Top 49ers prospects rising up draft boards
Patrick Willis, ILB, Mississippi: Willis was considered far and away the draft's top linebacker after earning not only the Butkus Award but the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2006. Willis caught the eye of 49ers coaches with his standout performance at the Senior Bowl in late January, and he is a player that may just be too good for the team to pass on with its No. 11 overall selection in the first round. With his sideline-to-sideline ability to make plays and provide an impact in the middle of a 3-4 scheme, he could fit immediately into San Francisco's defensive system. Willis strengthened his position at the Combine, running a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and posting a staggering 39-inch vertical, each the best among the inside linebackers. Willis was confident he could improve on his workout numbers and may have established himself as among the draft's truly elite defensive prospects with a eye-popping 4.37 40 after weighing in at 241 pounds at the Mississippi Pro Day on March 20. Willis - who appears on several early mock drafts as the 49ers' selection at No. 11 - may climb into the top 10 picks by draft day on April 28. If he still is available at No. 11, there are only a few other elite prospects the 49ers would consider with that pick. Michael Griffin, SS, Texas: Griffin isn't rated as a player the 49ers on which the 49ers would want to spend the No. 11 overall pick, but it's not very likely he'll be around with their No. 42 overall selection in the second round as he is climbing up draft boards as a legitimate first-round prospect. Only twice in the past 20 drafts have three safeties been selected in the first round, but that number figures to increase this year. With LSU's LaRon Landry and Florida's Reggie Nelson considered locks and Miami's Brandon Meriweather a strong possibility, himself, the odds appear to be against another safety moving into the elite 32. However, Griffin didn't let a little history slow him down at Texas' March 21 Pro Day. In fact, in running a 4.40 40 and posting a 39-inch vertical and 10-7 broad jump, very little seemed to slow down Griffin, also a standout special teams player who now looks too big, fast and athletic to escape the first round. But the abundance of other top safeties prospects make it possible he - or some of the others - could slip into the first half of the second round. Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee: Scouts knew Harrell could play - he started 25 of 35 games for Tennessee over his career, proving to be a standout for much of that time. After tearing his left bicep against Air Force in early September, Harrell gutted through one more game against rival and eventual national champion Florida before undergoing season-ending surgery. Despite Harrell's 6-5, 305-pound frame and past success, the NFL - the ultimate show-me league - wanted to see Harrell prove his health before teams were willing to cement their ranking of him among this year's class of defensive tackles. At his March 22 Pro Day, Harrell proved his health with a very solid 31 reps of 225 pounds. Very fluid for his size with great strength, Harrell is versatile enough to play on the nose and as a three-technique and definitely has the size to line up outside in a 3-4 front. Trent Edwards, QB, Stanford: Although he has virtually zero possibility of ending up with his hometown 49ers, Edwards has had an impressive spring and is now being considered as the top prospect at QB behind the top-two tandem of JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn. Scouts have long pointed to Edwards as a potential winner in the race to be the third quarterback selected in this year's draft. Though some of his career numbers are less than inspiring (36 touchdowns/33 interceptions, 56 percent completions) Edwards' toughness and strong, accurate arm has made him a favorite among many teams looking to draft a quarterback outside of the first round. Much was expected out of Edwards in 2006, but a broken foot limited him to only seven games and prevented him from competing in the Senior Bowl. At his March 20 Pro Day, Edwards was healthy and showed off his ability as a passer. Despite rainy conditions, Edwards completed 57 of 60 passes - and did so in front of a scouting contingent that included six quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators Mike Martz (Detroit) and Rick Neuheisel (Baltimore). Jackie Battle, RB, Houston: The 49ers will be looking to pick up another running back prospect to take the load off Frank Gore if they can find high value with one of their several mid-round selections. Players not invited to the Combine who post eye-popping results are always potential big winners in the Pro Day lottery, and Battle falls into that group. The 6-2, 235-pounder posted the kind of workout March 23rd that players dream about. Scouts came to Houston's Pro Day more to watch quarterback Kevin Kolb than anyone else, but were treated to a shocking performance. Battle not only ran fast (4.42, 4.43), his explosiveness, as indicated in the vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (10-11) was off the charts, as well. Battle shared the backfield duties throughout his career and was more known for his ability as a short yardage runner (31 career TDs) than a blazer, but his performance here will have scouts re-checking their notes. Battle was on the outer reaches of several draft boards coming out of the Combine, but now he has pushed his way into early second-day consideration, which can only help the 49ers, since it adds another RB prospect to the mix that the team can consider among its options.
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