SFI: We obviously won't know how this draft turns out for the 49ers for several years, but what is your overall impression of how the team fared this year in the college lottery?
Russ Lande: I thought they had a decent draft. I'd probably give them a B-minus, because I don't think it was a great draft, but it wasn't terrible just because they got Vernon Davis, Brandon Williams, and I really like Parys Haralson and Marcus Hudson. I thought they reached on a few guys, but getting Davis I loved. I think he is going to be an impact guy. I think he gives Alex Smith a big-play guy and also a good receiver. He helps the offense. I think Brandon Williams, a receiver they got in the third round, they took a little high, but he is going to help them a lot. He'll be at least a third receiver this year if not a starter. I love the kid Haralson they got in the fifth round, I think he is going to be a better player than Manny Lawson, who they took in the first round. I think a lot of their later-round guys, be it Marcus Hudson, Melvin Oliver or Delanie Walker, are all guys with a chance to become starters; it is all whether they develop. They are all good prospects, guys with a chance.
SFI: Is Davis one of the best tight end prospects ever to come out of college?
RL: He is definitely in the elite category. When I was with the Cleveland Browns, I scouted Kellen Winslow when he came out, and I think Davis is a superior receiver, but at the same time he is not even close as a blocker. He is a marginal blocker at best because his effort is very inconsistent. But as an elite receiver, when you look at guys like Jeremy Shockey and Winslow, guys that have come out recently, I think he was better than all of them catching the ball in college. He will make an immediate impact as a receiver and will force defensive mismatches consistently because linebackers lack the speed to cover him in tight man-to-man and he can out-muscle safeties who try to cover him. His explosiveness and playing speed will allow him to get separation deep down the field.
SFI: What do you think of the 49ers attempting to convert sixth-round pick Delanie Walker, a big wide receiver in college, to a fullback/H-back type of role?
RL: I think it is probably worth a shot, because when you watch him as a player, as a receiver especially, he doesn't show that great speed that he times at. He is a big, thick-bodied kid who is strong, can run and is competitive. So, I think fullback might actually be a good spot for him, especially if they are going to throw the ball to the fullback, because that would give them a fullback with the ability to catch the ball. His hands are inconsistent, but a receiver's hands that are inconsistent are good for a fullback. He's probably best suited as a fullback, rather than trying to force him to be a receiver or a tweener between wide receiver and tight end.
SFI: Do you think Parys Haralson is too small to be a defensive end? Can he make the transition to 3-4 linebacker?
RL: I think he is too small to be a 3-4 defensive end, but I think if they make him a rush linebacker, like they are going to do with Manny Lawson, I think that is the exact role he fits. Haralson is a very good athlete who can defeat offensive tackle pass blocks consistently with his variety of pass-rush moves, close quickly on the quarterback and hit him hard. He is very active and competitive and consistently goes all out on every snap. He also has the playing speed to chase down running plays in pursuit.
SFI: Could he develop into more than just a situational rusher?
RL: I think he could be a starter. I think two years from now he'll be the starter and Manny Lawson will be trying to find a way to get on the field.
SFI: Do you agree with some draft observers that Lawson was a reach?
RL: Definitely. To me, he is Mike Mamula, the guy who prior to the combine was probably viewed as a third-round, maybe top of the fourth, because he is such a great athlete, and his workouts just made teams fall in love with him and take him way higher than he should have gone. It's odd, because, Brandon Williams is not a workout guy, but he's the guy who, when you watch film, was super productive. Parys Haralson also isn't a good workout guy because he is undersized and doesn't run a great 40, and neither is Marcus Hudson. So you look at these guys and say, "The 49ers really paid attention to on-field performance," but Manny Lawson is the one guy that sort of goes against that. It's sort of odd. I viewed four of Manny Lawson's games from 2004 and five from 2005, and in none of them did he make an impact. He was not an impact player at all; he struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. He was sort of along for the ride. To me, his linemates at North Carolina State, Mario Williams and John McCargo, stood head and shoulders above him in terms of production.On the positive side, Lawson is a very good athlete with all the physical tools. He has the foot quickness, acceleration and playing speed that are hard to find. He consistently hustles and chases hard in pursuit and has the playing speed and closing burst to finish plays when he gets close.
Q: How do you see Lawson fitting into the 49ers' 3-4 scheme?
RL: I see him playing the hybrid rush-linebacker position to take advantage of his ability to rush the quarterback from a wide alignment. From watching him on film, he does not look like he has the frame to add the necessary bulk or weight to be able to hold up as a defensive end – he looks much more like a linebacker on the "Hoof." He is going to need a season or two as a backup linebacker before he becomes comfortable playing behind the line of scrimmage. He must use his hands more consistently to aggressively punch blockers to stay free and make tackles. Plus, he has virtually no experience in coverage. He was a dangerous punt rusher at N.C. State and he will be a very good special teams player for the Niners as a rookie.
SFI: Where do you think Michael Robinson will make his biggest impact? He was a WR prospect who played quarterback last year at Penn State, but the 49ers will try him at RB.
RL: I think at either position he could be a good backup. I think the biggest asset for him is getting him the ball in space. Because when you watched him at Penn State, he clearly wasn't a QB, but when he took off running and had some room, he could make a lot of things happen with his feet, with his instincts, with his toughness running with the ball. He offers a lot, so it will be the job of the 49ers coaches to find a way to use him in unique ways to get him the ball.
Niners dead on with Davis; Lawson a reach?
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