The San Francisco 49ers are only midway through their 2015 preseason schedule, leaving them two preseason games and 16 regular season games (and hopefully some playoff games!) until we reach the next offseason. While the NFL season is only just beginning, it is never too soon to start draft coverage! In the past, we have put together weekly prospect reports for college games on a given weekend. We have also done some work with prospect rankings later in the season.
This year, we're adding something new. I thought it would be helpful to come up with a preseason watch list for each of the main positions on both sides of the ball. We still don't even know what the 49ers roster will look like in two months, let alone next offseason. However, some folks are already going to be looking at next year's draft. And so, I wanted to get started with some top prospects at each position.
We're back today with defensive linemen (other positions linked above). Greg Valerio has a look at five of them to get the discussion going. The list of names is far from all-inclusive, but rather some of the big names to help get things started. Additionally, this depends on some of the players declaring for the draft, so again, it is just looking at some potential top options at each position.
The 49ers have begun a significant turnover on their defensive line following the departures of Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Quinton Dial and Glenn Dorsey will likely join Ian Williams on the starting defensive line. Tank Carradine and Darnell Dockett are expected to handle a lot of nickel work. The team invested a first round pick in Arik Armstead. A lot of fans were underwhelmed by the pick, but he is coming off a solid second preseason game. It remains to be seen how much work he will get with the defense this season, but he is showing some things.
It is hard to say where defensive line will fit in the 49ers draft plans because we just don't know what this line will do. There is a lot of young talent, but most of them come with various questions. I am optimistic about the line, but there is a lot of football to show us what exactly it all means.
Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
#97 | Junior | Ohio State Buckeyes | DE
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 275 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.7s | Age: 20 (turns 21 in September)
2014 Stats: 13.5 Sacks 55 tackles 21.5 TFL 1 PD 4 FF 1 FR 1 TD
Consensus All-American in 2014
Initially, I had thought I should just post Joey Bosa's sack celebration emoji and let it suffice as his write up, sort of like my dropping the mic moment. However, I felt the need to convey Bosa's immense talents beyond a simple emoji. Bosa is a tremendously gifted athletic talent. He showcase a terrific combination of size, strength, athleticism, natural ability, power, and quickness. A relentless motor, Bosa dominates in the run game with great fundamentals and pure power. Stacks and sheds nicely and has tremendous awareness.
Not necessarily a speed rusher off the edge, Bosa does utilize fantastic speed to power conversion to get in the backfield, along with quickness and flexibility to side-step opponents on his way to the quarterback. He also has a very impressive swim move. Bosa is an all around complete player, adept in all facets of the game whether rushing the passer, wreaking havoc in the backfield, or a stout run stopper. Extremely strong, Bosa has been reported to have benched 440 pounds and squat 500 pounds while in high school. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ In the 3-4 scheme, I envision Bosa as a five-technique.
Weaknesses: There are a few minor issues Bosa needs to maintain consistency on. For example, he occasionally comes out with a high pad level losing the leverage battle allowing offensive lineman to get into his chest. Plus, at times he gambles a bit at the expense of gap integrity. However, the main issue with Bosa is decision making, in terms of off the field. Bosa, along with three other Buckeyes, are suspended for the season opener for violating athletic department policy. Although it is extremely important to stress the exact infractions have not been associated to any specific suspended player, it has been reported the issues are stemming from "marijuana and academics".
Conclusion: Joey Bosa is a sure fire NFL ready prospect day one. Ever since his impressive freshman season, I have been amazed at how well he plays and the strength, power, and technique he bestows at such a young age. He does not rely solely on athleticism like most do in college football. He uses his athleticism to his advantage by building on top of his savviness and technique like premier players in the NFL.
