Rushing the passer is a vital part to any successful defense. It's an area the 49ers improved drastically when they drafted Aldon Smith with their first round pick in 2010. Outside of Smith, there really isn't a true known pass rush threat on the roster.
Ahmad Brooks has put together some nice seasons recording at least five sacks a year in his four seasons with the 49ers. The 49ers have finished among the top half of the league in sacks per year for each of the last three seasons. Considering these numbers, pass rush linebackers don't seem like such a need. However, remember that the 49ers starters rarely came off the field last year, something they'll look to remedy in 2013.
The Niners did draft two outside linebackers last year: fifth round pick Darius Fleming and seventh round pick Cam Johnson. Fleming missed the entire 2012 campaign after tearing his ACL in the first practice of the season last May. Johnson didn't see playing time until December, and was mostly a special teamer.
There are some questions at outside linebacker, so adding a pass rush specialist in this year's draft doesn't seem unreasonable. Here are my top ten 3-4 outside linebackers in the 2013 NFL Draft. Check out my previous rankings from January.
1. Dion Jordan 6-6, 248lbs - Oregon Stock: Rising Projection: Top 10
2. Jarvis Jones 6-2, 245 - Georgia Stock: Steady Projection: 1st Round
3. Barkevious Mingo 6-4 241lbs - LSU Stock: Steady Projection: Top 15
4. Ezekiel Ansah 6-5 271lbs - BYU Stock: Rising Projection: Top 10
5. Damontre Moore 6-4 250lbs - Texas A&M Stock: Falling Projection: 2nd Round
6. Corey Lemonier 6-3 255lbs - Auburn Stock: Rising Projection: 2nd - 3rd Round
7. Jamie Collins 6-3, 250lbs - Southern Miss Stock: Rising Projection: 2nd - 3rd Round
8. Alex Okafor 6-4 264lbs - Texas Stock: Steady Projection: 2nd Round
9. Trevardo Williams 6-1 241lbs - UConn Stock: Rising Projection: 3rd - 4th Round
10. John Simon 6-1 257lbs - Ohio State Stock: Steady Projection: 3rd - 4th Round
*Tank Carradine - Florida State: I didn't include Carradine here because most believe he'll likely be a defensive end for a 4-3 team. However, recent news indicated the 49ers will attend Carradine's pro day this Saturday. He could possibly spend his first year as a pass rush specialist while bulking up and learning the 5-technique.
- Dion Jordan went from No. 5 on my previous rankings up to No. 1.
- Bjoern Werner was removed after looking really slow and stiff in linebacker drills during the combine. He projects solely as a 4-3 defensive end.
- Damontre Moore fell from No. 3 to No. 5 after disappointing workouts, forty times, and a questionable work ethic.
- Newcomers Jamie Collins and Trevardo Williams crack the top-ten after impressing scouts in workouts and drills.
It appears that there will only be four first round pass rushers from the linebacker position drafted on day one. Of the four, only Jones figures to be even a remote possibility for the 49ers. Most believe he could be one of the prospects to fall should he be passed by the Saints at 15 and the Steelers at 17. Not that I'd put much stock into it, but even ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio mocked Jones to the 49ers at 31.
I've said before that I'm not the biggest fan of Ziggy Ansah. It's not that I don't think he'll be a good player. In my opinion, he has a bigger chance of being a bust than almost any other player in the first round. I base this opinion on my belief that he's not a true pass rusher. I think he projects best as a strong side defensive end for either a 4-3 or a 5-tech DE in a 3-4.
The three (realistically reachable) prospects that intrigue me most in this top ten are: Corey Lemonier, Jamie Collins, and Trevardo Williams.
Lemonier has first round talent. Had he stayed at Auburn one more year, there is no doubt in my mind he'd be one of the top pass rushers taken in next year's draft. He needs to add some bulk but is an impressive pass rusher off the edge. He has experience dropping into zone coverage and a very high motor. I like the way he projects long term.
Collins came out of nowhere in February to have one of the more impressive combines. He was a top performer in just about every drill among fellow linebackers. He's a tall, lengthy prospect with a quick first step. Collins racked up 20 tackles for loss his senior season to go with ten sacks. The biggest question about Collins is his lack of downfield pursuit. He would be an interesting option in round two.
Williams would be a bit of a project. He's very lean and would need to add significant bulk in order to be an every down player. However, his 4.57 speed off the edge is almost unmatched. He times his jumps well and has just enough strength not to be a liability against the run. Williams could benefit from a situation where he's not asked to start right away.
One guy who didn't make my top ten but would be a tremendous late round pick is David Bass from Missouri Western State. Bass has great size at 6-4, 262lbs and decent speed (4.69 forty at his pro day). He primarily completed defensive line drills at his pro day but some scouts project him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. At the combine, Bass had the fourth fastest 20-yard shuttle time (faster than first round picks Dian Jordan and Barkevious Mingo). The 20-yard shuttle is a great barometer of explosion and overall quickness.
Bass started 50 consecutive games at MWSU and accounted for a whopping 39.5 sacks. The kid is a natural pass rusher who performed well against better competition during the East-West Shrine game in January. He'll likely be picked between rounds five and seven but has all the tools to be an impact player in the NFL.