If quarterback is the most important position on a football team, the next essential piece would be someone to get to the opponent’s quarterback.
Day Four of the NFL Scouting Combine gave NFL teams a look at just that, as defensive line and linebacking prospects took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday morning.
The 49ers depth chart looks bleak in terms of outside pass rushers headed into 2017.
Lucky for San Francisco, this position group is oozing with talent at this year’s combine.
Myles Garrett (DE), Texas A&M: Anticipated by many to be the no. 1 overall choice this year, Garrett did not fail to perform on Sunday. The A&M star did everything and then some to reinforce the notion he is the best pass rusher in the draft this year.
A 4.64 40-yard dash, 10-foot-8 broad jump, and a 41-inch vertical was the best combination of the three measuring tools of his position group.
Garrett, who recorded 31 total sacks in his three seasons at A&M, clearly set himself apart from the rest of the pack, as analysts including Matt Miller compared him to some of the greats in today’s game:
Myles Garrett >
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 5, 2017
Garrett is expected to be chosen no. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns, though recent reports have surfaced that the Browns may take QB Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina. If they do, the 49ers may be able to come away with the steal of the draft at No. 2.
Jonathan Allen (DT) Alabama: Coming out of the famous Saban system at Alabama, Allen is considered the highest-rated interior pass rusher in this year’s draft class. The 6-foot-2 defensive lineman is also the No. 2 rated prospect in this year’s draft as a whole.
Running a 5.00 40-yard dash time, Allen is speedy for a player weighing in at 286 pounds. Allen’s strength is a strong asset that could potentially give him an advantage over slower offensive linemen.
The 49ers already have two solid interior linemen in Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, but it may be smart for San Francisco to take Allen at the No. 2 spot if Myles Garrett is already off of the board.
Jordan Willis (DE) Kansas State: Wills, while not listed as a top 5 defensive end, performed well on Sunday. Coming out of Kansas State as a senior, Willis looks to have the experience to be plugged in as a serviceable outside pass rusher at the pro level.
Posting a 39-inch vertical, behind only Garrett, Willis could be a valuable asset to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. In addition, his 4.57 40-yard dash shows his capability to come with speed off of the edge.
CBS Sports has Willis ranked as the tenth best defensive end in this year’s draft and could be a nice addition if the 49ers choose him with their third-round pick.
After losing All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis to retirement before the 2015 season, the 49ers have been stumped at trying to find an adequate replacement at inside linebacker.
In addition, injuries to fellow all-pro linebacker Navorro Bowman, this is yet another position group that needs attention.
T.J. Watt (LB) Wisconsin: Sibling of three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt, T.J. Watt has shown skills resembling his older brother.
The 6-foot-5 linebacker weighs in at 252 pounds, but the most impressive aspect of his game may be his speed. Clocking in at 4.69 for the 40-yard dash, Watt can move for a man of his stature.
Watt may be a bit too big to play at ILB, so converting him to a defensive end or even weak side linebacker could be an option for the 49ers if Watt falls to the early third round.
Anthony Walker Jr. (LB) Northwestern: As a redshirt junior, Walker enters the 2017 draft as the sixth-ranked linebacker by Mel Kiper per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.
Finishing fourth nationally for tackles for loss in 2015 with 20.5, Walker placed in the middle of the pack Sunday in most measurables. He ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and leaped for a 30.5-inch vertical. This may not jump out on paper, but it confirms Walker as a legitimate option at linebacker in the late third to early fourth round.
If the 49ers take Walker with one of their fourth round picks (Nos. 109 and 143), or even trade up to the late third round, Walker would be a welcome addition to a San Francisco team that is thin at ILB.
Kendell Beckwith (LB) LSU: In years past, former 49ers general manager Trent Balke picked “project” players, typically recovering from ACL surgeries.
This year, Beckwith enters the draft with this same injury. Reports say Beckwith has recovered well from the reconstructive surgery he underwent in November of 2016.
Due to the injury, Beckwith could be a solid pick in the late fourth or early fifth round, a pick the 49ers could potentially consider gambling on.
Monday is the last day of the combine as defensive backs take center stage. Once again, the 49ers will be paying close attention to this position group in hopes to add youth to their cornerback depth charts.