Draft guru answers questions for SFI, Part II

In order to provide an in-depth perspective on the 2006 NFL Draft class, SFI sought out our resident draft guru, former NFL scout and current draft analyst Russ Lande. We asked Lande questions relating directly to the 49ers' positional needs and possible options based on where their picks lie in the draft. Part II: Lande discusses the unusually rich depth at the LB position, WRs the 49ers should look at on the draft's first day and sleeper picks the team should consider with its 11 selections.

SFI: Some are saying this draft is one of the deepest at linebacker in perhaps a decade. Can the 49ers find starting talent at the position in the middle rounds, and who do you see as some top linebackers that still might be there then and should be considered by the team?

Lande:
It's amazing how many linebackers there are. There are good linebackers throughout the entire draft. This is the most depth at linebacker I've seen in the last 10 years. Normally you'll see four or five linebackers start as rookies, but I think this year you'll see 10-12 start. You'll see some sixth- or seventh-rounders end up starting, and maybe even a free agent or two. It's really deep, not just with impact guys like Hawk, but with good, solid players throughout. From D'Qwell Jackson of Maryland to DeMeco Ryans, both second/third-round types, to Anthony Schlegel from Ohio State, who will probably go in the mid-to-late rounds. Schlegel is your typical lunch-pail middle linebacker. Not a great athlete but tremendously smart, tremendously tough and instinctive. He does a great job playing the run between the tackles, reads and reacts very quickly to things inside the tackle box. A real leader type, but not a guy who you'd want to use in deep coverage. He'd be an excellent guy you could just plug in and start in the middle in a traditional 4-3, or as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 like the Niners use. He's a guy who is going to play in the league, but he's probably not getting a lot of fanfare. Another player who a lot of people like is Thomas Howard from UTEP, a tremendous natural athlete. He's sort of raw as a football player, but athletically he is off the charts — as good as any linebacker in the entire draft. He's a guy that I wouldn't be surprised if the Niners, who are looking to replace a guy like Julian Peterson, might consider in the second or third-round if he was still on the board.

SFI: The 49ers still would like to run a true 3-4 defensive scheme, but they struggled last year trying to fit their personnel into the system, and it showed in their weak pass rush. Is this a good year to load up on 3-4 edge rushers? Who are some of the prospects that best fit that role?

Lande:
There are a ton of guys, from Manny Lawson at N.C. State, who is sort of an undersized edge guy, who is real explosive but not overly productive playing as a true defensive end, to guys like Elvis Dumervil from Louisville, who is a little short to play defensive end, but who was tremendously productive with over 20 sacks this year. Those guys sort of fit that mold. There are a lot of guys this year who are sort of tweeners between the linebacker and defensive end, who could give the 49ers that rusher they are trying to find, especially after losing Peterson and Andre Carter.

SFI: The 49ers are in serious need of help at receiver. How high should the team consider taking a receiver in the draft, and what receivers shouldn't the team pass on if they're still available in the second or third round?

Lande:
If Derek Hagan from Arizona State were to make it to their pick in the second round, I think he'd be an ideal fit. He's a well-built kid, nearly 6-2, over 200 pounds. he has tremendous hands; he caught over 95 percent of the balls thrown his way in the games I graded. He was super-productive at Arizona State, and while he doesn't have blazing speed, he has good speed. He's very fundamentally sound. He's a guy you could probably plug in as a rookie and the learning curve won't be as great as with most other rookies. If he's not there, a guy I'd look at maybe in the second round, but ideally in the third, is Greg Jennings from Western Michigan. I think he is going to make a big impact in the NFL. While he may need a little bit of time to adjust to the big jump to the NFL from Western Michigan, he has all the physical tools to not only be a good receiver, but an explosive playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands. He's a very dangerous runner in the open field.

SFI: Who are the top sleepers that the 49ers should consider, since they have 11 picks in the draft and can use talent upgrades throughout the roster?

Lande:
Derrick Ross from Tarleton State is a big, physical powerhouse running back. He's played at a small school and he has some off-the-field baggage, but in terms of physical tools, if he can keep it all together off the field he is going to start for some team in the NFL. There is also Grant Mason, the cornerback at Michigan whom virtually nobody has taken notice of. He will probably be a later-round draft pick, sneak into some team's camp, make their roster this year as a rookie, sort of under the radar, and in a year or two from now he'll be a starting corner. He'll never be a flashy, game-changing type of player, but he's just one of those guys who does a good, solid job. Another guy who I think is very intriguing is defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery from Minnesota, especially for a team like the 49ers, who use sort of a 3-4 style defense. This guy is a big, stay at home two-gap defensive tackle. He hasn't got a lot of publicity, but I think he is a second-round talent at the worst. I don't think he'll go until the second day of the draft, because he really fits the two-gap mentality much more than the explosive one gap. He's an impressive defensive tackle with a lot of strength and athleticism. I think he is guy who is going to come into the league unheralded, and probably start for eight or 10 years.

To find out more about Russ Lande and GM Jr, visit www.gmjr.com


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