The 49ers have three selections in Friday night’s draft, with each of them coming at the end of the third round. San Francisco will look to add contributors and a potential starter. Let’s look at some prospects that would fit the 49ers culture.
LB - Ivan Pace Jr. - Cincinnati
Pace Jr. is a 5’10 1/2” 231-pound linebacker. His pro day numbers won’t blow you away, as he ran an unofficial 4.5 40-yard dash that eventually was recorded as a 4.62. Pace Jr. had a solid vertical jump at 35”, but his short shuttle of 4.40 puts him in the 26 percentile.
Then, you watch him play. No. 0 on the Bearcats is impossible to miss. I’d go as far as saying Pace Jr. is the most 49ers type of prospect, regardless of position or draft status. Pace Jr. is relentless in his pursuit of the football and does a tremendous job of slipping blocks' en route to the ball.
He qualifies as the “better football player than athlete” with superb instincts and football IQ. There’s a fearlessness in Pace Jr. that makes it easy to appreciate. There’s something refreshing about an undersized defender willingly lining up and taking on players 80 pounds heavier than him.
Pace Jr. has the traits you can’t teach. It’s worth mentioning that Cincinnati was among the best defenses in the country during the past two seasons and 0 was the leader and alpha, even when players such as Sauce Gardner were on it.
Pace Jr. is more than a good football player. He’s a versatile player, which only adds value. In today’s NFL, a linebacker must run, cover, and blitz. That’s the name of the game. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw excel at each, as did Azeez Al-Shaair.
I’ve seen Pace Jr. win time and time again as a blitzer. It’s pretty special. Per PFF, he had a 93.3 pass rush grade, and a 30 percent pass rush win rate. The next closest linebacker was at 23.3 percent.
Is Pace Jr. undersized? Undoubtedly. And that may scare teams off, as he’d be an outlier. Man coverage may be an issue, but Pace Jr. has a great feel in zone and is honestly one of the better pass rushers for my money in the draft, despite being a linebacker.
At the Senior Bowl, Pace Jr. was clocked at 20.58 miles per hour, per Zebra Technology. That was the third-fastest time at the event. I’d take him in the top-50. The Niners would be fortunate if Pace Jr. fell into the 100s.
Edge rusher - Zach Harrison - Ohio State
Harrison feels like a 49ers pass rusher. If you haven’t seen him, his arms touch the ground when he walks standing straight up. Harrison’s 85 1/2 inch wingspan was in the 97th percentile. But Harrison’s shuttle times will be the reason he falls late into the third round, as his 7.33 3-cone and 4.66 short shuttle placed him in the 9th percentile.
In high school, Harrison ran a 4.47 40-yard dash with a 37” vertical. We don’t have to worry about him being an explosive athlete. I also love the idea of betting on former 5-star recruits, much like Arden Key.
Per Sports Info Solutions, no edge rusher in the drafted batted more passes last season than Harrison. His sack numbers leave plenty to be desired, but his true pressure rate was one percent lower than Will Anderson Jr., who DeMeco Ryans was willing to make a Trey Lance-type trade to draft.
Harrison was among the draft leaders in holds drawn and fewest tackles missed. At this point in the draft, Harrison can come in to the 49ers without any expectations. He needs to get stronger in his lower half and work on his hand usage as a pass rusher, but that’s why you pay defensive line coach Kris Kocurek the big bucks, and why we see a jump from players in their first year to their second.
Harrison could play the Charles Omenihu role, where he beats up on guards after kicking inside. Plus, he has special teams experience. Harrison is the type of athlete you take a flyer on at this point in the draft.
TE - Luke Schoonmaker - Michigan
It feels odd to say that the 49ers need to get more athletic at tight end, considering George Kittle is one of the most athletic players at the position in recent memory. Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker fits exactly what the 49ers love to do offensively.
You’re never going to believe this, but Jim Harbaugh had a difficult time finding an offensive coordinator at Michigan. So, Schoonmaker’s box score stats won’t wow you. But he ran a 4.63 40 at 251 pounds, and also had a 10’7” broad jump, which suggests he’s an explosive athlete.
The experience is there, as Schoonmaker played in 44 games. He has no issues changing directions on the fly, or winning at each level of the field.
The Niners need somebody that can run away from linebackers and safeties. That’s Schoonmaker. They also need somebody who can win their 1-on-1 matchups, both as a route runner and a pass blocker. Schoonmaker is one of the few tight ends that checks each box.
Sports Info Solutions did not credit Schoonmaker with any blown blocks in pass protection. Drops weren’t an issue at Michigan, either. So, a heedy player who has the skill set to run away from people and the awareness to find the holes in a defense, all while occasionally making a spectacular one-handed catch, is the type of weapon that would thrive in the 49ers offense and also protect them from a Kittle or Kyle Juszczyk injury.
I’m unsure how far he’ll fall, or even if he gets into the third round, but this is a prospect worth trading up for if it won’t cost the 49ers future draft picks. Schoonmaker may not appeal to every team, but it’s tough to find a better fit at the position for a Kyle Shanahan offense.