Speaking of athleticism, Bosa can do standing back flips. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ His natural ability is no doubt truly impressive and I am confident he will be on top of nearly ever team's draft board. Bosa has been my number one pick for quite some time, and with the top labeling he will likely receive, he will be in the spotlight and the scrutiny will hound him throughout the year. As long as Bosa continues to dominate, he will likely be a top 5 draft pick in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
#44 | Senior | Oregon Ducks | DE
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 290 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.87 | Age: 23
2014 Stats: 4 Sacks 81 tackles 13 TFL 4 PD 1 FF
Second-Team All-PAC-12 in 2014
Strengths: At the beginning of last years' college season, I had pegged Arik Armstead as a perfect scheme fit for the 49ers. Obviosuly, the potential is there, but what really intrigued me was how he was used in Oregon's Bear (Hidden Bear) defensive scheme. As the 4i-technique, Armstead maintained B gap integrity utilizing his power and length to stop the inside run, stacking and shedding and cross facing opponents down the line to make the stop, or occupying blocks in order to allow the line backers a free run to the ball carrier. Armstead's fellow defensive end, DeForest Buckner, was also tasked to perform the same duties as an ideal run stuffer clogging the middle. Buckner showcases a superb combination of size, length, power, awareness, quickness, and athleticism. The former high school basketball player is explosive off the line of scrimmage providing a tremendous jolt at the point of attack, utilizing his length and long arms to keep blockers away and easily stack and sheds blockers to pursue the ball carrier. Shows commitment to gap integrity and dominates with leverage, powering through offensive linemen with an impressive bull rush.
Weaknesses: At times, Buckner's pad level is too high allowing himself to get stonewalled. Due to his superior height and length, maintaining leverage will always be a concern. He is not a true edge rusher, and Oregon's scheme dictates his production; therefore, he will not blow you away with high stats a la Arik Armstead.
Conclusion: DeForest Buckner is very similar to Arik Armstad; however, at this current point of their careers, Buckner is a better player, which shows in stat production when comparing the two. Personally, I believe Armstead's ceiling is higher than Buckners due to his superior athleticism, but I believe Buckner will end up being a very impressive NFL player. As mentioned earlier, he is a great scheme fit for the 49ers, and quite honestly, I would not be surprised if Baalke drafts another 3-4 defensive end very high (look at the back-to-back-to-back safety picks). Nevertheless, Buckner showcases many desirable skills plenty of NFL teams would salivate over. I project DeForest Buckner to be a first round pick in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
#5 | Junior | Ole Miss Rebels | DT
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 296 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.70 | Age: 20 (turns 21 in September)
2014 Stats: 2 Sacks 35 tackles 4 TFL 1 PD
Second-Team All-American in 2014
Strengths: Ole Miss has one of top defenses in all of college football, and a lot has to do with the strength in the middle. The man providing that strength is the anchor and freakishly athletic Robert Nkemdiche. The consensus No. 1 overall recruit in the nation, Nkemdiche showcases tremendous athleticism, quickness, fluidity, size, speed, and strength. He is not your typical large wide-bodied defensive tackle, but a slender agile frame with a 10% body fat and a muscular build. His lateral quickness and explosion helps blow through offensive line with ease, quickly side stepping and shrinking himself to penetrate through small windows. He also uses great power at the point of attack, power generated from dominate strength (bench presses 400 pounds, squats 500 pounds, and power cleans 376 pounds). High motor and continuously makes plays even when double teamed. Takes on a lot of blockers to make others around him thrive. Very disciplined run stopper and gap penetrator wreaking having in the backfield. Versatility to play all over the line.
Weaknesses: Relatively still raw player and has room for improvement on technique. He will also need to find more consistency to his game. Needs to improve awareness, at times the game appears too fast for him.
