“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the 2017 NFL Season, where the San Francisco 49ers’ linebacker corps looked poised for success with Malcolm Smith, Eli Harold, Reuben Foster, and the savvy vet NaVorro Bowman leading the way. Unfortunately, a season ending injury snagged Smith’s opportunity before it really started, and Bowman’s mid-season release left shock waves making way for the explosive newcomer in Foster — the one to calm the waters. Yet rough waters ensued.
The future appeared bright with Foster navigating the defense, but continuous injury issues and off-field red flags have derailed the hype train Foster was championing. And now, once again, concerns about the linebacker corps will need to be addressed for the coming season.
Regardless of what happens with Foster, the football realities and future of the position should be a focus the team needs to handle sooner rather than later. Moreover, with the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan collective mindset of building the team through the draft, this year is a perfect opportunity to land one of the top linebacker prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. The two prospects in question are Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith.
The idea of Edmunds or Smith donning the Red and Gold and running loose on defense is exciting, but if both players are available when the 49ers are on the clock with their first round pick (No. 9), who should they select?
Many draft analysts have salivated with the freakish athleticism and size of Edmunds, but Smith is no slouch in the athleticism department and has instincts for days. We break down the tale of the two prospects, but first, how the numbers translate.
How the measurable drills translate for linebackers
When considering the numbers achieved by the linebackers performing their drills at the NFL Combine/Pro Day, keep in mind of some minimum measurable targets linebackers should be expected to target as a minimum result. For the most part, prospects exceeding these minimal targets tend to find success in the NFL. Minimal targets courtesy of Draft Breakdown.
40-yard dash: Minimum Target: 4.80
10-yard split: Minimum Target: 1.70
Vertical jump: Minimum Target: 33”
Broad jump: Minimum Target: 9’6”
3 cone drill: Minimum Target: 7.20
20-yard shuttle: Minimum Target: 4.20
Bench press: Minimum Target: 24
Flying-20: Minimum Target: 2.02
(*The flying-20 is the measured last 20 yards of a 40-yard dash measuring separation speed or closing.)
40-yard dash: Minimum Target: 4.70
10-yard split: Minimum Target: 1.65
Vertical jump: Minimum Target: 36”
Broad jump: Minimum Target: 9’9”
3 cone drill: Minimum Target: 7.10
20-yard shuttle: Minimum Target: 4.10
Bench press: Minimum Target: 23
Flying-20: Minimum Target: 2.01
As for the drills themselves in relation to predicting future success, there is not an exact science on which drill equates to NFL success; however, specific drills for each position tend to garnish more importance than other drills. For the inside linebacker position, measurable drills aiding future success are: 10-yard split and the vertical jump. For edge rushers/outside linebackers, measurable drills aiding future success are: 40-yard dash, 10-yard split, flying-20, 3 cone, and the broad jump.
The marquee event of the combine is all about speed and explosion with the timed 40-yard interval measuring vertical speed over distance and acceleration from a static start. Prospects are also timed at 10 and 20 yard intervals (10-yard split and 20-yard split), where the 10-yard split measures initial quickness and burst, and the 20-yard split measures sustained quickness and burst.
The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion, power, and leaping ability.
The broad jump is all about lower-body explosion and lower-body strength testing explosion and balance.
3 Cone Drill
The 3 cone drill is all about the prospect’s athletic ability to change direction at a high speed. The drill measures agility, flexibility, and change of direction skills (COD).
The short shuttle or 20-yard short shuttle (5-10-5) is all about testing a prospect’s lateral quickness, agility, burst, flexibility, balance, and explosion in short areas.
A crucial part of measurables testing upper-body strength (not functional strength) and endurance; moreover, it gives insight for NFL clubs on how often the prospect frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years.
Tremaine Edmunds - LB
Tremaine Edmunds | No. 49 | Virginia Tech
Height: 6044 | Weight: 253 lbs. | Age 19 (20 in May)
Arm: 34 1/2” | Hand: 9 3/8” | 40 Time: 4.54
10 yd Split: 1.60 | Vertical: DNP | Broad: 9’9”
20 yd Shuttle: DNP | 3 Cone: DNP | Bench: 19 | Flying 20: 1.89
*DNP = Did not participate
Tremaine Edmunds is a scheme diverse prospect bringing the versatility to play all linebacker positions, including as a force off the edge. The 2017 All-ACC prospect is a third-team All-American (AP) and finalist for the renowned Butkus Award. The former four-star high school athlete possesses the football bloodlines with his father, Ferrell Edmonds Jr., an All-Pro selection and former two-time Pro Bowler as a tight end (Miami/Seattle), older brother Trey - running back for New Orleans, as well as another older brother Terrell, currently a safety for the Hokies. Edmunds finished the season with 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles.
