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Who impressed the Niners’ front office at Penn State’s Pro Day?

4 Nittany Lions that can bolster San Francisco’s roster

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NCAA Football: Villanova at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

49ers general manager John Lynch and vice president of player personnel Adam Peters watched 15 prospects at Penn State’s pro day on Thursday, March 24th.

Pro days provide executives and scouts a final look at prospects entering the NFL Draft. The 49ers have a handful of vital players on the roster but have several voids on the depth chart. We look at four Penn State players that can impact San Francisco the day they’re drafted.

Jaquan Brisker, S

Jaquan Brisker is fresh off an All-American season with the Nittany Lions’ defense, where he posted at least a half tackle for loss in eight of 12 games. Brisker dealt with back tightness after performing the bench press at the NFL combine. He continued with the 40-yard dash, but he shut it down after. Therefore, his pro day provided time to show off how he could move on the field.

Safety is the biggest need for San Francisco’s defense. Jaquiski Tartt’s return remains a possibility with an uneven safety market. However, Lynch needs to draft a safety with his first overall selection. This draft class is loaded with talented defensive backs who can be Day 1 starters.

Brisker’s physicality against the run and range in coverage is a perfect match for Ryans’ defense. I’ve mentioned several times that San Francisco’s defense demands each safety to be balanced against the run and pass. The Atheltic’s Dane Brugler predicted the 49ers to draft Brisker with their 1st selection in the Draft.

Jahan Dotson, WR

Surrounding Trey Lance with talent maximizes his rookie contract. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense has multiple impact players. Bringing another young talent on offense will cause defensive coordinators to pull their hair out. Jahan Dotson had a monster senior year as the X receiver with 91 catches, 1182 yards, and 13 total touchdowns.

Dotson’s draft stock could be too rich for San Francisco as he could be selected in the first round. He showcased his crisp route running ability and strong hands at Penn State’s pro day, where I believe he strengthened his value.

Adding another strong route-runner to the “Yac Bros” and upcoming third-year receiver Jauan Jennings leaves Lance with unlimited dangerous pass catchers. The Niners’ Super Bowl window could easily shrink if the receiver group isn’t upgraded.

Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE

San Francisco’s defense had heroic moments in 2021, but it wasn’t enough to carry Jimmy Garoppolo’s mishaps. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford outlasted nine QB hits in last season’s NFC Championship game while targeting Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp for a combined 20 catches and 255 receiving yards.

Lynch and company haven't drafted a cornerback before the third round since being hired in 2017. One thing San Francisco’s front office has trusted is drafting a defensive lineman. Arnold Ebiketie led the Big Ten with 18 tackles for loss last season. His ability to stand strong against the run and get after the QB makes him an ideal fit for Niners defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

Ebiketie’s explosiveness is what Ryans needs for his Wide-9 font. His pass-rushing upside is enough for Lynch to bring him on board. The 49ers brought Kerry Hyder Jr. (team leader in sacks in 2020) back on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Adding Ebiketies addresses a position of need and strengthens the front-seven at a premier position.

Tariq Castro-Field, CB

Charvarius Ward was Lynch’s splash signing during the first wave of free agency, and he’s recently brought back reinforcements in Dontae Johnson and Darqueze Dennard at cornerback.

Lynch cannot stop there—San Francisco has relied on the (random) next man up at CB for the last two seasons, and it’s unacceptable in this league. Ryans deserves better, and he needs a young CB who is a willing tackler and can make plays defending that pass. Tariq Castro-Field looks to be a versatile option at inside or outside CB.

Castro-Field was tied for the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash time at the combine. His press-man ability reinforces Ryans’ capability to run aggressive blitzes comfortably. His speed helps him recover from getting beat off the line often on film. He had 25 passes defended in 46 games in his collegiate career.

Castro-Field’s eagerness to engage in contact makes him an ideal fit for a Nickel cornerback. I stressed that San Francisco has to find a replacement for Nickel CB K’Waun Williams after he joined the Denver Broncos. It’s time for the 49er front office to nourish the CB position instead of ignoring it.

Conclusion

The 49ers’ future remains gloomy, with Garoppolo on the roster despite Lance getting the impression that he will be the starter in 2022. I see several commenters say that there were no holes on the team after Lynch signed multiple “reserve” players.

Shanahan and Lynch have had head-scratching moments with their draft selections during their 49er tenure. Addressing the safety and wide receiver position in the draft is a major priority, in my opinion.

Lynch should target a CB early, but San Francisco has shown they would rather draft a defensive lineman. 259 NFL prospects get their name called during the draft making it an exclusive club every year. These four players have upside and provide support in positions the team needs.