© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The last time Kyle Shanahan coached in the Senior Bowl, he drafted two of the game’s prospects: Kirk Cousins and Alfred Morris, the duo that ultimately spearheaded Washington’s offensive attack.
This year’s Senior Bowl provides another pool of NFL prospects for the 49ers to evaluate as they accelerate their draft preparation. Shanahan and his coaching staff will coach the South squad in Saturday’s game.
As of now, the 49ers have five draft picks in the 2019 draft. They are likely to receive a compensatory pick, which Over the Cap projects will be a sixth-rounder in exchange for Aaron Lynch. The team has four selections in the first 104 picks, including at No. 2 and No. 36 overall.
There are several intriguing prospects playing in the Senior Bowl who could fill the 49ers’ roster holes, including edge rusher, receiver, inside linebacker, and free safety.
Montez Sweat, defensive end, Mississippi State
Drafting Sweat at No. 2 overall is a reach. And hoping that he drops to No. 36 overall is more of a pipe dream.
The most likely scenario in which the 49ers select Mississippi State’s star edge rusher is in a trade-down situation with a quarterback-needy team. In other drafts, Sweat may be a top-five pick, but the excess of pro-ready edge rushers in the 2019 class bumps him a bit.
But Sweat looks the part. The 6-foot-6 defensive end has 35 5/8-inch arms and a lean, muscular build. He’s explosive off the line, though his lack of flexibility has some questioning whether he can turn in elite production in the NFL. Sweat, a Michigan State transfer, amassed 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in his two seasons with Mississippi State.
Early reports from this week’s Senior Bowl practices indicate he has dominated.
Montez Sweat hesi bull ? pic.twitter.com/5TaW3ULvNx
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) January 22, 2019
Deebo Samuel, receiver, South Carolina
Samuel has been one of the most impressive performers throughout this week. He’s a fluid route runner whose release at the line of scrimmage consistently leaves defenders stumbling. Shanahan has long debunked common thinking that a red-zone receiving threat has to be a big-bodied target. Samuel is proof that isn’t always the case. He snagged 11 touchdowns in 2018. Last year, the 49ers traded up 15 picks to select Dante Pettis with the No. 44 overall pick. Samuel isn’t a spitting image of Pettis, but they both win with a deceptive change of pace.
Deebo Samuel putting on a release clinic at the senior bowl practices.. sheeesh.. shade under 6’ weighing 216… this is impressive.. great feet.. has a plan.. and he can run.. definitely understands leverage.. who’s his receiver coach? ? pic.twitter.com/eR44ym6yok
— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) January 24, 2019
Samuel proved his style works against college football’s closest semblance to an NFL defense: Clemson. Samuel piled up 10 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns in late November against the eventual national champions. Samuel, who fell victim to inconsistent quarterback play throughout his college career, could be an option for the 49ers in the second round. If he drops to the third, he would be a steal.
Nasir Adderley, free safety, Delaware
Adderley, who will play against Shanahan’s South team, is arguably the top safety prospect in the draft. The Delaware product is explosive, instinctive, and has a nose for the ball, something the 49ers majorly lacked last year. Adderley returned five interceptions for a combined 135 yards this past season. The 49ers, meanwhile, set new NFL records for fewest turnovers forced (seven) and interceptions (two) in a season. The team’s precarious outlook at free safety begs the need to add another player to the competition alongside Adrian Colbert, D.J. Reed, and Antone Exum. Signing soon-to-be free agent Earl Thomas is the home-run transaction. Drafting Adderley, who may not slip to the No. 34 slot, would be a solid consolation.
Jaylon Ferguson, LEO, Louisiana Tech
Ferguson is the NCAA’s all-time leader in sacks, with 45. He led the country with 17.5 sacks and finished second with 26 tackles for loss in 2018. He also posted 14.5 sacks his sophomore year. Ferguson, at 6-foot-4, 256 pounds, is an ideal fit at the LEO, or weakside edge, spot in San Francisco’s 4-3 defense. The 49ers collected just 11 total sacks from their LEOs, Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair, in 2018.
Lonnie Johnson Jr., cornerback, Kentucky
Johnson’s measurables fit the prototype in the 49ers’ 4-3 scheme. He’s 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, and has 32 1/4 inch arms, meeting the physical requirements for San Francisco cornerbacks. Johnson was the best player on a stingy Kentucky secondary in 2018. Shanahan has said the 49ers will bolster the cornerback room, with Richard Sherman potentially only around for one more year and Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore competing for the starting right cornerback spot in 2019. Johnson would be a quality mid-round pick.