After getting the chance to speak with a number of prospects at the NFL Combine, it became clear that the San Francisco 49ers contingent in Indianapolis left quite the impression on the players they met with throughout the week.
The combine is essentially a week-long job interview for these players, so they will typically meet with dozens of teams throughout the process. Generally, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of these prospects go out of their way to say outright a meeting didn’t go well with a given team.
What stood out about the comments regarding the 49ers is that they broke the mold of the generic “yes” or “no” responses you generally would hear when asked about if they met with a given team. On top of that, the body language and tone when conveying these messages stood out as much as the literal words they used when discussing their meetings with the 49ers.
There was a palpable level of excitement from these players when discussing the time they spent meeting with the 49ers brass in Indianapolis. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this either, as I had a chance to speak with Nate Atkins, who covers the Colts beat for the Indy Star. Here is what Atkins had to say about it:
“I normally roll my eyes when it comes to the “who did you meet with questions” because they meet with almost everyone. But when the 49ers were mentioned, you could tell it was different. There was a genuine level of enthusiasm from the players that was noteworthy.”
Here’s what a couple of the players had to say about their meetings with the 49ers and their potential outlook about playing for the team.
Myjai Sanders, edge Cincinnati
“I met with the 49ers; yeah, It was a nice meeting. I had fun in that meeting. They said that they liked my game a lot. I feel like I could actually go and do something and get some playing time with the 49ers.”
Boye Mafe, edge Minnesota
“Pretty good, you know we talked, we had a great conversation, I like that organization a lot.”
The most interesting exchange was when I spoke with Texas A&M defensive end Michael Clemons. Throughout the majority of his media availability, Clemons was noticeably stoic. My first impression was that this guy must be a hell of a poker player, but that’s a story for another day.
After a few minutes of watching Clemons calmly give the same deliberate, even-keeled response to the questions that were being presented, I asked if Clemons had met with the 49ers. He paused momentarily, as he had during all the other questions, before responding with “I have.”
When I followed that up by asking how those meetings went, Clemons immediately shed the impassive look that he had maintained during his time on the podium, cracking an authentic smile as he responded, “I believe it did.” It was the only time during the process that I saw Clemons break character from his laser-focused demeanor, seeing a glimpse of bona fide excitement that was not present prior to the 49ers being mentioned.
Again, for me personally, the tone and body language someone displays while speaking will always be as, if not more important than the actual words they decide to use. With Clemons and so many other players, you could see a genuine shift in their emotion when the 49ers organization was referenced.
These weren’t the run-of-the-mill responses that I witnessed so many players give when they were asked about meeting with other teams. No, this was different. There was a transparent level of admiration for the 49ers franchise, something that likely boils down to a few things.
1. When the 49ers have been healthy, they have been as competitive as anyone in recent seasons. They have spent two of the last three years knocking on the door of a Lombardi trophy, and that kind of winning attracts top-end talent.
2. The culture shift. Say what you want about the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch regimes, but one thing that cannot be disputed is the culture they have cultivated during their time with the 49ers. They have made this organization a place that players want to be, and that includes these prospects attempting to break into the league.
3. Blue chip talent. The allure of playing alongside players like Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, Fred Warner, George Kittle, etc., is an enticing proposition to anyone who plays the sport of football. However, for these guys coming out, the thought of getting to learn and play alongside such a talented group of players has to cultivate some level of eagerness on its own.
4. This may be the most underappreciated one, but whoever the 49ers sent out on this trip to meet with these players absolutely crushed it. When words like “fun” get thrown around unsolicited, coupled with the energetic responses I got, I have to believe whoever was running these meetings had a lot to do with these players coming out of them feeling so animated about their time speaking with the 49ers brass.