Quarterbacks, outside linebackers, cornerbacks. You'll be hearing the phrase "best player available" a lot from team officials in coming months, but those three positions are paramount for the 49ers this year the way that offensive tackle was last year. This week, the team's scouts are in Orlando for the East-West Shrine game. Next week, the focus shifts to the marquee college all-star game, the Senior Bowl. I touched base with NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang about the most intriguing prospects at those three positions. Here's what he had to say:
Of the Senior-Bowl six, Rang said the one with the best chance of going in the first round is Washington's Jake Locker, who he sees being drafted in the middle of the first round. Locker is athletic, a leader and he played in the Pac 10, which means that he's already familiar to Jim Harbaugh. He said that Colin Kaepernick is easily the most athletic, the most impressive physically (he's 6-6) and has the most upside. But he might not be a good fit for a West Coast offense. The best value for the 49ers, Rang said, might be in the mid rounds. These are the quarterbacks he liked for San Francisco, in order:
1. Christian Ponder, Florida State. He's smart and he played in a demanding offensive system for the Seminoles. He doesn't have the arm strength of Ryan Mallett or the athleticism of Cam Newton, but he has just enough of each. He also has a long injury history and suffered a concussion that knocked him out of FSU's bowl game.
Said Rang: "He's a high GPA guy and understands offense. Because of that, he might be a good fit."
2. Greg McElroy, Alabama. He played in a pro-style offense. Alabama has been awash in talent, and McElroy has been overshadowed by teammates over the last two seasons. He's also not as tall (he's listed at 6-2) and does not have a big arm.
Said Rang: "He's made some big plays and he's instinctive. I like him a lot. He's a guy that can surprise people."
3. Andy Dalton, TCU. He's a gritty player who was accurate with the Horned Frogs. However, unlike the first two quarterbacks, Dalton played in a spread system at TCU and his numbers are likely inflated because of that.
Said Rang: "He didn't have to make the throws or the reads that Ponder and McElroy had to make."
4. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa. He's another mid-round prospect who played in a pro-style system. Stanzi is tall and a bit gangly, but he's got good leadership skills and made a lot of plays for the Hawkeyes.
Said Rang: "He does some good things with his eyes and he's good on the intermediate stuff. But he has no deep ball."
Coming: Outside linebackers, cornerbacks.
-- Matt Barrows