Four 49ers draft prospects: Rising & falling

With three weeks remaining before the NFL draft, prospects continue to jockey for position in the college lottery as Pro Days around the nation wind down. Here's a look at four prime prospects on the 49ers' draft board whose stock is headed in different directions, with analysis of what that might mean for San Francisco on draft weekend.

THE RISERS

Brandon Meriweather, FS, Miami: Because of their great history in producing elite NFL talent, it is quite rare that a former Hurricane can enter the draft as an underrated prospect, but that is exactly how Meriweather is viewed by many scouts. There is no denying Meriweather's off-field incidents, and this factor will keep the talented safety from moving up as far as his athleticism warrants, and that could eliminate him altogether from consideration from the 49ers, who place high value on character, particularly for long players coming out of college. However, the 49ers don't base their evaluations entirely on that aspect and take into consideration the circumstances surrounding character issues, though Merriweather's involvement in a shooting before last season - and subsequent one-game suspension for his involvement in an on-field brawl against Florida International - can't help Meriweather in the eyes of many teams who hold high picks in the first round. But Meriweather's talent at the safety position is undeniable, and he has been impressive during offseason workouts. On the field, Meriweather's combination of hitting ability, range, and quickness allow him to not only stand out as a free safety, but he's capable of playing cornerback, as well. Another safety who a few years back stood out at the Senior Bowl as consistently as Meriweather did a few months ago was another undersized playmaker, former Iowa strong safety Bob Sanders. Meriweather is showing the skills to develop into a similar performer at the next level at free safety, and if his character issues allow him to slip into the second round, the 49ers would be tempted to pounce on such a talent. If the team maneuvers back in the first round, Meriweather is a possibility there, too.

Lorenzo Booker, RB, Florida State: The expectations for Booker were astronomical when he signed with Florida State as one of the elite prep talents in the country in 2002. He entered his senior season having played in 35 games, but having only started five games. His rushing yardage decreased each of the final three years of his career; peaking at 887 yards in 2004 (552 in 2005, 525 in 2006). So why he is listed among the risers? Booker has spectacular agility in the open field and the explosive speed to ultimately be a better pro than collegiate player. The expectations heaped upon Booker led to the speculation that he should be a feature back. At 5-10, 191 pounds, Booker lacks the size to handle this type of punishment. If featured as a third-down specialist, however, Booker's ability to turn simple five-yard routes into dazzling 75-yard touchdowns has scouts intrigued. Many feel that Booker can have an impact in 2007 similar to the one provided by undersized speedsters Jerious Norwood, or perhaps even Maurice Jones-Drew. That would make him perfect for the 49ers, who - depending on the status of restricted free-agent Maurice Hicks, who has until April 20 to sign an offer sheet with another team - are looking for a shifty third-down back to spell Frank Gore and complement Michael Robinson. If Booker falls in the middle rounds, which certainly is possible since he's not viewed as an every-down back, the 49ers could pounce with one of their six combined selections in rounds 3-4.

THE FALLERS

Paul Posluszny, OLB, Penn State: Posluszny remains the top outside linebacker for many clubs, and with the position being one of high value, many theorize that the All-American is naturally viewed as a top 15 pick. In reality, however, Posluszny is slotted in the 20-30 range on the boards of many teams. NFLDraftScout.com lists him as the 22nd overall prospect. While he plays with terrific instincts and is among the draft's soundest open field tacklers, concerns remain about his athleticism in coverage, and he doesn't have as much upside as several of the other top prospects at this position, though he may be more ready to contribute immediately at the pro level. Scouts are quick to question how they can rationalize using a first-round pick on a linebacker that may have to be substituted for on passing situations, but the 49ers would be happy to see Posluszny fall on the first day of the draft, where they would consider him after the first round.

Rufus Alexander, OLB, Oklahoma: Another big-name outside linebacker feeling the sting of an overall mediocre class is Oklahoma's Rufus Alexander. Alexander's draft stock may have peaked back in December when he was voted the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. Since then, Alexander failed to stand out at the Senior Bowl and ran a rather pedestrian 4.79 at the Combine, though he has been timed faster. Scouts question if Alexander isn't simply another in a long line of All-American Sooner linebackers who fail to live up to expectations at the NFL level. His plummeting stock could make Alexander available to the 49ers as late as the fifth round, perhaps even later, and that's a place a San Francisco team looking for and needing depth at linebacker certainly would consider taking a flyer on an active, run-to-the-ball prospect.


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