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Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
49ers running back Matt Breida is a shining example of the type of player fans love to root for as a rookie. He came from a small, unheralded program as an undrafted free agent and rose to a part-time player, then to an injury replacement, and then finally to maybe the best running back on a team with Super Bowl dreams.
The reason so many people cheer for this story is because of how rare it is. If you look up and down any roster, it's full of players from power five programs, and you're bound to find multiple players from schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, or Georgia.
Most of the talent in college football is concentrated in just a few locations. Luckily for us, four of those programs will be involved in the most watched games of the season: The College Football Playoff. In preparation for the big games coming up in a couple of weeks, let's take a look at the participants who are realistic targets for the 49ers come April. Emphasis is on the word realistic. While players like Kristian Fulton, Jeffrey Okudah, or CeeDee Lamb would be great fits on this 49er team, they will all be long gone by the time the 49ers make their first selection.
Creed Humphrey, Interior Offensive Lineman, University of Oklahoma
Target: Round 1
Creed Humphrey is a name you will hear being mocked to the 49ers a lot over the next few months. Oklahoma’s offensive line was stacked last year, with four of the five going pro. Humphrey was the fifth, and as a redshirt freshman, he was outplaying them all. Humphrey is intelligent, athletic, uses leverage exceptionally well (especially on the move), and is technically sound. His lack of elite strength limits his ceiling, as it makes him scheme-specific to zone blocking. However, the key to drafting is not getting 53 players who can do it all. It’s about getting 53 players who can do their job within the scheme the coaches put in place. Humphrey can be an All-Pro talent in Shanahan’s scheme.
Shaun Wade, Cornerback, Ohio State University
Target: Round 1
Wade may not be quite as shiny as his teammate Jeffrey Okudah, but he is every bit as talented. Wade won’t tear up the combine, like other top cornerbacks may. What makes Wade special is his short-area quickness and his ability to recognize route combinations well beyond what his experience dictates he should. There may be a little bit to iron out with regards to his ability in man coverage, but he has exceeded expectations in that area this season. Combine this with a 6’1”, near 200 pound frame, and you have the makings of a great cornerback. Putting him on a team with Richard Sherman could only make him even stronger.
K'Lavon Chaisson, Defensive End, Louisiana State University
Target: Round 1
You may think it odd to have yet another first-round defensive line prospect here, but we have all seen just how important having a deep, strong defensive line rotation can be after the 49ers’ success this season. Chaisson has a skill set very similar to Dee Ford when he was a prospect. He is fast and strong, but has a bit to put together before he can be an effective NFL player on a consistent basis. With the strength the team has in that position, they can afford the risk to take their time bringing him along.
Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver, Clemson University
Target: Trade back, Round 2
Higgins has been a favorite of mine for a while. He does a lot of things well, but also has a bit of room for improvement. What makes me like Higgins is that all of his weaknesses seem to be things where other parts of his game show that he has to tools to improve. He has lapses in concentration on the easy plays, but shows his strong hands on the tougher, intermediate-to-deep passes in traffic. His athleticism is impressive with the ball in his hands, being able to run both around and through tacklers, but struggles with the technique needed to beat press coverage. He hasn’t been asked to run a full route tree, but gets separation with crisp breaks on the routes he does run. He needs some refinement, but everything physically shows that he has the capability to improve. He’s well worth a second round pick.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Running Back, Louisiana State University
Target: Trade back, Round 3/4
Shanahan has a type when it comes to running backs, and his type includes backs with speed and decisiveness. Edwards-Helaire has both, providing an explosive component to this LSU offense. He would be an easy fit in Shanahan’s offense, and can be had in a round that is probably Shanahan’s ceiling for where he would take a running back.
Robert Landers, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State University
Target: Round 5
Landers compares very favorably to Punta Ford, the Seahawk defensive tackle who has been very disruptive this season. Landers is short, thick, and lives in the opponent’s backfield. He may be lacking as a run defender, but you don’t need a complete player in the fifth round. With Arik Armstead potentially moving on, the 49ers need to replace his pass-rush ability. Landers would do that, although in a frame that looks very different than the one Armstead lives in.
Patrick Queen, Linebacker, Louisiana State University
Target: Round 6
If you haven’t heard of Queen, it’s because he hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup during most of his career at LSU. If you think of LSU defenders, especially linebackers, you think of elite athleticism and potentially raw technique. Queen doesn’t have that elite athleticism, but he can still cover sideline-to-sideline. However, there have always been linebackers who are just a bit faster, just a bit stronger, and just a bit more impressive. Just because Queen can’t beat out former top-five pick Devin White doesn’t mean he can’t contribute to an NFL roster. At worst, he is an athletic special-teamer. At best, he finally gets his chance to shine.
Luke Farrell, Tight End, Ohio State University
Target: Round 7
Luke Farrell is used mainly as a blocking specialist at Ohio State. He can leak out into space and catch the ball reliably, but he is not somebody who will be an All Pro at the position. What he can do is replace the production given by players like Levine Toilolo and Garrett Celek, the latter of which might be seeing his NFL days coming to an end with another IR stint. The 49ers may need a player to play the role of a blocking tight end, and Farrell can play that role perfectly.
Saadhiq Charles, Offensive Lineman, Louisiana State University
Target: Round 7/Undrafted
I put offensive lineman for Charles because, currently, he is a tackle. There are concerns, though, about his hand placement and length. He may not be able to stick in that role as a professional. What I do like about Charles, though, is that he has strength and athleticism. Both of these characteristics are keys for playing guard in a zone scheme. College tackles are a great source of professional guards, as many of them are too short or too slow to handle professional edge rushers. These issues aren’t as pronounced when they play guard. A flyer on a player like Charles could be exactly what the team needs to improve the interior of the offensive line.
Tanner Muse, Safety, Clemson University
Muse is this low, basically, because he is not Isaiah Simmons. Simmons is an athletic freak that can play linebacker, box safety, slot corner, free safety, pass rusher, anything. With Clemson having so much talent everywhere on the field, Muse is the final piece to place on any given play. In most cases, Muse is left to play a single-high role, where he is good. He’s not quite fast enough to cover the entire width of the field, and his instincts are just a bit lacking for processing an entire offense. What Muse does have is enough speed to win as a box safety, enough strength and tackling technique to play as a box safety, and enough coverage ability to excel as a box safety. He hasn’t put much of this on tape, so many are evaluating him as a deep safety. Muse’s best spot, though, is probably in the box, and the 49ers could benefit from seeing that.
Only one game on the slate this weekend!
Saturday, December 14
Army at Navy, 3:00 PM, CBS
Cole Christiansen, Senior Linebacker, #54
Elijah Riley, Senior Cornerback, #23
This game always means a whole lot more than the NFL draft. This game commemorates those serving in the armed forces, honoring them every step of the way. There is not much to talk about in this game. Cole Christiansen has a chance of making a career out of playing football, but that’s about it. Don’t watch this game with a scouting eye. Just watch it for pleasure.
Malcolm Perry, Senior Quarterback, #10
Similar story on this sideline. Malcolm Perry is not much of a thrower, but his athleticism might get him drafted as a running back or wide receiver. That’s about it.
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