Niners Will Look To Add Talent To Their Defense In The First Round


Feb 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh watches the workouts during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NFL Draft Scouting Combine has officially wrapped up and teams head back to their team facilities and work on finalizing their draft boards the draft picture begins to clear as talent and need are meshed together. The San Francisco 49ers possess one of the most talented rosters in NFL. They are not without holes as was evident in the Super Bowl as the lack of a consistent pass rush and coverage breakdowns in the secondary was a major factor in them falling behind early in the game. The Niners’ offense would be wise to add more weapons to make use of their stellar young quarterback as the only true receiving threats he had last season were Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. The Niners should have 15 selections in April’s NFL Draft and will likely use their abundance of picks to move around in the draft, especially in the first round as there are several potential impact defensive players that could provide production immediately.

In the first round, the Niners will most likely look to improve the talent of their defensive depth, particularly along their defensive line or in the secondary. The defensive line needs better depth behind the starting group as was witnessed when nobody was able to step up after Justin Smith’s injury late in the season. Another reason to look at potential impact defensive linemen is Smith’s age. Smith is not getting any younger and finding a player to come in and potentially fill his shoes soon is vital. The Niners will also have to fill a possible hole at the nose tackle position as both Issac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois are both free agents this offseason.

The secondary has been picked on all offseason as the position group that needs a major overhaul. Most of it is unwarranted criticism as they might not be elite, but they are a solid group that has young talent in its core. The two positions they would look to improve are the slot corner back position as Carlos Rogers had decent season, but regressed from his form the previous year and his contract would become a hindrance as the team creeps closer to the salary cap. Both safety positions could looked as there is uncertainty surrounding both starters. Dashon Goldson is a free agent and could command huge money. Donte Whitner had a rough season last year, especially in pass coverage that was magnified in the Super Bowl. That could cause the Niners to look to improve their pass coverage abilities at the safety position.

With the 31st pick in the NFL Draft, the Niners are in an ideal to position to be in range of several potential impact defensive players along the defensive line or at both secondary positions.

Nov 17, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins (52) and wide receiver Michael Thomas (83) celebrate their overtime victory over the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Johnthan Hankins, DT/NT – Ohio St.: Johnthan Hankins would be able step into the Niners’ scheme as a nose tackle. Hankins is a dominating run stopper with his size and strength. He should extraordinary quickness and agility for a player his size as he can play all over the line. He shows good burst when penetrating gaps as a pass rusher. He has the ability to anchor the point of attack and eat up blockers to free up teammates. He will not be an elite pass rusher, but he has the ability to push the pocket. Hankins has a tendency to play with a high pad level and try and rely on his upper body strength, which eliminates his leverage as opposing linemen are able to get under his pads. He struggles with his conditioning as can get worn down later in the games and his weight could potentially be a problem in his career. He could succeed in the Niners’ system as they take their nose tackles off the field in nickle and passing situations.

Datone Jones, DE – UCLA: Daton Jones has the ideal frame and body to 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. He uses great leverage to utilize his strength, which combines with his long arms to keep the opposing blockers from getting into his pads. He shows good pass rushing technique as he possesses a variety of pass rush moves and is strong enough to use a bull rush. He has great awareness and is able to consistently locate the ball carrier. Due to his size he can play little high that negates his leverage advantage. He will also struggle rushing off the edge as he does not have bend and agility to consistently come around the corner. He under achieved as an underclassman, but broke out in his senior season, which leads scouts to believe he is just now tapping into his potential.

Jan 26, 2013; Mobile, AL, USA; Senior Bowl north squad defensive back Desmond Trufant of Washington (6) prior to kickoff of a game against the Senior Bowl south squad at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant, CB – Washington: Desmon Trufant is the brother of NFL players Marcus and Isiah, both are cornerbacks with the Seahawks and Jaguars respectively. Trufant is an exceptional athlete. He has great foot speed and agility, which he pairs with fluid hip. He possesses good ball skills and is not afraid to go up and fight for the ball in the air. He also shows the willingness to step up in stopping the run and will not shy away from contact. He has a tendency to throw himself at runners and use poor technique. His technique can breakdown while in coverage and he will try to rely on his natural athleticism. He struggles in press coverage as he only has average strength and open his hips too early giving receivers the leverage advantage. Trufant is extremely athletic and if a team can clean up his technique his has the ability to be an impact player on the corner.

Xavier Rhodes, CB – Florida St.: Xavier Rhodes has the body and physical tools to be a prototypical press corner. He has great size and has a solid frame to go with his strength. Rhodes is able to consistently get good contact and leverage when pressing opposing receivers. He is fluid in his hips despite his size and can cover in space. He is punishing tackler and can step up in the run game. Rhodes has a tendency to struggle in off coverage in a zone scheme. He will bite on fakes and misdirection. He can be too physical at times and take too many penalties. He also does not have experience playing the slot and will likely have to play exclusively on the outside. Rhodes has the potential to be a solid, physical corner in the mold of a Brandon Browner or Richard Sherman.

John Cyprien, S – Florida International: Cyprien looks to be a great safety when playing in the box. He has a great frame, but lacks ideal length for the position. He is a great tackler and has the ability to fight off blocks to make plays on a ball carrier. He posses decent speed and footwork to succeed in coverage on the back end, but lacks the athleticism and range to play in a center field type role. He can be over aggressive in coverage and can be faked out with play action. Cyprien will profile as a hard hitting in the box safety, but will have enough ability to not be a total liability in coverage.

November 17, 2012; Gainesville FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Matt Elam (22) rushes during the second quarter against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Elam, S – Florida:Matt Elam is an explosive athlete at the safety position. He

flashes the ability to be a hybrid safety that can play as a deep safety or in the box. He shows good burst and acceleration. He was often used to cover slot receivers in college and was successful at that level. Elam has the ability to succeed in the box as he can be a reliable and punishing tackler. He shows the ability to make the highlight hit. Elam lacks the preferred size for the position as he is under six feet and will lose out on 50-50 balls to bigger receivers. He can be over aggressive as a tackler and play himself out of the play. He shows that he is a bit stiff in the hips and struggles covering in space. Many people compare Elam to Donte Whitner coming out of college, but Elam has better coverage ability.

The Niners could be in a good position after the Alex Smith trade as they have the second pick in the second round, which will let them jump on the position they do not select in the first. This allows them to be open to selecting the best player available. The player they should jump on if he is there is Desmond Trufant. Trufant would be able to step into Carlos Rogers’s role as the slot corner and has the potential to push for one of the starting corner positions soon. It would give the Niners three solid cornerbacks as teams like to force the Niners into their nickel package often.