Consider today the NFL’s version of Super Tuesday. Today was the deadline for college underclassmen to decide whether they would return to school for their senior season or enter the NFL draft. As is usually the case, the influx of juniors turned what was a ho-hum draft class into a rather deep one. At receiver, Michigan’s Mario Manningham and Cal’s DeSean Jackson will add a little more depth to the position. Teams looking for a pass-rushing defensive end or 3-4-style linebacker will look at Clemson’s Phillip Merling and Florida’s Derrick Harvey. And a 3-4 team in need of a big linemen will be happy to see Miami’s Calais Campbell in the mix.
I called Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys personnel director who helps run the scouting combine every February, to talk about the draft. Brandt said that this year’s class was particularly deep at running back and that he thought there were more quality pass-blocking offensive linemen than usual. There don’t seem to be a lot of linebackers, he said.
But Brandt also cautioned about getting overexcited about the juniors in the draft. Historically, he said, juniors don’t contribute much during their rookie seasons because they simply haven’t developed – mentally and physically – as much as their senior counterparts. “You don’t know a lot about them,” Brandt said. “You know all the positives. You don’t know the negatives.”
That theory holds true when it comes to the 49ers. Their two first-rounders this past season, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley, entered the draft after their senior seasons. They both started every game and had very successful rookie seasons. Alex Smith and Vernon Davis – the team’s previous first rounders – both entered the N FL after their junior seasons and had far rougher rookie campaigns. Brandt also notes that of the four rookies in the Pro Bowl this year, three played four years of college ball – Willis, Joe Thomas and Nick Folk – while one, running back Adrian Peterson, was a three-year starter.
The Baltimore to San Francisco pipeline isn’t dead yet. The 49ers today signed one-time Raven linebacker Dennis Haley (Virginia) to a future contract. Haley (6-1, 247) originally joined the Jets in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. He spent part of his rookie season on the Jets practice squad before being signed to the Ravens’ 53-man roster. He spent the 2006 season between Baltimore’s active roster and practice squad. Haley spent training camp with Baltimore in 2007 but was waived prior before the start of the season.
How jealous would your friends be if you got to watch a football game next to Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner? How ‘bout if you watched that game from inside the 49ers’ locker room? Well, you have a shot this Sunday.
Lott’s former teammate and current business partner, Eric Scoggins, was diagnosed with ALS a year ago. In an effort to raise money and awareness for ALS, Lott, Turner and Scoggins will host an event called The Circle of Legends. The event will include watching a conference championship game with a 49ers’ Super Bowl winner, including: Jesse Sapolu, Charles Haley, Tim McDonald, Dwight Hicks and Eric Wright.
Tickets range from $1000 to $15,000. All the money raised will go to ALS research. For questions or to purchase tickets, contact Billie Anne Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 650-363-1395.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame released the names of the 17 finalists who will be considered for election when the hall’s selecting committee meets next month. There are a couple of former 49ers on the list, Fred Dean and Richard Dent, a former Raider, punter Ray Guy, and some players who have been overlooked in years’ past like Redskins receiver Art Monk and New England linebacker Andre Tippett.
The guy I’m rooting for, of course, is Darrell Green. As I’ve written previously, I grew up across the street from Darrell at a time when the Redskins were insanely popular in the Washington, D.C. area and Darrell was famous for being the fastest man in the NFL. I must have been about 11 or 12 at the time, so you can imagine how cool it was to have Darrell Green – DARRELL GREE N! – come over and shoot baskets in my driveway. (Picture Patrick Willis showing up at your door asking if you wanted to shoot pool in his basement). Anyway, Darrell played 20 seasons with the Redskins, finished his career with 54 interceptions and started the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, which for 20 years has been helping underprivileged kids in the D.C. area. A better ambassador to the sport there never was.
-- Matt Barrows