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 pass rushers (other positions linked above). Greg Valerio has a look at five of them, focusing on potential fits as 3-4 outside linebackers. 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 roster currently includes pass rushers drafted each of the last three rounds. Eli Harold, Aaron Lynch and Corey Lemonier are looking at numerous significant opportunities with Aldon Smith released, and Ahmad Brooks's roster status up in the air. Brooks was already a potential cap cut next year, so it would be no surprised if the 49ers decided to add another OLB next spring.
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
#38 | Junior | Oklahoma State Cowboys | DE/3-4 OLB
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 275 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.76 | Age: 21
2014 Stats: 11 Sacks 49 Tackles 17 TFL 5 PD 1 FF
First-Team All-Big 12 in 2014
Strengths: Some players go through a steady progression each year slowly improving their craft, and there are others who absolutely explode onto the scene, surpassing expectations taking the game by storm. Emmanuel Ogbah fits in that last category. The pass rushing phenom from Lagos, Nigeria, had a breakout year in 2014 that started with a very impressive game against the Florida State Seminoles, where he made plays all over the field and sacked Jameis Winston twice. Explosion is the theme with Ogbah, as he generates tremendous power to burst off the line of scrimmage launching his impressive thick and powerful frame against his opponents with a violent push at the point of attack and speed off the edge. Ogbah showcases ideal size, bulk, length, power, quickness, speed, and athleticism you look for in a pass rusher; however, he is also great in the run game, where his agility, balance, and strength helps him set the edge, stack with his long arms and disengage easily to make the play. He shows fluidity in space and has impressive awareness with the knowledge to always throw up his hands to disrupt passing attempts. Shows versatility to line up all over the defensive line and can drop in coverage. High character athletic with a strong work ethic.
Weaknesses: Even though he had an impressive 2014 season, he is still growing into the position. Ogbah will need to improve his technique, specifically consistency on hand usage, as well as develop more pass rush moves. He flashes a lot of dominance, but he needs more consistency to his all around game.
Conclusion: A lot of eyes will be on Emmanuel Ogbah this year to see if he can improve upon his breakout season. He is still learning the nuances of the position, and polishing his game throughout the season will only increase his daft status. He already displays an NFL ready frame with impressive athleticism and length teams at the next level will be eager to get their hands on. If Ogbah continues his sky rocketing trajectory, he will no doubt be a first round selection in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
#84 | Junior | Georgia Bulldogs | 3-4 OLB
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 232 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.73 | Age: 22 (turns 23 in September)
2014 Stats: 6 Sacks 55 tackles 8.5 TFL 3 FF 1 FR
Honorable Mention All-SEC in 2014
Strengths: As the defensive MVP for the Bulldogs, Leonard Floyd showcases an explosive skill-set NFL teams desire with their pass rush specialists. His speed and bend off the edge is impressive. Floyd showcases superb athleticism with good technique, excellent burst and closing speed, amazing first-step off the line, fair hands with decent pop at point of attack, quick to transition into pass rush moves (has a tremendous swim move), impressive change of direction, fair at stacking and shedding, and fair against the run. He also possesses great balance and body control, where coming out of the arc from his bend he is able to adjust with ease and take advantage of his length. He shows sound awareness, good coverage skills, and an excellent tackler in space.
Weaknesses: Floyd needs to improve hand technique, and gain more power and strength to disengage from opponents. Although he is fair in run support, I believe the added weight gain in strength will help him to be more stout and physical. He also needs a lot more consistency to his game, where at times he was an activate participant in, Where's Waldo? He is also coming back from shoulder surgery he had done back in December of 2014.
Conclusion: Leonard Floyd is expected to expand his role this year playing various positions along the line backer corps for Georgia. The versatility in his game will only improve his draft status and if he can add the weight and increase his strength, he will be able to expand the role of being a one-dimensional speed guy off the edge. He has a lot of amazing skills that with polish can truly make him a beast at the next level. I project Leonard Floyd as a first round pick in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
#89 | Senior | Michigan State Spartans | (DE)3-4 OLB
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 252 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.78 | Age: 23
2014 Stats: 8 Sacks 39 TACKLES 12.5 TFL 1 FF 1 FR
Two-Time Second-Team All-American in 2013 and 2014
Strengths: After watching Shilique Calhoun's very impressive 2013 season, I was expecting to see him explode in 2014. Although the explosion was not as impressive as expected (lackluster at best), Calhoun displays impressive skills that easily transitions at the next level. Calhoun showcases a solid combination of size, speed, flexibility, and length that bends quite well coming off the edge with good feet and speed. A physical and aggressive edge player with a quick burst off the line of scrimmage, Calhoun shows good change of direction, strength at the point of attack, solid instincts, and is a relentless player that has an eye for the ball with impressive closing speed and a high motor. He is good at setting the edge, stacks and sheds with decent technique, and overall is good against the run.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent! Too many times he lets opponents get into his chest and gets stonewalled. He needs to gain a considerable amount of strength at the next level in order to help disengage when shedding from opponents and to help generate power on his pass rush. He shows the potential with flashes of greatness, but his Jekyll and Hyde performance needs to end.
