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2014 NFL Draft: A look at pass rushing options

Aldon Smith's latest legal woes may cause the 49ers to look for a pass rusher early in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kevin C. Cox

The old adage is you can never have too many pass rushers and it was already a strong possibility the 49ers would look add some depth there late in the upcoming draft. Now, however, with star outside linebacker Aldon Smith's latest legal woes the 49ers are left with a little less than a month to determine how to address the position, if at all, in the upcoming draft.

We've heard for weeks now about the depth of this upcoming draft class. That's the good news. The bad? It's not very deep when it comes to pass rushers. Still, that doesn't mean the 49ers can't find a young rookie to make an impact in passing situations, it just means they'll need to reevaluate their strategy.

Instead of maybe trading up for a top corner or receiver, Trent Baalke and Co. could opt to take a pass rusher late in round one and then wait to address the secondary and receiving corps in the second and third rounds. After all, the 49ers have six picks in the first 100 selections.

Since pass rushers come in all shapes and sizes and many played a different position in college like defensive end and even inside linebacker, it can be difficult to identify those that will make an impact at the next level.

Let's take a look at both the top OLBs and DEs according to SB Nation's Dan Kadar.

Outside Linebackers

1. Khalil Mack | 6'2 5/8, 251 pounds | Outside linebacker | Buffalo

2. Anthony Barr | 6'4 7/8, 255 pounds | Outside Linebacker | UCLA

3. Ryan Shazier | 6'1, 237 pounds | Outside linebacker | Ohio State *

4. Kyle Van Noy | 6'3 1/8, 243 pounds | Outside linebacker | BYU

5. Jeremiah Attaochu | 6'3, 252 pounds | Outside linebacker | Georgia Tech

6. Christian Jones | 6'3 1/8, 240 pounds | Outside linebacker | Florida State

7. Trent Murphy | 6'5, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | Stanford

8. Telvin Smith | 6'3, 218 pounds | Outside linebacker | Florida State

9. Carl Bradford | 6'0 3/4, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | Arizona State *

10. Kevin Pierre-Louis | 6'1, 225 pounds | Outside linebacker | Boston College

Defensive Ends

1. Jadeveon Clowney | 6'5 1/4, 266 pounds | Defensive end | South Carolina *

2. Kony Ealy | 6'4, 273 pounds | Defensive End | Missouri *

3. Dee Ford | 6'2, 252 pounds | Defensive end | Auburn

4. Demarcus Lawrence | 6'2 7/8, 251 pounds | Defensive end | Boise State *

5. Scott Crichton | 6'2 7/8, 273 pounds | Defensive end | Oregon State *

6. Marcus Smith | 6'3 3/8, 251 pounds | Defensive end | Louisville

7. Kareem Martin | 6'5 7/8, 272 pounds | Defensive end | North Carolina

8. Aaron Lynch | 6'5, 249 pounds | Defensive end | South Florida **

9. Jackson Jeffcoat | 6'3, 247 pounds | Defensive End | Texas

10. Chris Smith | 6'1, 266 pounds | Defensive end | Arkansas

Regardless of position, it's quite clear the top three pass rushers in this draft are, in some order, Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, and Anthony Barr. Clowney and Mack will be gone in the first three to four picks. Barr figures to be a top 10-12 pick meaning all three are likely beyond reach for the 49ers barring a huge trade up.

That leaves a second tier of pass rushers as possibilities for the 49ers late in round one including: Kony Ealy, Dee Ford, Demarcus Lawrence, and Jeremiah Attaochu.

Ealy earned All-SEC honors at Missouri and the 49ers have had some pretty good luck with players from Mizzou. He played mostly in a 4-3 in college but scouts believe he has the burst and athleticism to play in any scheme.

Auburn's Dee Ford isn't short on confidence. A day before the combine in February, Ford said he was a better pass rusher than Clowney and even called out the potential first overall pick as a "blind dog in a meat market". Ford also compared himself to some recent "smaller" 3-4/hybrid pass rushers that have made a major impact like Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

Ford didn't compete at the combine after doctors flagged him over concern from previous back injury. At his pro day, however, Ford seemed to remove the concern over his back as he reportedly ran a 4.54 forty, benched 29 reps, to go along with a 35.5" vertical.

Demarcus Lawrence has been a name thrown around a lot lately as a possible late first round pick. Coincidently, the 49ers had set up a meeting scheduled for this week before learning of Smith's issue at LAX. Lawrence apparently has some "character" concerns as well after serving three separate one game suspensions in two years at Boise State. You have to wonder if the 49ers will be ultra-sensitive to news like that.

Jeremiah Attaochu is intriguing because his natural athletic frame, versatility, quickness, and long arms. He lined up a lot at OLB in Georgia Tech's 3-4 scheme and even played inside at times. He's still a bit raw and will need to develop a complete skill set but his natural pass rushing ability will see him drafted in the first two rounds.

However the 49ers decide to handle Aldon Smith, it appears likely they'll have to consider a pass rusher in the first two-three rounds. Over the coming weeks, we'll scout a few of the prospects above and consider how they may or may not fit with the 49ers.

Putting on your GM hat, whom from this second group do you target in this year's draft? Or do you wait even longer and take a shot on the likes of Trent Murphy, Scott Crichton, Marcus Smith, etc.?