Zach's Draft Corner: National Championship Recap/Pre-Draft Timeline


Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

While the 49ers have been in offseason mode for a few weeks now, it's officially offseason for every college program. On January 7, the Clemson Tigers shredded the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship, winning by a score of 44-16. Here are some takeaways from the final game of the college season.

Clelin Ferrell is firmly in the conversation for the 49ers with the second overall pick

Now, I do have to qualify this. If Nick Bosa is there, he is the pick. If Nick Bosa is taken first overall, then the 49ers may try to trade back to a quarterback-needy team. If Nick Bosa is gone and the the 49ers are unable to find a suitable trade partner, they likely take their preferred edge rusher from the second tier of prospects, which includes Ferrell, Josh Allen, Brian Burns, and Jachai Polite.

Ferrell was the forgotten prospect out of this bunch, largely because he was the first player in this tier before the season started. There was fatigue and nitpicking. On the national stage, he came back.

This is Clelin Ferrell against Jonah Williams, the best tackle prospect in this year's draft class. Williams is not known for his speed, but is a stalwart presence on the left side for Alabama and one of the strongest lineman, let alone tackles, in the class. This is Ferrell using his explosiveness out of his stance, his length, and his strength to drive Jonah Williams all the way back to Tuscaloosa.

Even with the game well out of reach for Alabama, Ferrell and the Clemson defense made it a point to not allow Alabama to score. His power was on display earlier. Here, Ferrell knifes through the line and begins a backside pursuit against one of the faster quarterbacks in college football. Ferrell catches up to Tua Tagovailoa on fourth down and prevents a score, albeit a meaningless one.

People were down on Ferrell. This game likely changes things for him.

The Tide is turning

There's a new top dog in college football, and his name is Dabo. This isn't to say that Nick Saban isn't the greatest college football coach of all time. He likely is, for now. He's also 67 years old, and nobody is sure how long he'll keep coaching. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney is 49, has won two of the last three National Championships, and has a pair of true freshmen who already look like first-round locks in 2021. Media and fans alike are clamoring for teams to trade out of the next two drafts in an effort to get quarterback Trevor Lawrence in 2021. He's potentially the best quarterback prospect we've seen since Andrew Luck, and Swinney still has him for two more seasons. In the rare occasion that he throws something off-target, he has fellow true freshman Justyn Ross, a 6'4", 209-pound receiver who is as strong as he is fast. Not many college receivers can pull off this catch.

This isn't to say that Alabama won't be in the National Championship again next year. They are still a good team. They aren't Clemson, though.

The first round just got a little less Crimson-y

It has already been rumored that Mack Wilson was returning to school for his senior season, bypassing the opportunity to be a first-round lock in April. Raekwon Davis was another first-round lock for Alabama, but he decided to return to school as well. While it seemed like foregone conclusions that Quinnen Williams, Jonah Williams, and Deionte Thompson would declare, none have made it official as of January 10. Any one of these three returning to school could drastically change how the top of the draft looks in April.

Timeline

With the college football offseason beginning, I want to walk you through the major dates to be aware of between now and the NFL Draft. Many of the league-specific dates were obtained from NFL Operations.

January 14 - Deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft

Although you may not think of it, declaring for the draft is not akin to Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy. The process actually involves submitting an application for "special eligibility," which merely proves that the prospect is three years removed from graduating high school.

January 14 - First practice for East-West Shrine Game

The East-West Shrine Game is the first of three senior-only events where two "all-star" teams are created from the seniors entering the NFL draft. They go through a full week of practices with their respective teams before playing in a game at the end of the week. While the systems are basic, they are pro-style systems that enable the prospects to prove they can execute a real football system. A lot of the prospects who were in crazy college systems are given a week of practice in a system that professional teams actually use. This gives great insight as to temperaments, translatable skills, and projections into pro systems for players that may not otherwise be attainable.

Further, these games let players directly compete against those in other conferences and at other levels of competition (e.g., DII players can play against those from the SEC). If a small-school prospect was only successful because he was playing against low-level talent, this process will weed them out. Meanwhile, if they prove they can dominate the top level of college competition, it can open some eyes to prove that they belong.

Teams in the East-West Shrine Game are coached by assistants from a number of professional teams, and scouts attend practices all week. This year, Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Sam Mills III and Minnesota Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer will be the head coaches. The East-West Shrine Game has the second-most prestige of the three all-star games. More information about this game can be found here.

January 14 - First practice for NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

The second of three senior-only events, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is also the newest of the three. There are no current coaches included on coaching staffs, but there are still plenty of big names on staff. This year, head coaches of the two teams are Mike Tice and Chuck Pagano. While this game has the least prestige of the three, there can still be some big talent that comes out of the weekend, such as Tarik Cohen in 2016. More information about this game can be found here.

January 16 - Senior Bowl rosters announced

The final and most prestigious of the three "all-star" games is also the one most people recognize: the Senior Bowl. Although indications of the rosters are slowly trickling out, the full rosters will not be announced until January 16. The 49ers are coaching the South roster this year, so this will be the day we know what players will get to spend a week up close and personal with our coaching staff and scouting department. This is a huge advantage, as there is no better way to scout a player than to watch him go through practice and see his form and athleticism live in the actual drills. More information about this game can be found here.