Conclusion: There are many that view Shilique Calhoun as an over-rated player, and after the inconsistent season he had last year, I can see their point. However, I believe Calhoun has the drive and willingness to improve his game, since he turned down two opportunities to declare the previous years. If he can work on being more consistent in all aspects of his game, as well as gaining some strength, Calhoun will garnish himself with the necessary tools in order to be a coveted pass rusher at the next level. As of right now, I project Shilique Calhoun as a second round prospect in the 2016 Draft.
Dadi Lhomme Nicolas
Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
#90 | Senior | Virginia Tech Hokies | (DE)3-4 OLB
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 236 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.5's | Age: 22 (turns 23 in September)
2014 Stats: 8.5 Sacks 71 TACKLES 18 TFL 1 PD 1 FR
Second-Team All-ACC in 2014
Strengths: Who's your Dadi? Well, it very well could be the extremely impressive athletic pass rusher, Dadi Nicolas. The former high school basketball player showcases tremendous length, size, speed, athleticism, fluidity, and explosion. Moreover, Dadi has an excellent first step, shows quickness and great bend with impressive change of direction skills. He flashed good hand technique to help stack and shed opponents, and shows great balance, body control, and lateral quickness to side-step and burst with closing speed. He has a natural ability in coverage (good fluidity) and looks solid in space and a tremendous ability to run down ball carriers.
Weaknesses: Dadi is still a raw player at the position (only one year of high school football). He relies heavily on his elite athletic skills, although he does flash technique, footwork, and athleticism in concert to show his amazing potential. He needs to gain functional strength for the next level (a lot of it). Once an opponent gets a hand on him, he easily gets stonewalled. Slender build, but capable of adding more weight without sacrificing the speed, quickness, and athleticism. Needs to learn the nuances of the position and in general, become a better student of the game in order to improve his awareness.
Conclusion: Dadi Nicolas is a very exciting prospect I am eagerly looking forward to see develop this year, and is definitely a player locked in on my radar, especially with our future needs at OLB. Right now, I see him as a project player with a very high ceiling. His impressive athleticism alone will turn ends, and I fully expect him to have some jaw-dropping numbers at the combine. As of now, Dadi is one of my favorite OLB prospects in this class, and if he can gain that functional strength to match his athleticism, look out! I have Dadi Nicolas projected as a second round pick in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
#55 | Redshirt Sophomore | Auburn Tigers | 3-4 OLB
Height: 6'2" | Weight: 257 lbs. | 40 Time: 4.67
2013 Stats: 4 Sacks 20 TACKLES 7.5 TFL 2 FF
Freshman All-American in 2013
Strengths: I know you are seeing the No. 55 Auburn jersey and thinking, "Hey, didn't we already draft that guy?" No, this is not Corey Lemonier, but a pass rusher I believe could be a better version of Auburn's former first round pick, Dee Ford. After a very impressive freshman year, where he was second on the team in sacks as a rotational player for the Tigers, Lawson missed the entire 2014 season with a season ending injury during Spring practices (torn ACL). Lawson is back and better than ever, where his tremendous explosion and speed will cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. He showcases good size with a thick and stout frame, explosive off the edge with excellent speed, flexibility, agility, and change of direction. He is very athletic and strong with a relentless pursuit to the ball carrier. Displays a tremendous quick first-step and a consistent high-motor. He is very strong at the point of attack and quite simply, a dominant disrupter on the field.
Weaknesses: The biggest hurdle Lawson will need to overcome is coming back from his torn ACL (left knee) he suffered in the Spring of 2014. So far, reports are looking good stating that he is "better than ever" and "unblockable". As to how well his knee holds up will be a focus this year, but as a player still raw to the position, Lawson will continue to need to improve his all around game.
Conclusion: It is going to be a key season for Carl Lawson, where he will focus on becoming the breakout player he was expected to be in 2014. I fully expect him to shake off the rust early and continue to dominate and become Auburn's premier pass rusher off the edge. As a redshirt sophomore, it is likely Lawson will continue to hone in on his craft and stay an extra year at Auburn; however, if he absolutely explodes on the scene showcasing impressive production, I can definitely see him forgo his remaining eligibility and take his talents to the NFL. I love his potential, but I am a little bit cautious due to his injury; therefore, if Lawson declares, I currently see him as a second round prospect.