Niners wary of underclassmen

In the unlikely event Larry Fitzgerald happens to be staring at the 49ers in the first round of the NFL draft, they certainly would pounce on him. The same holds true for Michael Williams. But that doesn't mean the 49ers would be comfortable selecting a sophomore, which is particularly relevant this year since four of the top six receiving prospects are underclassmen. "I think there's always some trepidation with a junior and some added concern with a sophomore," Niners GM Terry Donahue said.

"First of all," Donahue continued, "we don't even know if Mike Williams is going to be in the draft. I think we all hesitate to even talk about him in too much detail because we're not sure what the courts are going to rule or what his status is even going to be."

But with Fitzgerald or Williams or any young player that has just a few years of college experience, there is always some reason to be wary, Donahue said.

"Anytime you're looking at a younger player, I think you're more nervous about a younger player and you have to project more," Donahue said. "When Dennis (Erickson) and I sit in there with the scouts and the coaches and we start talking about juniors, we're always projecting more than we are with a senior. When you're projecting, that's harder to do. You don't have as much firm data."

But when asked if that would scare him off from such a highly-regarded top prospect, Donahue replied, "No, it would not."

But, in a detailed explanation, Donahue explained that he agrees with the NFL's current system for making underclassmen available for the draft, which requires three years after their high school class graduates for them to become eligible.

"I think there's been a good spirit of cooperation between the College Football Association, the coaches' association, the NCAA and the NFL in terms of putting together, through a lot of hard work, a workable system that a lot of people with a lot of experience thought was the best system," Donahue said.

"The system was in place and things like maturity and physical development, those were all considered when the current structure and process was put in place. It works favorably. It works well for everybody involved – for the majority. It works the best for the majority. Are there exceptions? Sure. But for the majority, which oftentimes gets overlooked in terms of some special-interest group, the system we currently have in place is the best system. I'm hoping that the courts uphold it. Now, if it's not legal, or it's not supposed to be that way, the courts will decide that and tell us, and that's OK, too."

Erickson has a similar stance on younger players entering the draft.

"I've had some great players and Terry has, too, in our coaching careers in college," Erickson said. "In my case, Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, you name them. I think you just lack physical and mental maturity when you come out early. It's just my opinion. I think it's very, very difficult. The courts are going to settle it. What the court rules, the court rules. That's just my opinion."

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