The Rest of the Gold Helmets
By: Brian Sanchez
Day 3 of the NFL draft was all about adding depth for the San Francisco 49ers and I think they did an exceptional job of doing so. They made some great value picks that should all make the team and make the 49ers now one of the deeper teams in the league. All of the picks from today have their weaknesses, of course, or else they wouldn't be on the board. But the 49ers did an exceptional job of picking a certain type of player and they all have strengths that outweigh the weaknesses. The type of player the 49ers drafted was team leaders who were either incredibly fast or incredibly strong. They were also nearly all team leaders or captains. Let's take a look at the new gold helmets:
Round 4 (pick 117)-Joe Looney, OL Wake Forest
The 6'3" 309 lb. linemen is a big time value pick for the 49ers. This is a very physical, very strong interior linemen. Every time someone is a good value pick it means they should have gone higher, and there are always reasons why. Looney tore a ligament in his foot during the Senior Bowl and he may not even be ready to go by training camp of this year. The 49ers are comfortable with all the options they have at RG this year (Kilgore and Boone) so they took Looney and project him to make an impact over time. Other teams who needed linemen wanted them to play right away leaving Looney, who the 49ers traded up for, to be a back up as soon as he is healthy and possibly push for a starting role the year after.
Looney is a very physical very strong who is known more for his ability to throw defenders around than anything else. He does slide his feet well so he does project out to be a good pass blocker. But that is not the most important role for an interior linemen, there job is to block the run. Looney's good feet mean he will be a good pulling guard and when he did so in college he was very good at getting to the second level and hitting moving targets. His one weakness is the fact that his upper body is disproportionally stronger than his lower body. This laves him sitting to high in his crouch sometimes making him easy to bull rush. This is not too much of a problem to have, nothing time in the weight room with a professional trainer can't fix. He is expected to make a full recovery from the torn ligament in his foot and then he will hit the ground running. Todd McShay said that if he would have had a healthy foot he would have goon in the late 2nd/early 3rd because of his run blocking ability.
Round 5 (pick 165)-Darius Fleming, OLB Notre Dame
This 6'1" 245 lb. OLB will have a chance to immediately become a back up behind Aldon Smith. The 49ers only have one back up OLB right now and that is Parys Harralson, a player whom I don't think s anything special. Larry Grant could play some OLB but he should be primarily used to give Patrick Willis and Novarro Bowman plenty of time off. So, Fleming has a chance to make an impact. He is a physical specimen at his height and is a natural pass rusher. even though he is short at 6'1" he hot the bench press an eye opening 27 times. He also ran a 4.77 40 yard dash which establishes just how athletic this guy is. He was a 4-3 DE in college but will easily make the jump to a pass rushing 3-4 OLB for the 49ers. He uses his strength to bull rush O-linemen effectively and uses his speed to be a great player in pursuit and his lateral quickness makes him a threat from sideline to sideline. Also, with his size and speed he can make a definite impact on the special teams. This is an impressive player who made a lot of plays in college and he is actually an underrated cover OLB showing he can at least cover well enough to not be a liability. And with his experience at DE there is no reason he could not be inserted in pass rush situations to do just that. With his size and speed he can definitely be a playmaker for the 49ers and if he shows off enough in training camp he could see a good number of snaps in the regular season on defense and be a starter on special teams. Keep track of Fleming, he had a 3rd round grade and only fell because 4-3 teams did not like him as a DE (and rightfully so as that is not his position) meaning he was another good value pick for the 49ers.
Round 6 (pick 180)-Trenton Robinson, FS Michigan St.
I love this pick as much as I do the Fleming pick. This could end up being one of the best picks in the draft. I have seen Robinson ranked anywhere from the 4th best safety in the class to the 9th best, but either way, most had him going before the 6th round. The on down side to Robinson is his size (5'10" 195 lb) which is not prototypical and considered undersized for a safety in the NFL. Bill Polian likened him to a younger Bob Sanders which always evokes confidence. The basic term to describe Robinson is: where goes the football, there goes Robinson. He clocked in a 4.52 40 yard dash, which is second among all safeties. While he is smaller his tackling only suffers a little as he is a decent tackler. But he was not picked for his tackling (although he likes to play in the box to stop the run) he was picked for his playmaking and ability to intercept the ball. Mel Kiper Jr. even said he was the best zone coverage safety in this draft. Robinson excels at reading QB eyes and zipping over to the ball and cutting in front of WR's for an interception. He seems to have no holes other than his size, which he is still effective with. He has a sixth sense about where the ball is going and can cover slot receivers but probably not at the level of a CB. He has plus coverage skills for a safety but just adequate for a CB. The only reason anyone could see him in the 6th round is because of the size, and the 49ers already established they will take an undersized guy with Lemicahel James as long as he is super tough, and Robinson certainly is. The 49ers needed depth at safety having only CJ Spillman and Colin Jones who are fantastic special teams players but not so much at safety. Robinson can certainly see team on punt returns but leep an eye on him as he could become one of the top replacements at the safety position.
Round 6 (pick 199)-Jason Slowey, C Western Oregon
Slowey represents more of a long term investment for the 49ers but why not take a shot at the end of the 6th round? Slowey is coming out of Western Oregon which is a NCAA D-II program. He is one of the best linemen in D-II, but he played LT. at 6'3" 303 lbs he does not have the size to play at tackle. The 49ers drafted him and already have changed his position (so clearly they did their homework) to center. He has been noted by many as being one of the nastiest linemen in the draft. That right there is music to the 49ers ears. While he did not look like he could become a tackle at the NFL level many think he could soon be ready to play guard. The only reason it will take him a while to be ready for SF is because they are moving him to center. That takes more time than moving him to guard, but if he could do that easily he may well be the replacement for when Jonathan Goodwin is gone. With Slowey now, the 49ers have good depth on the O-line. Either Kilgore or Boone will start at RG. Either way Boone is the top tackle replacement, and if he is the starting RG and needs to move tackle then Kilgore will take over at RG. Looney is a back up at the guard position and they also have Mike Person out of Montana St. from last years draft who can pay either guard or tackle. then you add in Slowey and there is no real need on the O-line anymore.
Round 7 (pick 237)-Cam Johnson, OLB/DE Virginia
Cam Johnson is the reason why I think this is such a solid draft for the 49ers, he has a chance to be on the active roster. For a team as good as the 49ers it was not expected that this many picks would actually make the team but I think at least 6 will. Johnson is big (6'4" 270 lbs.) and athletic (4.8 40 yard dash). He has spent time as both a 4-3 DE and a 3-4 OLB and I think he could play both in the NFL. He does project more as a pass rushing OLB but he could sneak in for some snaps at DE in 3rd and long situations. He has the speed to rush the edges but actually prefers to stunt and blitz right up the middle where he can feature a ferocious bull rush. He has a good set of moves when he rushes and because he has such powerful legs he has a great burst off the line. This is another guy that most would have seen going in the earlier rounds. He is more of a workout warrior than anything else and Harbaugh usually loves that. the film on Johnson is not consistent and that's what worried a lot of teams. Johnson is a freakish physical athlete and Harbaugh likes to take those kind of guys and coach team up. If he can coach Johnson up, this 7th rounder can be a very viable back up. At the very least, Johnson too should be able to be a force on special teams.
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