, and 113th overall (1st, 2nd, and 4th)
491 points outgoing, 498 points incoming
Let’s assume the worst case scenario if the 49ers make this trade. Mack Wilson returns to school, leaving nine players on the list above. Nick Bosa will be off the board, as well as Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, and Jonah Williams. That means that, even if every other pick was from the list above, the 49ers could still land one of the names on the above list, although they may not have their choice. Denver is another team looking for answers at quarterback, and may be the most likely to overbid given how far down the 49ers would be moving.
Proposed Trade - 4th overall (1st) for 25th overall, 27th overall, 101st overall, and 139th overall (1st, 1st, 4th, and 5th)
491 points outgoing, 496 points incoming
The amount of picks the 49ers could get here is enticing, but the 49ers need blue chip talent. That likely won’t be available at 25th overall. Presumably, one of those first round picks could turn into one or two future first round picks, but this would do little to help the team this year.
Nick Bosa - Defensive End, Ohio State University
Alright, stick with me here. We all know Bosa is the top guy. In that video alone, in the first minute, you see Bosa chasing down a quarterback rolling out, using his bend and flexibility to get around the edge, and using his strength to knock an Oklahoma offensive tackle on his backside before sacking Baker Mayfield. He may be a pipe dream at this point, but are the 49ers actually out of contention?
Let’s assume nobody in the top of the draft wins this season. Bosa is a dominant edge rusher, but so is Chandler Jones. That may mean the Cardinals snag Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, or Jonah Williams. The [insert their 2019 city here] Raiders may not be sold on Derek Carr, so they take Justin Herbert or Dwayne Haskins.
That pushes Bosa down to 3. The Jets’ current strength of schedule, taking into account the teams they have yet to play, is .502. The 49ers’ current strength of schedule is .504. Their common opponents are the NFC North teams and the Denver Broncos. The Jets have the AFC East, the AFC South, and Cleveland. The 49ers have the NFC West, the New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, San Diego, and Oakland. With that many different opponents and such a close strength of schedule, this could easily change to the 49ers getting the third pick. Since they are in different conferences, the strength of schedule is the only tiebreaker, so it would be a coin flip if the strength of schedules tied.
If the 49ers pick at No. 3, Bosa is still there for the taking. If the 49ers pick at No. 4, the Jets could still easily snag one of the three prospects not taken by the Cardinals. Left tackle is a huge need for New York, and defensive tackle could also be a big need if the Jets decide Leonard Williams is not part of their future. This means Bosa falls to No. 4!
Okay, so this is not likely to happen, but you never know how teams will feel about players once the process starts. So I’m saying there’s a chance.
If there is a way to trade down a few picks, such as with Jacksonville or the Giants, take it. In general, having more picks is better, and if the 49ers can gain picks without moving too far back, they should do it. They also need high-end talent, so they can’t move down too far.
There are multiple options at most positions, in both free agency and the draft. A lot will be dictated by who the 49ers are able to snag in free agency to fill various holes on the roster. If Earl Thomas does not sign with San Francisco, I think Deionte Thompson is the best pick in the big picture of the draft, as edge rushers in the early second and third round (such as Oshane Ximines, Anthony Nelson, Chase Winovich, and Jaylon Ferguson) will be available and still be upgrades to what the 49ers currently have. There are also more options in free agency at defensive end.
If the 49ers do get Earl Thomas, or if it’s determined that pass rusher is absolutely the way to go with the pick, my preferred pass rusher is Clelin Ferrell. I would still be very happy with this pick, as Ferrell is a player you can build a defense around.
It’s bowl season! Now that the games are more limited, in the TV Guide section of my column, I will walk you through each of the bowl games and outline the various prospects you can watch in those games. That way, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and hit the “Previous Channel” button on your remote to toggle between games chock full of pro prospects. Here is your guide for week two of the bowl season (all times Eastern, Playoff rankings in parentheses).
Friday, December 21
Florida International University vs. University of Toledo, Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas - 12:30 PM, ESPN
FIU doesn’t have anyone worth watching. Toledo does have some names to know on offense, with Brock Ruble (senior tackle, #71), Diontae Johnson (junior wide receiver, #3), and Cody Thompson (senior wide receiver, #25) hoping to use this national platform to springboard into day three consideration.
