If I had to bet today on whom the 49ers would take in the first round of the draft, I’d have to say Auburn’s Quentin Groves. The 49ers need an edge rusher and Groves appears to be the best of the bunch. As I’ve written before, he compares well (numbers-wise, at least) to DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and other 3-4 'tweeners taken in the first round in recent years.
But there are plenty of reasons why the 49ers might not go with Groves, not the least of which is that he might not be around when they pick. There are several 3-4 teams, notably the Cowboys, Steelers and Chargers, picking just ahead of the 49ers who have Groves on their radar. Another reason is the philosophy of the 3-4 – that you can find small but productive defensive ends that no one else wants later in the draft and plug them in at linebacker. That’s what the 49ers have done in recent drafts, taking Parys Haralson in the fifth round and Jay Moore in the fourth.
So if the 49ers don’t get Groves, who else can they select who can help their pass rush? There are a few options:
1. Cliff Avril, Purdue, 6-2, 253. Avril was the best edge rusher at the Senior Bowl and he gave the North squad’s tackles, including Gosder Cherilus, a tough time during pass-rush drills. Avril’s a very good athlete with an array of moves. What he lacks is size and power. The 49ers probably could get him in the second round.
2. Lawrence Jackson, USC, 6-4, 271. Jackson, of course, was a defensive end at USC and only stood up a few times for the Trojans. Still, some teams are looking at him as a 3-4 linebacker and his combine numbers showed he has good speed and athleticism. He appears to have a similar body type to Moore and the Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka – players who were switched from defensive end to linebacker. He’s another guy the 49ers could pick up in the second round.
After those two players, you start to wonder whether anyone the 49ers could draft is any better than the three players already at the rush linebacker position, Tully Banta-Cain, Parys Haralson and Roderick Green. Here are the best of the rest.
1. Darrell Robertson, Ga. Tech, 6-3, 255. He might be a better all-around linebacker who is best suited for the strong-side position.
2. Titus Brown, Miss. State, 6-2, 246. Productive at MSU and was good at the Senior Bowl. But he didn’t jump out the way Avril did.
3. Marcus Howard, Georgia, 6-0, 237. Productive college player, but is he too small to be a 3-4 pass rusher?
4. Jason Jones, Eastern Mich., 6-5, 270. He played defensive tackle in college and would be a long-term project at outside linebacker. Still, he made steady improvement at the Senior Bowl.
5. Bruce Davis, UCLA, 6-2, 252. Savvy and productive college player who needs to get stronger to be effective on the next level.
6. Vince Redd, Liberty, 6-5, 263. Looks the part and ran an impressive 4.56 40 at his pro day. But you have to question the caliber of his college competition.
-- Matt Barrows