Oh, that Trent Baalke is so sly. The 49ers' general manager now has everyone trying to guess the player the team is eying with the 30th pick. Baalke on Wednesday said the 49ers have one particular guy in mind and that they are fairly confident he'll be sitting there to be plucked when the 49ers are on the clock.
My own Spidey sense tells me that Baalke was having a little fun with the media. But the run up to the draft is nothing if not fun, so let's play with the concept. One of several players who are visiting this week is West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, who has been popular on the pre-draft visitation circuit and who can safely be placed in the category of "draft risers."
Irvin's best characteristic: He can rush the quarterback. That's become even more paramount in recent years as offenses have become increasingly pass oriented. Look at the 49ers' 2012 schedule and you'll see that they face the five most prolific passers from 2011 - Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. A full stable of pass-rushing outside linebackers is the mark of a fearsome 3-4 defense. And while the 49ers currently have talent at the position, it certainly isn't full.
Irvin was perhaps miscast as a defensive end in the Mountaineers defense. He's a bit undersized for that position at 6-2, 245 pounds. Still he managed 22 ½ sacks the last two seasons in West Virginia. His marks in the vertical jump (33 ½ inches), the broad jump (10 feet three inches) and the three-cone drill (6.70 seconds) reinforce the notion that he is one of the most explosive pass rushers in the draft.
The issue, and perhaps the reason why he has taken so many pre-draft visits, is his character. He dropped out of high school, ran with the wrong crowd and last month was arrested for destruction of property after allegedly breaking a Pita Pit shop sign in Morgantown. That suggests he might not merit one of Baalke's famous gold helmets, which signify character among other things. All but one of the team's draft choices last year had a gold helmet next to their name.
"It doesn't look at a player from a physical aspect," Baalke explained of the gold helmets. "So, do they have the off-the-field character we're looking for, do they have the work ethic we're looking for, do they have the acumen for the game, the football IQ and instincts that we're looking for in a player? If they have all of those things, they (get) a gold helmet. Has nothing to do really with the physical ability of the player."
What's unknown, as reader James Willoughby pointed out, is how the 49ers interpret someone like Irvin, who has gotten in a scrape or two - he had two stints in jail before the March incident -- but who also has overcome a very difficult upbringing. To read more about Irvin's background, click here.
"I've gone over this a hundred-thousand times, I have a different story than a lot of these guys," Irvin said at the combine. "Grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta, dropped out of high school in 11th grade and got in some trouble, ran with the wrong crowd. Finally saw the light, got my GED, took the test and passed all five parts on the first time. That January I went to school and never looked back. ... I'm no longer that person who I was. I went by BJ, now I'm Bruce. That's what I tell them."
Former 49ers Ronnie Lott and Jeremy Newberry will be among those honoring Bay Area high school students at the 16th annual REACH Scholarship Award Breakfast Friday in San Jose. The breakfast recognizes and honors the achievements of local high school student-athletes, who have overcome major adversities in their lives to excel in academics and athletics.
Others honoring the students include Brandi Chastain, Rod Sherman of the Raiders, Thomas Howard of the Cincinnati Bengals and Kelly Gray and Steve Beitashour of the San Jose Earthquakes. The event begins at 7:30 a.m. in the San Jose Marriott Grand Ballroom.
-- Matt Barrows