Western Michigan University vs. Brigham Young University, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, ID - 4:00 PM, ESPN
Western Michigan only has Justin Tranquill (junior cornerback, #2) as a potential NFL prospect this year. BYU has some talent, but they are banked up this season. Corbin Kaufusi (senior defensive end, #90), a monstrous 6'9", 285-pound edge rusher, is out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. The surprise of BYU’s season is a member of my all-name team, Squally Canada (senior running back, #22), who has been punishing opposing defenses all season, but has also suffered from injuries towards the latter part of the season. Sione Takitaki (senior outside linebacker, #6) and Khyiris Tonga (redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, #95) finish up a very strong BYU defensive front. Zayne Anderson (senior linebacker, #23) takes over the “flash” linebacker role previously filled by Fred Warner, and is admirably taking his place. Tanner Mangum (senior quarterback, #12) leads the Cougars on offense, throwing to Matt Bushman (redshirt sophomore tight end, #89) when Austin Hoyt (senior tackle, #71) and Ului Lapuaho (senior tackle, #73) give him a clean pocket. Lapuaho in particular is getting some increased buzz after a strong senior season.
Saturday, December 22
University of Memphis vs. Wake Forest University, Jared Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, AL - 12:00 PM, ESPN
Memphis lost quite a bit of talent last year, and lost more with Darrell Henderson (junior running back, #8), their most explosive offensive weapon, declaring for the draft and skipping this game. Trevon Tate (senior tackle, #72) and Drew Kyser (senior center, #54) heads the offensive line, while Curtis Akins (senior outside linebacker, #7) is intriguing on the defense.
Matt Colburn II (senior running back, #22) has quietly had a strong season, and could be a late round steal for a team looking for a do-it-all type back. Justin Herron (senior tackle, #75), Phil Haynes (senior guard, #74), Essang Bassey (junior cornerback, #21), Cameron Glenn (senior safety, #2), and Ryan Anderson (senior tackle, #70) all have late-round potential, but are all more likely to go undrafted.
University of Houston vs. Army, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX - 3:30 PM, ESPN
As expected, Ed Oliver (junior defensive tackle, #10) is skipping this game, but there is still plenty of talent to check out. Isaiah Johnson (senior cornerback, #14) transitioned from wide receiver, and is a tall (6’3”), physical cornerback that benefitted from the disruptive presence that is Oliver. Will Noble (senior guard, #69) and Austin Robinson (senior linebacker, #22) will fight for training camp spots.
University of Buffalo vs. Troy University, Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL - 7:00 PM, ESPN
The Buffalo system isn't varied enough for Anthony Johnson (senior wide receiver, #83) to show much versatility on tape, leaving him as a high-ceiling prospect that could be a steal in the middle rounds. Tyree Jackson (junior quarterback, #3) is the gigantic, big-armed quarterback hoping to be the next Josh Allen. Johnson is extremely talented and Jackson has shown nothing worse than what Allen put on tape, and in a year when quarterback prospects are scarce, someone could easily talk him up to an E.J. Manuel-esque rise up their draft board. On defense, Khalil Hodge (senior linebacker, #4) has the sideline-to-sideline ability to be the leader of an NFL defense someday.
For Troy, while their play style is exciting, Blace Brown (senior cornerback, #18) is really the only professional prospect on the team.
Louisiana Tech University vs. University of Hawai'i, SoFi Hawai'I Bowl in Honolulu, HI - 10:30 PM, ESPN
Tired of your family? Happy that they are finally heading to bed? Then crack open another late night beverage and watch this game. Louisiana Tech has the nation’s leader in sacks with Jaylon Ferguson (senior defensive end, #45). My small school sleeper before the season began, very few people are sleeping on Ferguson at this point. He might be had in the second round, but a strong performance against the Rainbow Warrior on the national stage could propel him into the tail end of the first round. Meanwhile, a personal favorite of mine, Jahlani Tavai (senior linebacker, #31), will look to showcase his talents in a draft sparse in linebacker talent. This game is worth staying up for.
