For those of you that followed us around this time last season, than you know that the NFL draft is something I absolutely love to write about. From making bold predictions like predicting WR Quinton Patton to be drafted by the 49ers just six days after the Super Bowl and RB Marcus Lattimore to be selected just three days prior to the draft, I put in countless hours in dissecting the direction of each NFL team including the 49ers.
So with the draft quickly upon us, many factors will determine which direction GM Trent Baalke will go in. From free-agency to re-signing their own, Baalke will have to work his magic once again as he tries and retain as many players as possible without breaking the bank. And although I believe it’s imperative the 49ers re-sign 12-year veteran WR Anquan Boldin, the verdict is still out on whether Baalke will fork $6 to $7 million per year to an aging player (turning 34). Not to mention, K Phil Dawson is just as important, Baalke will need to do everything in his power to keep these two studs as they have proven their worth to the Forever Faithful.
However, with those decisions on the back burner for now, the 49ers have quickly shifted their focus to the task at hand with the annual Senior Bowl. A game that is filled with a fountain of youth, many NFL general managers, coaches, and player personnel closely monitor the festivity in hopes of finding that one diamond in the rough. So with the Senior Bowl upon us as the game will be played on Saturday, I have identified five players the 49ers should keep an eye on. And despite no defensive backs on the watch list, it is more due to the lack of talent and right fit under DC Vic Fangio’s scheme. So without further ado, the five players to watch are:
DE Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota)
Hageman is the wild card here simply because of his athleticism. A two-star athlete in High School as Hageman also played basketball, it will be fun to see how that athletic ability translates on the field. A workout warrior as Hageman has the rare combination of speed to strength, do not be surprised if he is the talk of the town at the NFL Scouting combine as he can run a 40-yard dash in a shade under 5.0 seconds.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds, Hageman would be an ideal 3-4 defensive end. And with last year’s second-round pick DE Tank Carradine waiting in the wings, Hageman would be a nice addition that can slide into the rotation at some point during the season spelling DE Justin Smith and DE Ray McDonald. Not to mention, Hageman is still learning the nuances of the defensive line positions as he was a converted tight-end, Hageman is a guy to watch on Saturday.
DT Will Sutton (Arizona St.)
After a stellar junior season in which Sutton was routinely seen penetrating the backfield, his senior season was somewhat of an aberration. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of comparison, Sutton will need to prove his worth in Mobile, Alabama. Some say it was due to Sutton gaining 20 to 25 pounds from his junior to senior season which slowed him down. Whatever the case may be, Sutton will need to wow the scouts on Saturday. A player that possesses a quick first step with the violent hands to shed blockers, look for Sutton to abuse offensive lineman down in the trenches as he fights his way back into first-round consideration.
DE Aaron Donald (Pitt)
The guy is an absolute stud. Often overlooked due to playing in the ACC, make no mistake Donald will turn heads on Saturday. Listed at 6-foot and 285 pounds, Donald is on the smaller side in terms of being a nose tackle but is ideal for a 3-4 defensive end. A great Senior Bowl participant thus far, Donald made a huge play that likely solidified his spot as a top tier defensive lineman, when he pancaked Baylor’s G Cyril Richardson. A true mauler with the quickness and leverage to be able to play in Fangio’s two-gap scheme, look for Donald to make a name for himself as he proves the ACC is no joke.
WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
Yes, that’s right. For those of you who don’t know. Matthews is the second cousin of Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice. But that is not why I selected him as a player to watch, as his stats alone are enough to warrant that. Bloodlines that run deep, the former Vanderbilt product set numerous SEC records for catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759) with a (14.3 avg.). So what can fans alike expect from Rice’s cousin? Well take notes because Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has already taken notice, saying:
“He did a nice job, he had a great catch. Real studious, real sharp on his assignments. The ability for him to transfer what he knew in college to what we’re asking him, that’s always the transition these guys go through, but he seemed to pick it up real quick.”
WR Kevin Norwood (Alabama)
Norwood’s speed is something the 49ers desperately need. A true burner on the outside that can make plays between the 20′s, Norwood is just what the doctor ordered. A solid player but not a great player, Norwood would be ideal on third-downs as his speed alone should possess a threat. Look for the quarterbacks to test his speed early by throwing a few long balls to the Alabama product as he has the ability to track the ball down and adjust while in the air.