January 17 - Last practice for East-West Shrine Game

January 17 - Last practice for NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

January 18 - List that includes all underclassmen with approved applications for special eligibility will be sent to the NFL teams

It's rare that someone's application will be denied, given the application’s commonality and the wide knowledge of the requirements. If any applications are denied, this is the day we will learn about it.

January 19 - East-West Shrine Game, 3:00 pm Eastern Time, NFL Network

January 19 - NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, 5:00 pm Eastern Time, FoxSports1

January 21 - First practice for Senior Bowl

January 24 - Last practice for Senior Bowl

January 26 - Senior Bowl, 1:30 pm Eastern Time, NFL Network

February 4 - Waiver system begins for 2019

The day after the Super Bowl, this is the date where players can be cut, some of whom may be subjected to the waiver system. The 49ers have the second spot in the waiver priority, meaning they have a good opportunity to grab a player that they really covet.

February 19 - Teams can begin placing franchise tags on players

Franchise and transition tags can have a big effect on free agency. Starting on this date, teams can begin tagging their own free agents, and teams can begin having a true idea of who might become available during the free agency period.

February 26 - NFL Combine begins (weigh-ins, bench press, etc.)

While the NFL combine technically begins on the 26th, the first few days include only weigh-ins, the bench press, and some interviews. The combine is a great tool for creating tangible numbers that scouts can compare apples-to-apples, enabling teams to derive the athleticism of various prospects under very similar conditions. While the all-star games are certainly draft focused, this is where the draft chatter will really start to pick up.

March 1 - On-field workouts begin for NFL Combine (Punters, Kickers, Long-snappers, Offensive Linemen, and Running Backs)

The on-field workouts include the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 3-cone drill, the shuttle run, and various position-specific form drills.

March 2 - On-field workouts for Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends at NFL Combine

March 3 - On-field workouts for Defensive Line and Linebackers at NFL Combine

March 4 - On-field workouts for Defensive Backs at NFL Combine

March 5 - College teams may begin holding pro days

Pro days are workouts arranged by each individual school that puts their own prospects (and potentially prospects from smaller schools in the surrounding area) in the spotlight. Prospects can choose to re-do any of the combine drills, if they prefer to do so, as well as go through other individual workouts that showcase their talents in a controlled environment. You’ll often hear about prospects having fantastic pro days, but these reports must be taken with a grain of salt. The schools have every incentive to make sure their players are drafted as high as possible, so the environments set up by the school will be conducive to the players having the best workout they possibly can.

March 5 – Teams can begin individual workouts

You’ll often hear of teams bringing in prospects “for a visit.” What this means is that the team will fly a player out to their facilities, have private interviews with the prospect, and put the prospect through their own workouts. While pro days are conducive to the players looking good, these private workouts are where teams can get valuable one-on-one time to see how a prospect might fit in the team’s environment. This includes on-field workouts, film sessions, classroom sessions, and whatever else the team wants to put the prospect through. Teams get only a limited number of visits in each class, so teams will usually use these visits on players who they are on the fence about drafting.

Individual workouts also include local pro days. Similar to the pro days put on by colleges, local pro days are workouts put on by each NFL team where they can give prospects another opportunity to run combine drills and other position-specific drills. These workouts are limited to players who went to college in the area or who went to high school in the area of the team’s headquarters. Every prospect has the ability to attend a local pro day, regardless of where they went to college. Every school is assigned an NFL team, where the team with the shortest distance to that player’s college or high school is the team assigned to that school. Not every prospect will attend these local pro days, but it is a great opportunity for small-school players who didn’t attend the combine to prove that they can work in a non-controlled environment.

March 5 - Deadline to designate franchise and transition players is 4:00 pm, Eastern Time

March 11 - Teams may begin negotiating with the agents of unrestricted free agents at midnight, Eastern Time (legal tampering period)

Known as the legal tampering period, teams can officially begin negotiating with the agents of unrestricted free agents beginning at 12:00 AM Eastern Time on March 11. This is where you will hear of deals that magically were agreed upon at 12:01 AM Eastern Time on March 11. The negotiations were just so easy! No funny business at all.

March 13 - Free Agency officially opens at 4:00 pm, Eastern Time, which is also the deadline to exercise options on players for 2019 and the time at which trades may occur that involve players

March 24 - Owners meetings begin

In addition to the owners, general managers and coaches also may attend portions of these meetings. This is where a lot of trade negotiations occur, including the groundwork for potential draft day trades in April.

March 27 - Owners meetings end

April 1 - Offseason workouts begin for teams with new head coaches

Teams with new head coaches are allowed a few extra practice sessions to install their systems and attempt to get on the same level as teams with returning head coaches.

April 15 - Offseason workouts begin for teams with returning head coaches

April 25 - NFL Draft begins, Round 1, 8:00 pm Eastern Time in Nashville, TN

April 26 - NFL Draft, Rounds 2-3, 7:00 pm Eastern Time in Nashville, TN

April 27 - NFL Draft, Rounds 4-7, 2:00 pm Eastern Time in Nashville, TN

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