Conclusions: A true disrupter of the game, Robert Nkemdiche is poised to continue on improving his game and football IQ to match up with his amazing athleticism. Ideally, it would be best for him to finish school and continue to learn on being a true student of the game. However, he is a rare talent with numerous flashes of dominance, and I fully expect him to have a huge season this year; therefore, I think he will forgo his senior year and declare. I expect Robert Nkemdiche to be a first round prospect in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
#86 | Junior | Alabama Crimson Tide | DT
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 312 lbs. | 40 Time: 5.12 | Age: 20
2014 Stats: 5.5 Sacks 38 tackles 8 TFL
Honorable Mention All-SEC in 2014
Strengths: If it is one thing the SEC is known for, it is their great defensive lineman, and Alabama has been one of the schools heavily churning out NFL talented defensive lineman for the past five years in a row. The next prospect destined to continue Alabama's streak of defensive lineman being drafted is A'Shawn Robinson. Robinson is a another very strong long-armed defender with great size, length, power, and athleticism. A large stout run stuffer, Robinson showcases power at the point of attack, capable of handling two-gaps, decent in collapsing the pocket, has sound awareness to stop ball carriers next to him utilizing good hand technique (great power in hands) stacking and shedding, and plays with good leverage and power with a high motor chasing down ball carriers. Has quick feet with balance to navigate through the trash. Versatility to play NT in a 3-4, as well as the 5-technique. Highly intelligent player.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve pass rush skills (very powerful bull rush though), and will also need to be consistent on maintaining pad level (plays too high at times). When he bends properly using sound leverage, he flat out dominates.
Conclusion: A'Shawn Robinson is a player that may not get all the hype as others on this list, but he has a very reliable and dominate game that team's covet in building and strengthening the middle of their defenses. Robinson may not be as skilled as the last Alabama defensive lineman picked in the first round (Marcell Dareus), but the extremely talented powerful run stuffer is definitely a tremendous force in the middle to keep an eye on this season. I project A'Shawn Robinson to be a first round pick in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
#2 | Senior | Baylor Bears | DE
Height: 6'9" | Weight: 280 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.88 | Age: 23
2014 Stats: 11 Sacks 52 tackles 19.5 TFL 3 PD 4 FF 2 FR
Third-Team All-American in 2014
Strengths: There is a lot more to Shawn Oakman than the popular meme floating around social media. Granted, Oakman's eye-popping size at 6'9" and his chiseled physique, will drop many jaws in bewilderment, but the athletically gifted phenom has showcased a steady improvement to his game that goes beyond his physical attributes. Besides the obvious size and strength Oakman bestows, he also showcases tremendous length, quickness, burst, agility, and power. A physical terror on the field, Oakman uses great burst off the line of scrimmage, quickly engages offensive lineman with aggressive and violent hands, and utilizes his amazing arm length to gain separation. Although he has very good speed, Oakman relies heavily on his power and agility to get into the backfield. A disruptive force, he showcases a high motor and an aggressive style of play.
Weaknesses: For a strong and powerful as Oakman looks, he still needs to gain more strength at the next level, specifically in his upper body (although the lower half could use some extra strength as well). Oakman has the ideal length to stack, but when it comes to shedding he struggles to disengage at times, where more upper strength will help him shed, cross face, and attack with speed. He has shown improvement each year, but he still needs to improve his awareness in play recognition. Moreover, as previously mentioned with all humongous players, high pad level is always an issue, and Oakman shares in this struggle. When he showcases sound leverage, Oakman's power is truly evident and the meme's are justified.
Conclusion: Relatively still raw, Shawn Oakman's potential is through the roof. The combination of his unique skill-set and freakish athleticism, propels Oakman to be an exciting player to keep an eye on this college season. Trent Baalke does love freakish athletes that are former basketball players with amazing length and a wing span that will make you cry. Oakman fits the bill in all those qualities that makes Baalke giddy. I envision Oakman to be a 3-4 defensive end in the 49ers scheme, but his continued growth and foot speed could make him more versatile, another Baalke check mark. I expect continued improvement from Oakman this season and eagerly anticipate a huge year for him. I project Shawn Oakman to be a first round pick in the 2016 Draft.