Wednesday, December 26
Boston College vs. Boise State University, SERVPRO First Responder Bowl in Dallas, TX - 1:30 PM, ESPN
A.J. Dillon (sophomore running back, #2) is easily the stud of this BC team. 49er fans should be very interested in this game, as the top-three draftable prospects for the Eagles are Zach Allen (senior defensive end, #2), Lukas Denis (senior free safety, #21), and Chris Lindstrom (senior guard, #4), who are all fits for the 49er system at positions of need and may grade out as Day 2 options. Will Harris (senior strong safety, #8), Connor Strachan (senior linebacker, #13), Wyatt Ray (senior defensive end, #11), Ray Smith (senior defensive tackle, #96), and Taj-Amir Torres (senior defensive back, #24) should all see training camps next year from this BC defense, with Ray having the best chance of the bunch to get drafted. Tommy Sweeney (senior tight end, #89) is a blocking specialist at tight end, but can do enough as a receiver that he will get drafted somewhere as a second tight end. Jon Baker (senior center, #77), Aaron Monteiro (senior tackle, #67), Michael Walker (senior wide receiver, #3), Jeff Smith (senior wide receiver, #6), and Sam Schmal (senior tackle, #73) are late-round prospects that could go undrafted, but will have at least a cup of coffee in the NFL.
Boise State had a rough few weeks earlier in the season, but Brett Rypien (senior quarterback, #4) has put the Broncos back on track. Alexander Mattison (junior running back, #22) and Ezra Cleveland (redshirt sophomore tackle, #76) will look to control the ground game for Boise State. David Moa (junior defensive end, #55) suffered a season ending calf injury, but Jabril Frazier (senior defensive end, #8), Tyler Horton (senior cornerback, #14), and Curtis Weaver (redshirt sophomore outside linebacker, #9) all have potential on defense, even though the true calling card of this Boise State team is their gunslinger behind center.
University of Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech University, Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, MI - 5:15 PM, ESPN
This game is the epitome of why I love bowl season. The Golden Gophers of Minnesota have some interesting names to watch, but their team as a whole just doesn’t have the amount of talent to warrant putting them in the regular season TV Guides. During bowl season, they are the only show in the nation, and all eyes will be on players like Tyler Johnson (junior wide receiver, #6) and Rodney Smith (senior running back, #1), who both have the talent to be good professional players but have garnered very little buzz thus far. Donnell Greene (senior tackle, #73) and Jared Weyler (senior tackle, #62) are good undrafted free agent candidates on the offensive line, with Carter Coughlin (junior defensive end, #45) leading Minnesota’s defense.
KirVonte Benson (junior running back, #30) had extremely high hopes for a strong junior season, but is out for the season with a knee injury. He is the only member of the offense with hopes of being drafted, as the Yellow Jacket squad really doesn’t have much draftable talent. A.J. Gray (senior safety, #5) hoped to get drafted, but a heart condition in the preseason forced a very early retirement for the promising defensive back.
University of California vs. Texas Christian University, Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix, AZ - 9:00 PM, ESPN
Cal has had some of the best wins and some of the worst losses in the Pac-12 this season. With one more chance, the Golden Bears are hoping to prove they are for real. Jordan Kunaszyk (senior linebacker, #59) and Evan Weaver (junior linebacker, #89) have been very strong in run support, with Jaylinn Hawkins (junior safety, #6) and Ashtyn Davis (junior safety, #27) sealing the back end of the defense and creating turnovers in excess. Addison Ooms (senior interior offensive lineman, #57) is as reliable as they come on offense, and Cal’s best playmaker Vic Wharton III (senior wide receiver, #17) will look to start producing at a level commensurate to his talent. Patrick Laird (senior running back, #28) has also stepped up to give Cal a decently balanced offensive attack. When Cal can’t move the ball, Steven Coutts (senior punter, #37) will step in and try to pin the TCU offense back deep in their own territory to give Cal’s defense plenty of room to operate.
TCU plays in the Big 12, but they certainly do not seem like they belong there. Rather than relying on a spread out, high octane offense, TCU is led by the best defense in the conference. Ben Banogu (senior defensive end, #15) and Ty Summers (senior linebacker, #42) form the backbone of a dominating front seven for the Horned Frogs. Ross Blacklock (redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, #90) gave the Horned Frog front seven even more strength, but an Achilles injury ended his season early. Lucas Niang (junior tackle, #77) and Darius Anderson (junior running back, #6) are the top prospects on offense now that the speedy KaVontae Turpin (senior wide receiver, #25) was dismissed from the program following his arrest for assaulting a woman.
