NFL Draft

Latest 49ers NFL draft buzz, chatter from scouting combine

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Free agency is up first, but the NFL Scouting Combine last week signaled that draft season is here and not going away for a while.

The 2024 NFL Draft is scheduled for Thursday, April 25, through Saturday, April 27, in Detroit, so be prepared for plenty of draft talk and speculation over the next seven weeks.

The college all-star games were overshadowed, of course, by the NFL playoffs in January. So, the combine annually is the first event on the calendar in which everybody in the football world is watching and talking about the draft prospects.

Here are some of the conversations overheard in Indianapolis, which has hosted the event for the past 37 years:

— This draft is loaded at the top with offensive talent. There might not be a defensive player selected inside the top 10. The defender most expected to break the run of offensive players: Alabama edge Dallas Turner.

— The way this draft looks for cornerbacks, wide receivers and defensive linemen should be a sweet spot for the 49ers, who have two picks in both the third and fourth rounds.

— This is a good year for cornerbacks, but there might not be anyone at the same top level as a year ago. Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez were universally thought to be the top two. Seattle took Witherspoon at No. 5 overall. Then, Washington selected Emmanuel Forbes at 16, one spot ahead of Gonzalez (New England).

— There should be a cornerback run, beginning in the middle of the first round. Approximately a half-dozen corners could be selected from, say, 15 to 30. Then, there could be another run on corners and potential nickel backs at the end of Day 2 and the beginning of Day 3.

— New 49ers defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen will have a huge influence on the team’s plan at nickel back, the position he coached the past two seasons. Three to keep in mind for the mid-rounds: Michigan’s Mike Sainristil, Missouri’s Kris Abrams-Draine and Kentucky’s Dru Phillips.

— This draft features the sons of Jerry Rice and Frank Gore, a couple of 49ers legends. Wide receiver Brenden Rice has good size, power and 4.51 speed. He figures to be the mix in the third-to-fourth-round area. Meanwhile, Frank Gore Jr. likely won’t know where his NFL career will begin until a little later. Gore’s running style is strikingly similar to his dad, the No. 3 all-time rusher in NFL history. The young Gore is smaller than his dad and has a little more lateral quickness but not the between-the-tackles power.

— The elder Rice was at Lucas Oil Stadium to watch his son and was quick to show is still a perfectionist. After Brenden made a catch of a low pass along the sideline, Rice offered a critique of his son. “He’s got to drag that back foot now,” Rice said on the NFL Network upon watching the replay.

— This is not a great class for running backs. It’s possible a back will not be chosen in the first two rounds.

— Any team looking for an offensive lineman in the draft last year likely is still looking for an offensive lineman. There were few players of starting quality a year ago. This year, the O-line is one of the strengths of this draft. It’s the deepest draft of offensive linemen in a long, long time. That could set up well for the 49ers in the first round, with the consensus being that one or more of these players will be available when they pick at No. 31 overall: Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson, Graham Barton of Duke and Amarius Mims of Georgia.

— Also, keep an eye on West Virginia interior offensive lineman Zach Frazier. He is smart and tough. He could start Year 1 at guard and eventually move to center.

— Quarterbacks who will go 1-2-3: Caleb Williams of USC, Jayden Daniels of LSU and Drake Maye of North Carolina. Next will be Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, followed by Bo Nix of Oregon and, perhaps, Michael Penix of Washington to round out the first round.

— One NFL executive opined that if the 49ers get a bad feeling about the possibility of a long-term contract extension for Brandon Aiyuk, the depth and quality of the class of wide receivers could tempt them to deal him and try to cover themselves with one or more draft picks. But the consensus seems to be the 49ers will make it work out with Aiyuk, taking full advantage of having a quarterback locked into his rookie contract for another season.

— Looking for a Deebo Samuel-esque player? There’s wide receiver Malachi Corley of Western Kentucky. He measured in at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, and he’s earned the nickname “YAC King.”

— Wideout Xavier Legette (6-1, 221) also fits that bill … and he’s spent a lot of time the past few summers training with the 49ers’ star receiver, who also attended South Carolina.

— The 49ers love receivers who are physical and willing blockers. On Day 3, Georgia’s Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint has the mentality that is certain to be attractive to coach Kyle Shanahan.

— There’s a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey from the University of New Hampshire. His name is Dylan Laube. He’s the best pass-catching running back in this draft. “CMC is that guy,” Laube said. “Also, Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, I base my game after them as versatile backs.”

— And then there’s the other McCaffrey: Rice wide receiver Luke McCaffrey, brother of Christian. He’s a converted quarterback who ran .01 seconds faster in the 40 than his more famous brother. Don’t be surprised if he goes a little earlier in the draft — say, late in the third or early in the fourth round — than most expected as the combine approached.

— Before Brock Purdy, the thought has been when teams will swing big when taking a flier on a Day 3 quarterback. In this draft, that would be strong-armed-yet-erratic Joe Milton of Tennessee. He has a huge arm and a ton of physical talent. But post-Purdy, someone such as program-lifter Michael Pratt of Tulane is drawing more interest as a possible mid-round target.

— The best part for the media during combine week are the player interviews. It affords those who cover the sport an opportunity to get a sense of the person behind the number. A little news was made Friday when “WO-11” — the camp number for Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. — became the only known combine invitee to decide not to participate in the exercise. Big deal? Absolutely not. He is a great talent. And he will be a top-five pick — unless, of course, there’s more there and enough teams do not feel good about the person.

— The worst part of the player interviews with the media during combine week are the same questions they field from fan sites: “Did you meet with the (team name)?” Folks, here’s something to lend some perspective: Every team gets acquainted with every prospect leading up to the draft. When a prospect answers that he met informally with the 49ers (or any other team), it’s not news.

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