A size and speed athlete, Edmunds takes advantage of his length and freakish athleticism to cover ground with great range allowing him to impact the game from sideline-to-sideline and in coverage. He has fluid movement and shows excellent quickness, foot speed, and hip flexibility with no wasted movement to run with receivers. Utilizes his length to be a giant obstacle in passing lanes, and plays downhill with a motor always running hot hitting with aggressive authority (physical presence and toughness). Displays good instincts with impressive closing speed exploding through gaps and will need more consistency stacking and shedding. Shows the versatility to play in the box or on the edge, and very young with room to grow.
Along with more consistency taking on blocks and improving technique stacking and shedding, Edmunds has a body capable of adding functional strength. Although he has the elite athleticism and length to recover, he can get out of place and miss instinctual cues lacking consistent anticipation.
Roquan Smith - LB
Roquan Smith | No. 3 | Georgia
Height: 6007 | Weight: 236 lbs. | Age 21
Arm: 32” | Hand: 10” | 40 Time: 4.51
10 yd Split: 1.58 | Vertical: 33 1/2” | Broad: 9’9”
20 yd Shuttle: DNP | 3 Cone: DNP | Bench: DNP | Flying 20: 1.88
Roquan Smith quickly became one of the top linebacker prospects heading towards the 2018 NFL Draft. At a shade under 6-foot-1-inch, Smith is a bit undersized, but is a prospect who easily makes plays all over the field (superb range flying sideline-to-sideline) bringing physicality to the game hitting with explosion. The Unanimous All-American, First Team All-SEC honors, and winner of the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker), is a clean prospect both on and off the field with gravitating leadership skills and has a tremendous work ethic (earned money during his high school years digging wells). The former high school football (four-star recruit) and basketball star finished the season with 137 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 2 fumble recovery, and 1 forced fumble.
Boasts elite instinctual and awareness skills similar to Spidey sense that perfectly marries with his outstanding speed and athleticism making him a dynamic disruptive playmaker. He is fluid in space with sound coverage skills showing no wasted movement erupting in chase mode (takes terrific angles) with insane closing speed finishing off with violence, as well as being an outstanding blitzer attacking inside gaps with speed and aggression, and a quick first-step explosion flying off the edge. Smith is a fierce and terrific tackler with decent bulk-ability taking on bigger blockers at the point of attack occasionally winning separating with violent hands stacking and shedding, but turns on the “Matador” mode easily sidestepping oncoming blockers with superb football IQ, top tier anticipation, fluidity, balance, and quickness - olé. Shows an excellent ability reading run keys and has the play speed (straight-line speed with a burst) to track down the football with impressive closing speed.
Lacks the ideal size for the position and can easily get stifled when failing to shed when offensive linemen confront him getting inside controlling him knocking him back.
As stated before, drafting Edmunds or Smith would be a great move for the team, allowing them to fortify the defense with top level talent. It is hard to pass up on the youth, length, elite athleticism, and the huge potential upside Edmunds brings to the table; moreover, providing Robert Saleh a perfect and dynamic versatile chess piece easily taking advantage of all linebacker positions (and some LEO too) with Edmunds’ unique skills. In my mind Edmunds is an ideal SAM, but the versatility is definitely enticing.
Nevertheless, although Edmunds possess crazy athleticism, size, and speed, for me instincts is king, and Smith oozes instincts. The NFL is loaded with elite athletes with size and amazing speed that defies logic, but it is those elite instinctual traits that separate regular NFL talent to those on the perennial Pro Bowl circuit. Although Smith may not be as super versatile (more of a MIKE and WILL) compared to Edmunds, instincts wins out hands down, thus making Roquan Smith my guy and anticipated draft selection of the 49ers - my draft crush by the way. Stick Smith at MIKE and the 49ers get a three-down linebacker ideal for the scheme, and IF Foster is part of the 49ers’ future, pairing Roquan and Reuben would create a threatening duo of destruction eliminating opponents with tremendous speed and violence wreaking havoc all over the field for the 49ers for years to come.
Who would you pick?