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February 22, 2011
Ten combine question marks from a 49ers POV

Jim Harbaugh, Trent Baalke and the 49ers head to Indianapolis this week for the annual scouting combine. With quarterback, outside linebacker and cornerback atop their offseason wish list, here are some of the players with a bit of mystery surrounding them.

Robert Quinn, DE/OLB North Carolina
He'll be one of the headliners as far as scouts are concerned because he's a huge talent that hasn't played since 2009. Quinn missed last season after he was found guilty of accepting payouts from a sports agent and then lying to NCAA investigators. Some draft gurus have him going to the 49ers at pick No. 7. But that will largely depend on whether Quinn, a defensive end whom UNC listed at 270 pounds, has the potential to stand up and play in a 3-4 defense. How he moves, what he weighs and how he answers questions about his suspension loom large for Quinn.

Von Miller, OLB Texas A&M
Miller's most anticipated event may be the weigh in. The Butkus Award winner was 237 pounds in Mobile, Ala. last month but said he wanted to get up to 245 or 248 pounds for the combine. Has he put on that weight? And if he has, will he have the same quickness and flexibility he had at the Senior Bowl? How Miller handles himself on the bench press also will be interesting.

Patrick Peterson, CB LSU
At 220 or so pounds, Peterson is bigger than most of the safeties in this draft class. How fast he runs and how well he moves in agility drills will reassure evaluators that he is the top cornerback in the draft and not a safety who is posing as a cornerback.

Cam Newton, QB Auburn
The strength of this year's quarterback class is in the middle rounds. However, Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert seem to be the two passers the 49ers might consider at pick No. 7. Newton is built like an Adonis, but NFL types aren't convinced he has the character and leadership skills to warrant a Top 10 pick. His interview sessions will be key. (My guess is that Newton won't throw in Indianapolis) ***Guessed wrong -- Newton will indeed throw in Indy.***

Blaine Gabbert, QB Missouri.
Like many of the quarterbacks in this class, Gabbert did not play in a pro-style offense in college. His footwork will be scrutinized in Indianapolis and his interviews also are critical. Scouts want to find out whether there is strong leadership to go along with his strong arm.

Colin Kaepernick, QB Nevada
Kaepernick has been in Atlanta over the last month and a half working on what NFL teams see as his biggest flaw - an elongated throwing motion. He and throwing coach Roger Theder have been working to shorten it some. Kaepernick, who weighed in at 225 pounds in Mobile last month, says he wants to be at 230 or so in Indianapolis. He also scored 38 on his Wonderlic intelligence test last year and is in the running to have the top score this year. Of all the quarterbacks who promise to be drafted after the first round, Kaepernick has the biggest upside.

Pat Devlin, QB Delaware
Some observers thought Devlin would follow the path of another Delaware QB, Joe Flacco, and rocket up draft boards this winter. Devlin, however, doesn't have nearly Flacco's arm strength and struggled when asked to take snaps from center and drop back in East-West Shrine practices. How well Devlin has adjusted in the last month and half will play a role in where he is drafted.

Bruce Carter, OLB UNC
The combine's primary function is to provide in depth medical evaluations on the attendees. Carter tops the list of medical questions because he is a talented outside linebacker who suffered an ACL tear toward the end of the 2010 season. Teams must figure out how much he will be able to take part in 2011, something that will affect his draft value.

Mark Herzlich, OLB Boston College
Herzlich could end up being the steal of the draft if he returns to his 2008 form. Shortly after that stand-out season, Herzlich contracted a rare form of bone cancer and missed all of 2009. He returned this past season but never fully regained his pre-illness form. If he does, Herzlich is a natural leader with skills on the edge.

Ras-I Dowling, CB Virginia
Dowling is the type of big, physical cornerback the 49ers have preferred in previous seasons (but may or may not currently prefer under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio). Heading into the 2010 season, Dowling was projected as one of the nation's top cornerbacks but missed most of the season with an assortment of injuries, including a fractured ankle.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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