Barring any major surprises the 49ers will head into the NFL Draft with Aldon Smith, Aaron Lynch, and Corey Lemonier as their primary edge defenders. Ahmad Brooks could factor in if he agrees to restructure his contract and take a pay cut but he figures to be a cap casualty this offseason. PFF recently graded both Smith and Lynch as two of the top disrupting edge players in the league. Brooks was near the bottom.
While the 49ers may not look into the first two rounds to add depth at pass rusher, the 2015 class appears to be fairly deep. The 49ers could snag great value in the mid rounds on a project pass rusher that wouldn't need to see the field a ton from day one.
Here are my early top 10 edge rushers for the 2015 NFL Draft:
1. Dante Fowler, Jr. - 6-2, 261lbs, Jr., Florida
2. Shane Ray - 6-3, 245lbs, Jr., Missouri
3. Randy Gregory - 6-6,245lbs, rJr., Nebraska
4. Alvin Dupree - 6-4, 267lbs, rSr., Kentucky
5. Danielle Hunter - 6-6, 240lbs, Jr., LSU
6. Vic Beasley - 6-2, 235lbs, rSr. Clemson
7. Lorenzo Mauldin - 6-4,256lbs, Sr., Louisville
8. Owa Odighizuwa - 6-3, 270lbs, rSr., UCLA
9. Hau'oli Kikaha - 6-3, 246lbs, rSr., Washington
10. Nate Orchard - 6-3, 251lbs, Sr., Utah
Just missed: Eli Harold - 6-4, 250lbs, Jr., Virginia; Trey Flowers - 6-2, 268lbs, Sr., Arkansas ; Markus Golden - 6-2, 255lbs, rSr., Missouri; Za'Darius Smith - 6-5, 270lbs, Sr., Kentucky; Lynden Trail - 6-6, 262lbs, rSr., Norfolk State
The first four on my list are likely to be gone by pick 15 and the first seven are likely first round picks. Of those, Alvin Dupree and Danielle Hunter are most intriguing to me. Both have been flying relatively low on the radar but that should change after the Combine.
Dupree might be the best pure pass rusher in the class while Hunter's size, length, and unparalleled athleticism have reminded some of his former LSU teammate Barkavious Mingo.
Mauldin is another under the radar prospect due to a few nagging injuries last season at Louisville. He's a bit of a tweener (size-wise) but shows impressive ability to pressure the pocket. He consistently keeps his hands/ feet churning and plays with violence.
If the 49ers want to find a prospect capable of giving them a strong side defender with run-stopping prowess, UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa could be in the consideration set. Odighizuwa wasn't asked to pressure the pocket a ton so his pass rushing skills is still a bit of an unknown. He's an excellent edge setter with strong hands and plenty of potential.
My exclusion of Arkansas' Trey Flowers from last week's defensive line rankings was intentional. Those rankings were considering those who project at 5T ends or 0-3T tackles. I see Flowers as a strong side DE in a 4-3 or as a strong side OLB in a 3-4 scheme where a bevy of pass rushing moves are not required and he can use his power and length to disrupt the run game and establish the edge.
Lyden Trail is a guy I expect to impress at the Combine. Size, speed, and athleticism should all test well. Coming from a small school he's still incredibly raw and may only make an impact on passing situations early in his career. He's definitely someone to keep an eye on over the next couple of months.