Niners positional draft analysis: ILBs

Returning veterans Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich form a fine nucleus for the middle of the 49ers' 3-4 defensive scheme, but what does the team have behind them at inside linebacker? Not much at all, and that is an area the team must address in the upcoming draft and in free agency thereafter. Here's a look at how SF shapes up at ILB entering draft weekend, along with an in-depth individual examination of the top ILBs available in the college lottery.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS ON 49ERS ROSTER: Derek Smith (also can play OLB), Jeff Ulbrich (also can play OLB), Brandon Moore (also can play OLB), Jim Maxwell.

49ERS FIVE-YEAR REPORT: Total ILBs drafted – 3. Still on roster – 0. First-round picks – 0. Highest pick – Saleem Rasheed, No. 69 overall pick in third round of 2002 draft.

2006 POSITIONAL DRAFT NEED: The 49ers are set for starters at inside linebacker after signing Ulbrich to a four-year, $8.955 million contract extension near the end of last season and inking Smith to a three-year, $14 million deal in early March. But the matter of depth could still be a problem, particularly if Moore – who filled in capably for Ulbrich over the final 11 weeks of the season – is needed on the outside. Since it's difficult keeping inside linebackers healthy, particularly in a 3-4 scheme, the 49ers must upgrade their depth here, and they likely will do that with at least one prospect in the draft. Maxwell had some moments as a scrappy reserve last year and could win a backup role this year, but the Niners obviously must add more bodies here, whether it comes through the draft or on the open market, where the team likely will bring in a few undrafted rookies for a look, too. It's still possible the team will re-sign Rasheed, who is an unrestricted free agent who doesn't seem to be getting much interest from others.

POSITION OVERVIEW: The 49ers' need for depth at inside linebacker couldn't come at a worse time because not only is this the weakest position in the Class of 2006, it might be the weakest crop of inside linebackers to hit the draft in years. With so many teams employing 3-4 defenses, the need for active inside linebackers is heightened as much as it has ever been, but there isn't much for teams to be too hopeful for in this group. It is very likely that there won't be a single inside LB taken in the first round and, in all likelihood, there will only be a couple taken in the second and third rounds. Most of the action at this position will happen on Day Two when compensatory picks start coming into play. How weak is this group? The guys at the end of our top 10 list may still be on the board in the fifth or sixth round. That's ugly. And that's also where the 49ers might wind up taking one of them.


D'Qwell Jackson, Maryland, 6-0½, 233: Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 29 of 30 starts, recording 392 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and eight interceptions…Had his best season as a senior with 137 tackles and four interceptions despite missing one game…Dedicated athlete who works hard at every facet of his game…Chases plays to the sidelines…Ran the Terps defense by example…Has good movement side to side…Good in pass coverage…Big hitter who drives through his tackles…Led his team in tackles three straight years…Doesn't have the size or pure bulk most NFL MLBs have…Doesn't have great lower-body strength…Plays too high and can get picked up by linemen…Has small hands and can't always wrap up…Didn't run as well as many thought he would at the Combine, posting a 4.70 40 with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 37-inch vertical jump, a 9-8 broad jump and Wonderlic score of 23.
Projection: Jackson reminds Maryland opponents a lot of E.J. Henderson, who, although he's undersized, can make plays. Still, Henderson stayed on the board until the second round and the same could be true for Jackson.

Abdul Hodge, Iowa, 6-0½, 233: Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 415 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, and six sacks in that span…Led team in tackles each of the last three years…Second-Team All-Big 10 in 2005…Very long arms…Has good upper body strength and takes on blockers head-on…Rarely gets sucked in on play-action…Plays his gap responsibilities very well…Big highlight-film hitter…Doesn't take plays off or lessen his effort from one game to the next…Can't change directions and maintain his speed…Never had an interception in four years…Is undersized and leaner than most inside linebackers…Will struggle at times in Tampa 2 type zone coverage…Needs work on his lower body…Must improve man coverage skills in the passing game…Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 31-inch vertical jump, a 9-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 22.
Projection: Hodge has some athletic limitations, but he is likely best in a 3-4 system, which will limit his suitors and drop him into the second round.