Thursday, December 27
Temple University vs. Duke University, Walk-On's Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA - 1:30 PM, ESPN
If you have next week off, there will be a lot of football to watch. Temple’s Fightin’ Jullian Taylors might not have their namesake anymore now that he is playing in Santa Clara, but they still have some talent. Delvon Randall (senior safety, #2) and Rock Ya-Sin (senior cornerback, #29) have both been climbing up draft boards on defense, with Ryquell Armstead (senior running back, #7) and Ventell Bryant (senior wide receiver, #19) proving to be decent prospects on offense.
The quarterback position is pretty limited in this draft class, but Duke’s Daniel Jones (junior quarterback, #17) is starting to open some eyes. While he’s only a junior, given the limited talent in this year’s class and the importance of the quarterback position, he could be working his way into the QB1 conversation. That means, even if he gets only a second- or third-round grade, he could see himself as a top-five pick in 2019, especially if Justin Herbert and/or Dwayne Haskins return to school. Daniel Helm (senior tight end, #80) is having a strong season as both a pass catcher and a blocker for the Blue Devils, while Joe Giles-Harris (junior linebacker, #44) and Ben Humphreys (senior linebacker, #34) lead the defense. Mark Gilbert (junior cornerback, #28) was a name to watch in the preseason, but a season-ending hip injury likely ensures his return to school next season.
University of Miami vs. University of Wisconsin, New Era Pinstripe Bowl in New York, NY - 5:15 PM, ESPN
Miami opened the season with a tough loss to LSU, but rolled over opponents for weeks until an upset loss to Virginia. Miami has always had a reputation for being talented but undisciplined, and this year seems to reinforce that stereotype. Miami has perhaps the most talented overall defense in the ACC outside of Clemson, and will rely on that to be successful. Led by Joe Jackson (junior defensive end, #99), Jaquan Johnson (senior safety, #4), Shaquille Quarterman (junior linebacker, #55), Michael Pinckney (junior linebacker, #56), and Michael Jackson (senior cornerback, #28), this defense will give the Badgers a tough game. Gerald Willis III (senior defensive lineman, #9) has been a huge surprise for the Hurricanes, and has moved all of the way up to the mid-second round in the eyes of some scouts with his strong play. Michael Pinckney (junior linebacker, #56), Sheldrick Redwine (senior safety, #22), and Tito Odenigbo (senior defensive tackle, #94) both could garner late round grades with strong finishes to their 2018 campaigns. On offense, Travis Homer (junior running back, #24) is an explosive playmaker, and Tyree St. Louis (senior tackle, #78) is working his way up the offensive tackle rankings with his consistent and strong play. Malik Rosier (senior quarterback, #12) was benched in favor of true freshman N’Kosi Perry, all but ending his hopes of turning into a professional quarterback prospect.
Wisconsin is certainly disappointed with their season, falling three wins short of their Vegas projections. Wisconsin’s elite offensive line (every one of them is a prospect, so just watch and enjoy) will face off with the talented Miami defense described above, but should have the upper hand. If they are able to open holes for Jonathan Taylor (sophomore running back, #23) and provide a clean pocket for Alex Hornibrook (junior quarterback, #12) to throw to an overall underwhelming group of targets, then Wisconsin may have a chance to pull off the victory. Regardless, Wisconsin’s defense will have to step up, but they have plenty of talent to do so with T.J. Edwards (senior linebacker, #53), Andrew Van Ginkel (senior linebacker, #17), Olive Sagapolu (senior nose tackle, #99), D'Cota Dixon (junior safety, #14), and Ryan Connelly (senior linebacker, #43).
Baylor University vs. Vanderbilt University, Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl in Houston, TX - 9:00 PM, ESPN
This will be a truly fun matchup of differing play styles. Baylor and their wide open, fast-paced style of play has turned Denzel Mims (junior wide receiver, #15) and Jalen Hurd (senior wide receiver, #84) into top prospects on the outside. Ira Lewis (senior defensive tackle, #9) is an undrafted-level player, but Baylor isn’t known for their defensive prowess.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is a very classic football team. Jared Pinkney (junior tight end, #80) is a well-rounded tight end prospect. Kyle Shurmur (senior quarterback, #14), son of current New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, is the signal caller, but is more likely to be on a practice squad than an active roster next season. LaDarius Wiley (senior safety, #5) and Charles Wright (senior defensive end, #11) lead the sturdy Commodore defense.
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