Inside analysis: Draft guru answers for SFI

In order to provide an in-depth perspective on the 2006 NFL Draft class, SFI sought out our resident draft guru, former NFL scout Russ Lande, draft analyst and author of GM Jr's Guide to the NFL Draft. We asked Lande questions relating directly to the 49ers' positional needs and possible options based on where their picks lie in the draft. Part I: Lande discusses the better overall talent in this year's draft, why the 49ers might trade down, and who should be their pick if they stay at No. 6.

SFI: How does this year's draft compare to last season in overall available talent?

Lande:
I think this year is a stronger draft. I think there are more elite players this year than there were last year. There is a lot of depth in this year's draft. The only thing is that the depth is at a few positions. At some positions there is no depth after the first eight or 10 players. Whereas at linebacker, safety and corner there are a lot of very good guys. Last year the depth was probably more spread out, but it wasn't as good overall.

SFI: With the 49ers having so many needs in the draft, should they attempt to trade down in the first round to collect more picks, or stay at No. 6, where they are assured of selecting an elite prospect?

Lande:
Unless one of the top three guys — RB Reggie Bush, DE Mario Williams and LB A.J. Hawk — were to slide a little bit, I would definitely be looking to trade down. I could even see the 49ers picking D'Brickashaw Ferguson if he were to fall to them, because it is so rare to get a franchise left tackle. If those four are off the board when it comes time for San Francisco to pick, I think they should consider trading down because the 49ers have a ways to go, so why not make sure that you get two or three solid players rather than one, because at this point no matter who you take, no matter how sure you are of the pick, there is an inherent risk. There is no sure thing. So you might as well take two or three shots instead of one.

SFI: If the 49ers do remain at No. 6, who should their pick be? Do they go with the best player available, and who are players that – if they still are on the board – San Francisco simply can't pass on at that spot?

Lande:
Obviously, they'd love for one of those top four to slip down, but if not, I could see someone like Oregon's Haloti Ngata being there at No. 6, or really a guy who I think would be perfect for them is Vernon Davis, the tight end from Maryland. The Niners really don't have an established guy, in my opinion, at tight end. They lost Brandon Lloyd; they replaced him with Antonio Bryant, but receiver is still a question mark for them. So if you can get an impact guy that can help the offense and help Alex Smith, I think Davis would be a perfect fit right there.

SFI: Why is Davis' stock surging?

Lande:
I think it's a combination of things. A lot of the coaches had not really sat down to watch film of him. They just heard the scouts saying, ‘Wow, this guy is a great junior and is going to be a great player," and after the combine when he worked out so well, the coaches went back and watched film and said. "Wow, this guy is really a phenomenal player." He's a dominant receiver. He's amazing catching the ball and making an impact as a receiver.

SFI: What about Williams? Is he the real deal?

Lande:
Mario Williams is a phenomenal natural athlete, with the ability to play defensive end or defensive tackle. The thing with him is just keeping his motor at a high level all the time. He goes through stretches where he is dominant in disrupting play after play, and then he goes through stretches where he disappears for a quarter. He needs consistency. But athletically he is everything you could want in a defensive end.

SFI: What are your thoughts on Hawk?

Lande:
I don't see any glaring weaknesses in A.J. Hawk, other than the fact that he is just a little over 6-1. But as a player and athlete he is everything you want. To me, he is one of the safest picks in the draft this year in terms of being confident that you will be getting a very, very good NFL starter with Pro Bowl potential, and there is very little chance of him missing.

SFI: What are some of the things that set Hawk apart from the rest of the linebacker class?

Lande:
He has top-level playing speed to chase down plays in pursuit and has an explosive closing burst to finish plays. When he stays under control he can break down and tackle well out in space. He does a very good job of making tackles on receivers right after the catch. He can change directions quickly and bursts in the other direction, accelerates to full speed fast and chases plays down from behind consistently. While he played weak-side linebacker at Ohio State, he will be used best by moving him all around and lining him up at all the linebacker positions.

SFI: Are the 49ers set for 2006 with Kevan Barlow, Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks at tailback, or should they consider selecting another running back to add to the mix on the first day of the draft?

Lande:
I like the Niners backfield as it is now. I especially like Gore, I think he has a chance to be a good starting running back in this league. Obviously his durability remains a question, but he is a really, really talented running back who actually was the starter at Miami ahead of (Willis) McGahee, and a lot of people said if he had never gotten hurt, McGahee would have never really played. But If the Niners are sitting there in the third round and there is an elite running back left on the board, they will have to look at him, but there are not a lot of great running backs this year, so if I were them I'd tend to stay with what they have already and maybe take a shot on a guy in the sixth or seventh round that intrigues them a little bit. I wouldn't use a high pick on a position that they are already deep in. You've got two guys who can be starters in Barlow and Gore, and Maurice Hicks really flashed a lot last year when he got the chance – he actually could in fact become a starter.

Part II: Lande discusses the unusually rich depth at the linebacker position, wide receivers the 49ers should be looking at on the draft's first day and sleeper picks the team should consider with its 11 selections


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