Gerris Wilkinson, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 231: Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 251 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and three interceptions in that span…His first year as a starter he played defensive end before moving to inside linebacker…A versatile player who has the athletic ability to play outside…Rarely finds himself out of position…Has long arms and good lateral movement…Had a very good week at the Senior Bowl…Makes a lot of open-field tackles…Doesn't have pure speed to be an OLB in a 3-4 scheme…Isn't as strong of pass rusher from the edge…Had a much better season as a junior than he did as a senior…Is not overpowering in upper-body or lower-body strength…Can't kick it up a notch and chase down speed backs to the corner or in pass coverage…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine, with 20 reps of 225 pounds, an impressive 41-inch vertical jump, a 10-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 26.
Projection: His strong performance at the Senior Bowl got him noticed, but he doesn't fit as a textbook inside or outside linebacker, making him an in-position ‘tweener. He will likely go somewhere on the first day, but maybe not until the third round.

Freddy Keiaho, San Diego State, 5-11¼, 230: Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a starter until last year…Had an impressive season in 2005 with 113 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one interception…Full name is Naivote Taulawakeiaho – we'll just call him Freddy…Has good speed and burst off the snap…Excellent quarterback of the defense who can read and recognize formations…Has good closing speed and prevents most running backs from making it to the corner on sweeps…Plays with a mean streak…Relentless…Doesn't have the height coaches wants and surely not the strength – his 15 reps were not only the worst of any linebacker that tested at the Combine, it was only one more than Tom Malone – USC's punter…Has had an injury history…Lack of experience is a red flag…Takes himself out of plays with aggression…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump, a 9-5 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 24.
Projection: May not be a guy that jumps out at you as a lock for a Day One pick, but has a good chance to be taken early on the second day and at least be a special teams contributor early.

Dale Robinson, Arizona State, 6-0½, 231: Fourth-year senior that spent two years at Glendale Community College in Arizona after initially enrolling to play at C.W. Post College in New York…A two-year starter after transferring to ASU, he had 208 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and one interception…Has strong lower body…Has on-field speed that don't necessarily equate to his timed speed…Makes plays all over the field…Strong tackler who rarely misses…Has good recognition skills…Is another undersized LB by pro standards…Plays a little high and is too easily taken out of plays by blockers…Does not give the same effort all the time and will take a play off when it's not going his way…Gets caught in over-pursuit at times…Ran a 4.75 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 17.
Projection: A tough guy who loves to play, his limitations will likely keep him from being a starting middle linebacker in the NFL. He may be better suited to play OLB to take advantage of his chase-down skills, but he's inexperienced there. Looks to go off early in Day Two.

Tim Dobbins, Iowa State, 6-1¼, 246: Fourth-year senior who spent his first two seasons at Copia-Lincoln (Miss.) Junior College…Named Big-12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2004…A two-year starter who had 208 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and one interception in that span…Married with two children…Has a good combination of size and speed…Big hitter who plays with a nasty streak…Very strong against the run…Intense and loves the game…Does not have the pure skills so critical for inside linebackers, like pass coverage, maintaining speed when forced to turn and good recognition of play action and pump fakes...Ran a 4.59 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 35½ inch vertical jump, a 9-2 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of just 12.
Projection: Dobbins has the chance to be a solid NFL backup and special teamer, but looks to be a little too one-dimensional to be an every-down NFL LB, so he will likely stay on the board until Sunday afternoon of draft weekend.


Kai Parham, Virginia, 6-3, 256: Fourth-year junior that became a starter four games into his redshirt freshman season…In three years he had 272 tackles, 32.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks…Came out of the shadow of former teammates and NFL draftees Darryl Blackstock and Ahmad Brooks as a senior, recording 103 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks…Is almost prototype linebacker size with a strong upper body…Has long arms to shed blockers and keep them from getting into his body…Makes highlight film hits…Strong practice and weight room guy…Rarely misses tackles…Doesn't have good change of direction skills…Isn't great in pass coverage…Isn't natural in zone assignments…Doesn't have natural blitzing skill…Ran a 4.96 40 at the Combine with 30 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump, a 9-8 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 26.
Projection: Might have been better served to stay another year in college, but has all the raw tools to succeed. However, it will likely have to be in a 3-4 system, which should drop him out of Day One and more likely into Day Two, especially in light of his brutal 40 time at the Combine – the worst of all inside linebackers that ran.

