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 inside linebackers (other positions linked above). Jake Narayan has a look at five of them. 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 had just a wee bit of turnover at inside linebacker. Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired, leaving the team with some question marks. They have some options opposite NaVorro Bowman, in Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody and Shayne Skov, but long-term the team likely will be investing in some help at the position.
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#9 | Junior | Notre Dame Fighting Irish | ILB
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 240 | Age: 21
2014 Stats: 112 Tackles, 3.5 sacks
Strengths: Many people have gone on record this year calling Jaylon smith their top defensive player, including Matt Miller from Bleacher Report. Jaylon Smith is an absolute brick wall at the linebacker position. He is a high motor player that will track down the ball carrier to make the tackle. Smith is very quick to fill the hole, and an animal off of the edge when blitzing. Smith has ideal size and above average speed for a linebacker. Plays the game with incredible intensity and just an all around natural player.
Weaknesses: Although he might be the top defensive player heading into the 2015 college football season, there is still room to improve. The first thing I noticed when watching Smith was his reaction off of the ball, and he was constantly last on the Notre Dame defense. He has been relying on his quick acceleration and athleticism, which will not work at the next level. Smith is often blocked out of the play and cannot recover to make a tackle, which means he needs to work on shedding blocks and trying to make play.
Conclusion: A good linebacker that can be great with some more work. Smith is a hard-hitter and tackles through opponents without hesitation. He does not usually over pursue, which some players at the college level do with speed like his. If he declares for the draft this year, he is first round lock.
Scooby Wright III
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#33 | Junior | Arizona Wildcats | ILB
Height: 6'1" | Weight: 245 | Age: 20
2014 All-Pac-12 First-team
Strengths: Wright's 2014 season was one of the most prolific defensive performances in college football history. He totaled 163 tackles (29 for loss), 14 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles. It almost seemed last year that viewers couldn't watch an Arizona game without hearing his name. Despite being one of the most highly-regarded players in the country, he still has his critics, as does everybody. Wright is mainly criticized for the way he plays out of position, but playmakers like him have to take chances and he is doing that making a huge impact behind the line of scrimmage. He is more a natural football player rather than an athlete, but I can see his 40 time, broad jump, etc. being better than people think.
Weaknesses: As I mentioned earlier, weight tends to play outside of the guidelines for a linebacker. Only a certain type of player can play like this, and if you didn't know, he definitely has the talent to. Wright playing like this can be a good thing, but also a not so good thing. His over-aggressive style of play can often lead to missed assignments on defense and can allow a big play by the offense.
Conclusion: Overall, Scooby is a phenomenal player and has incredible potential. He is a dog on the defensive side of the ball, he never takes plays off (which is what I love about him most), and plays every game like it's last. If Wright puts up half of the numbers he did last year, he will still be a first round draft pick and can make an immediate impact in the NFL.
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#3 | Senior | Florida Gators | ILB
Height: 6'1" | Weight: 230 |
2014 Stats: 101 total tackles,
Strengths: Morrison finished with a total of 101 tackles last season at linebacker. He has the "see a hole, fill a hole" mentality which is a good thing for a middle linebacker to have. He is Decent blitzing off of the edge or up the middle when his number is called. He does have the size and fight in him to cover a tight end.
Weaknesses: Don't get me wrong, Morrison is a phenomenal linebacker, but with that said he still has a ton of work left. I find myself often watching him taking a false step, which is a red flag for a linebacker. I also find him not being able to get off blocks and make a play. My biggest concern about Morrison is his knee surgeries. Morrison played every game in the season and hurt is knee in the Birmingham bowl against East Carolina causing him to have a second surgery. It is still up in the air if he will even be able to play this year, but I see him being able to.
Conclusion: If he can make it back only a couple games through the season and play well, I still think teams will be scared to draft Morrison anywhere above the 3rd round due to his knee problems. He still has great potential and can be a pro-bowl linebacker someday, but right now it's all about staying healthy.
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#38 | Notre Dame Fighting Irish | LB
Height: 6'1" | Weight: 235 |
2014 Stats: 65 total tackles, 42 solo tackles
2014 Notre Dame Most Valuable Player
Strengths: Was named a captain recently for the 2015 season, a leader on the defense. Scrapes and comes downfield to make the tackle. Has great lateral feet and will fill the hole hard. He has the ability to drop into coverage and lock someone down. Schmidt has good strength, good tackle form and keeps his legs moving after contact.
Weaknesses: He started the first 8 games of last season, but his season was cut short after an ankle injury. Schmidt is undersized and has trouble getting off of blocks at times. He is recovering from the injury and should be able to go at the start of the season. Schmidt does not have incredible speed and often cannot recover after a missed tackle or be able to hawk someone down.
Conclusion: Schmidt was a walk-on at the University of Notre Dame, he had to earn a scholarship and he did. He has now emerged as a leader on Notre Dame and one of the best linebackers in the nation. He and Jaylon Smith combine to make one of the most exciting linebacker duos in college football. Schmidt will most likely be a 2-3 round draft pick in 2016.
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#19 | Senior | Alabama Crimson Tide | ILB
Height: 6'2" | Weight: 250 | Age: 22
2014 Stats: 95 total tackles, 45 solo tackles
Butkus Award finalist
Strengths: Ragland took the role at starting inside linebacker last year totaling 95 tackles and 10.5 for loss. He is a prototypical Alabama linebacker who is a very physical player that is a run stopper. He has NFL-ready size but could stand to lose a few pounds to improve speed. Ragland also contributes on the kickoff team and as a DE in certain packages.
Weaknesses: Ragland stands at 6'2", 250 lbs. so he has capability to cover a tight end, but he does need to work on his coverage. I believe he is also trying to show NFL teams that he is a 3 down linebacker, as he was absent many times last year on 3rd down. As I mentioned before he does play defensive end sometimes but can help himself when he's down there by not standing straight up and having more acceleration after the ball is snapped.
Conclusion: Decided to by pass the 2015 draft to stay at bama for his senior season. Ragland does need improvement but is definitely a pro-ready linebacker and will make an immediate impact at the next level. I see him being a 2-3 round draft pick in 2016.