Gentleman, start your DVRs... Below are some players to watch in today's Senior Bowl game, which begins at 1 p.m. You'll notice there are some positions missing in my list. After using two first-round picks on offensive linemen last year, I don't expect the 49ers will use a high pick on a lineman this year. They also have a gaggle of young safeties - Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith, Taylor Mays, Curtis Taylor, C.J. Spillman and Chris Maragos - and it would seem counterproductive to have to develop yet another youngster at the position. The team also seems to have plenty of options at inside linebacker.
The main targets will be quarterback, cornerback and outside linebacker. And it just so happens that the best player in today's game is outside linebacker Von Miller of Texas A&M. If Vic Fangio is looking for someone to give his new defense variability, Miller would seem to be an excellent option. He's fast, turns the corner very quickly against offensive tackles and uses his long arms to keep blockers away from his body and to stagger them on pass-rush moves.
I asked a scout what distinguishes Miller, who weighed in at only 237 pounds, from previous, smallish prospects like Everette Brown and Aaron Maybin who have not played up to their pre-draft hype. He said that Miller also was strong against the running game, which is the best indication that a college defensive end/linebacker will not be overwhelmed on the NFL level.
General Manager Trent Baalke has been careful - very careful - not to reveal any draft secrets over the past week. But he did say that his top criterion for a 3-4 outside linebacker is rushing the passer. Miller has 27 ½ sacks over the last two seasons.
Are there other OLB prospects the 49ers will consider? Of course, and we'll be hearing more about them, especially underclassmen like UNC's Robert Quinn, next month at the scouting combine. Juniors, however, often are riskier because they have a limited body of work by which to judge them. Miller not only elected to return for his senior season after posting 17 sacks in 2009, he opted to play in the Senior Bowl. That's the mark of someone who is confident in his ability, and that's something that will be attractive to NFL teams.
Miller will wear No. 40 for the South. Others to watch:
CB Curtis Brown, Texas, No. 3.
5-11 5/8, 180 pounds
Every year, a cornerback makes a splash at the Senior Bowl whether it's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Devin McCourty or Kyle Wilson. This year's crop of seniors doesn't appear to have a similar headliner at that position, but Brown was steady throughout the week.
QB Christian Ponder, Florida State, No. 7.
6-2, 222 pounds
The Seminole quarterback won't be the seventh player taken, but he is a possibility in the second or third rounds. Ponder is smart, smooth and played in a pro-style offense at FSU. He's already accomplished one of his goals at the Senior Bowl - convincing scouts that an elbow/forearm injury that limited him as a senior no longer is an issue.
QB Andy Dalton, TCU, No. 14.
6-2, 213 pounds
Dalton does not have an elite arm, but he was winner at TCU. He was accurate in the Horned Frogs' spread attack, and that accuracy carried over in the pro offense he's been running this week. Dalton carries himself like a leader and has a bit more swagger than the other passers. That, of course, is mere perception, but perception plays a big role when you are trying to get others to follow you.
LB/DE Brooks Reed, Arizona, No. 42
6-2 4/8, 257 pounds
Both teams are required to use 4-3 defenses in today's game, and Reed will line up as a defensive end (likely the right defensive end). But his NFL position probably will be as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He doesn't have elite quickness like Miller, but he was tenacious all week in practice and showed better-than-expected movement for someone who mostly played with his hand in the dirt at Arizona.
LB/DE Sam Acho, Texas, No. 81
6-1 6/8, 257 pounds
Acho is in the same category as Reed - his best fit is probably as a 3-4 linebacker, but he'll play defensive end today. (Likely opposite Reed). Acho has better athleticism than Reed, but it didn't always translate to productivity at Texas. Scouts question his instincts. Acho would make an outstanding play on one snap and get caught entirely out of position on the next.
WR Titus Young, Boise State, No. 2
5-11 2/8, 174 pounds
The top receivers this year, Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones, are underclassmen. Young, however, is interesting because of his speed. He seemed to make the most big catches - and was aggressive in doing so -- this week just as Senior Bowl alums Lavelle Hawkins and Donnie Avery did in previous years.
QB Colin Kaepernick, Nevada, No. 10
6-4 5/8, 225 pounds
Every draft cycle, a quarterback seems to come out of nowhere to be drafted in the first round, whether it's Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco or Josh Freeman. You have to wonder whether Kaepernick is making a similar ascent. He's certainly the most physically impressive quarterback in today's game, and he has the biggest arm. What has turned heads this week is his ability to harness that arm strength and make touch passes when called for them. A strong outing today would give Kaepernick big momentum heading into the combine.
CB Jalil Brown, Colorado, No. 23.
6-0 2/8, 202 pounds
Brown has better size than Curtis Brown, and the 49ers historically have liked cornerbacks with size. Jalil Brown also had a solid week of practice, especially in press coverage.
FB Owen Marecic, Stanford, No. 48
6-0, 3/8, 246 pounds
Marecic is considered the best fullback in the draft. That he played for Jim Harbaugh and knows the offensive system automatically puts him on the 49ers' radar screen.
DE/LB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, No. 91.
6-3 7/8, 255 pounds
Purdue has become a factory for 3-4 outside linebackers. Shaun Phillips, Anthony Spencer and Cliff Avril all played there, and you have to wonder whether Kerrigan is the next in that line. I heard mixed reviews about him from scouts. Some were impressed by the way he moved in space and thought he'd make a smooth transition to outside linebacker. Another thought he was too stiff and was best suited as a 4-3 defensive end. Kerrigan obviously is maximizing his options. He's been working hard to learn how to play as a linebacker since the season ended, and he showed up at the Senior Bowl weighing 255 pounds - eight pounds lighter than his weight at Purdue.
DT/NT Sione Fua, Stanford, No. 92
6-1, 6/8, 307 pounds.
The 49ers passed on a nose tackle in last year's draft, and you have to wonder whether they'll target one this year. Aubrayo Franklin likely will be retained with the franchise tag in 2011, but the 49ers can't keep going to that well every year. Ricky Jean Francois, meanwhile, made strides at nose tackle last offseason, but the team still is not sold on him as the nose tackle for the future. Fua has a nice combination of quickness and power - he pancaked a center during the week - and, of course, he is familiar with Vic Fangio's style.
DE Cameron Jordan, Cal, No. 97
6-4 1/8, 287 pounds.
Jordan said he's willing and able to play a number of positions in the NFL, including outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. But he's nearly 290 pounds, and his most natural position in a 3-4 scheme appears to be as a defensive end. Would the 49ers draft a 3-4 end as high as No. 7? They were quite fond of LSU's Tyson Jackson two years ago, and Jackson ended up going No. 3 overall to Kansas City.
-- Matt Barrows