Leon Williams, Miami, 6-3, 245: Fifth-year senior who was a high school All-American and New York state Player of the Year as a high school senior…Played in 47 games for the Hurricanes, but made just six starts…Spent his first two years playing behind Jets first-round draft pick Jonathan Vilma…Missed time in 2004 with a hand injury and never got a full-time starting job back…In his final two seasons, he had 113 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks…Has ideal size for an inside linebacker…Has the measurables that coaches and scouts look for…A very big hitter who will chase plays anywhere on the field…Good in run responsibilities…Has a lot of special teams experience…Doesn't read and react quickly…Did not make the defensive calls when he was on the field…Gets caught up in making big plays and will take himself out of some situations with his own aggression…Very inexperienced…Gets suckered on play-action and pump fakes and gets out of position…Ran a 4.54 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-8 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 17.
Projection: His Combine numbers were among the best in each category except Wonderlic score, which is telling. He has all the natural attributes to be a good player, but hasn't shown that he can be special. Whichever team drafts him will have to be patient and may just end up frustrated. That in itself should keep him from being taken until the second day.

Tim McGarigle, Northwestern, 6-0¾, 242: A fourth-year senior who became a starter in the final month of his freshman season as an outside linebacker – ending the year with 98 tackles…A three-year starter who split time between outside and inside linebacker, amassing an enormous 447 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, four sacks and three interceptions in that span…A tackling machine that led the country in solo tackles per game as a junior with 8.5 a game…Second-team All-Big 10 in 2005…Very intelligent and excellent at making line calls…Rarely gets caught out of position…Doesn't mind blowing up blockers…Good recognition skills…Undersized…Was exposed at the East-West Shrine Game, where blockers got in close to him because of his short arms and moved him aside…Doesn't have great lower body strength and some question his pure upper-body strength since he didn't lift at the Combine…Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with a 38-inch vertical jump, a 9-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 27.
Projection: May never be more than a backup or special teams player in the NFL, but has such a knowledge of the game, he may well end up a coach after his career is over. That doesn't get you off the board before the fifth round or so, but his mental intangibles will get somebody to bite in the later rounds.

Freddie Roach, Alabama, 6-1¾, 258: Fifth-year senior and three-year starter who finished his college career with 272 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and four sacks…Did not start in 2004 after tearing his right meniscus before the start of the season, but saw action as a backup in all 12 games that year…Played both outside linebacker spots and middle linebacker…Second-team All-SEC as a senior…Motor is always running…Good on blitz coverage and can blow up the pocket…Doesn't have great speed…Is not a threat to create the big interception, he drops easy looking picks…Gets sucked into play-action fakes too often…Doesn't bring the wood too often and lets receivers and running backs get away too often because he doesn't wrap up….Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-3 broad jump and a woeful Wonderlic score of just 8.
Projection: His versatility is his calling card, which should be enough to get him drafted, but scouts don't believe he has the nastiness to be a middle linebacker or the speed to be an outside LB in a starting lineup. A late-round pick who will have to fight to make a roster.


Trent Bray, Oregon State, 6-0½, 227
Jimmy Cottrell, New Mexico State, 6-0¼, 235
Spencer Havner, UCLA, 6-3½, 233
Oliver Hoyte, North Carolina State, 6-2¼, 241
Justin London, UCLA, 6-0¼, 231
Sam McGrew, Florida State, 6-1¼, 240
Lawrence Pinson, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 245
Anthony Schlegel, Ohio State, 6-0½, 250
Stephen Tulloch, North Carolina State, 5-10, 234

John Holler of contributed to this report

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