N.C. State studs: A scout's eye view

North Carolina State bookends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson are high on the 49ers list of draft prospects, and both would fit in nicely with what the team is trying to do on defense. It's not inconceivable the Niners would take those two players with their first two picks in the 2006 draft if they were available, but most analysts have Williams going a little sooner in the first round and Lawson a bit sooner in the second. Here's a detailed look at each player through the eyes of a NFL scout.

Mario Williams didn't have to participate at the NFL Combine in late February because he was already considered a lock to be selected in the top five of the draft. However, his performance at the combine not only improved his stock but placed him among the top two or three prospects in the draft.

"Mario has shown that he is a freakish athlete for his size," an NFL scout who wished to remain anonymous told Scout.com. "He shouldn't be able to do what he can for how big he is.

"On the field he has the strength, speed, and the athleticism to be a force as a pass rusher and against the run. He needs to develop one or two more pass rush moves, and learn to play every play hard every down, but he is big-time.

"I think he'd be a top five pick if he hadn't done anything at the combine too though, but he definitely helped himself."

Entering the combine, most analysts considered USC tailback Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart, Texas quarterback Vince Young, and Virginia lineman D'Brickashaw Ferguson the top four players in the draft. However, Williams is now receiving mention with those talented prospects.

"If there wasnt such a premium on quarterbacks, he'd be in the top two with Bush, and it is a lot harder to find a blue chip defensive end than a blue chip running back. Ability-wise, I think he is better than any of the quarterbacks, [but] Leinart and Young were more productive," the scout said.

Williams is often compared to current Carolina Panther defensive end Julius Peppers, who is also a North Carolina native.

"I think you can compare the two. Peppers is a pretty good pro, but I think he is a little over-rated. Peppers just takes too many plays off now that he is in the league. I don't know how he was in college, but I think Williams can be better. The sky is the limit for Mario."

"Super Mario" is considered a major priority for teams such as Green Bay, the 49ers and Oakland, who own the No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7 picks respectively. The latter two teams could look to jump Green Bay and select Williams, given his recent performance at the combine and productivity at North Carolina State.

C State. "I think there should be some movement up for him. A guy like [Williams] only comes along about once every five or so years," the scout said.

ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton feels the same way after watching Williams in Indianapolis.

"Defensive end Mario Williams is a little lost in the spotlight of top prospects such as Leinart, Young and Bush, but he shouldn't be," Clayton said in his ESPN.com column. "As much as teams talk about trading up for quarterbacks, what about moving up for Williams? Super Mario made that more likely with his combine workouts.

"Even more impressive, it wasn't necessary for him to work out. Listed at 6-7 and 295 pounds, he ran a 4.66 40. That's Julius Peppers territory. Williams has the dominating body that can fit into a 3-4 or a 4-3. He would seem to be a perfect fit for the Green Bay Packers with the fifth pick, but other teams might try to move higher than that to get him."

Regardless of his performance at N.C. State's Pro Day, Williams has solidified his status as one of the top prospects in the 2006 NFL Draft, and potentially he just might be the best.

The 49ers, obviously, would feel fortunate to have a shot to get him if he's still around at the No. 6 pick.

They'll be hoping that Lawson still is around when they go on the clock in the second round - that is, if San Francisco doesn't trade down before the draft begins.

Lawson is one of the players who helped his draft status the most at the combine. Lawson measured in at 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, heavier than most scouts believed, and he ran a blistering 4.41 40-yard dash while starring in agility drills.

"Athletically, Manny is a first-rounder," the NFL scout said. "I think he has a chance to go late in the first. It's just a question of who is picking at the end of the round.

"I think a 3-4 team would place a much higher value on him than a 4-3 team. I think he could function in either scheme, but he would just fit better in 3-4 defense."

NFL teams have various defensive schemes, but the two basic formations are the standard 4-3 defense, with two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, and three linebackers, and the 3-4 defense that has a nose guard, two defensive ends and four linebackers. The 49ers have been making the transition to a 3-4 defense since Mike Nolan took over as head coach in 2005.

With Lawson's height, blazing speed, and outstanding agility, most scouts figure he would flourish in the 3-4 system where he could rush the passer or roam in coverage.

"I think there is some question about what position he can play in the league, but regardless, he is going to be good," the scout said.

"His best fit is going to be as a 3-4 outside linebacker, because his best asset is his speed. Lawson can run all day, but its not just long speed, he has an explosive burst to close on the quarterback as a pass rusher.

"You can see his obvious value to teams that utilize a 3-4 defense, but that's not to say he couldn't play for a 4-3 team. If he is going to play as a traditional defensive end he is going to have to get stronger to play the run at the point of attack, but he can do it."

Comparisons are often made between prospects and current NFL players each year as the draft approaches. Lawson has frequently been compared to Dallas Cowboy defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Like Lawson, Ware also had a breakout combine performance, as his showing in 2005 cemented his status as a top-15 pick, with Dallas selecting him No. 11 overall.

Ware starred in his rookie season, registering eight sacks to lead the Cowboys.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a player like Lawson, but I think he might be able to do the same things DeMarcus Ware could do, who came out last year and started all year for Dallas, but even they have some big differences."

Expect the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, and New England Patriots to consider Lawson with their first-round pick. Another team to look out for is the Cowboys, who might be looking to pair Lawson with Ware to form a dynamite duo at outside linebacker.

If Lawson does last until the second round, the 49ers will have a shot at him with the fifth pick in the round, the No. 37 overall.

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