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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

February 14, 2013
Get defensive: Draft has answers for 49ers' flagging front four


The NFL scouting combine sort of snuck up on you, didn't it? Ok, ok, don't panic. Take deep breaths. Throw some cold water on your face. We can get through this together. After all, there's still a week to cram for the occasion. I've been doing the same with the help of annual friend-of-the-blog Rob Rang from CBS Sports.com. Rang and colleagues have an extensive database on every draft-able player in the country, which can be found here.

Today's lesson: defensive linemen. Not only have the 49ers largely ignored this position in recent years, the upcoming draft is teeming with both edge pass rushers and bigger, bulkier linemen. Here are six front-four players that may be within striking distance of the 49ers, who pick 31st but who are expecting 14 draft picks.

Dion Jordan, DE-OLB
6-6, 243, Oregon
There's a belief that when it came to last year's draft, West Virginia OLB Bruce Irvin -- and not Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins -- was the player GM Trent Baalke coveted. Jordan is more versatile than Irvin and could add extra punch to a pass rush that began to flag at the end of the season. Aldon Smith had zero sacks in the last six games. Was that due to A.) Justin Smith's injured arm, B.) Aldon Smith's own injured shoulder C.) The fact that Smith played only 48 percent of the snaps in 2011, more than double that in 2012 and he simply hit a wall? The answer likely is D.) a combination of A, B and C. Jordan, a former tight end, still is learning the position. But he could provide depth and pass-rushing ability his rookie season. Similar to former 49ers first-round pick Manny Lawson.

Alex Okafor, DE-OLB
6-5, 261, Texas
Okafor might not be as good an athlete as Jordan, but he is bigger and stronger and seems closer to the type of edge rusher the 49ers have gone after in the past. He finished with 12 1/2 sacks this past season and, according to Rang, looked impressive at the Senior Bowl.

Johnathan Hankins*, DE-NT
6-3, 320, Ohio State
Hankins is one of several interior defensive linemen who could be drafted in the first round, and he may not last until the 31st pick. He could play either defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 front, and that versatility is essentially for the 49ers. Starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga played only 28 percent of the team's snaps this year -- he came off the field in the team's nickel defense -- and the 49ers would be reluctant to spend a first-round pick on someone who solely plays that position.

John Jenkins, DE-NT
6-4, 359, Georgia
He has the size to be a traditional nose tackle but is athletic enough to play all over the defensive line, which is what he did at Georgia and what NFL teams want from their linemen. Both Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois are pending unrestricted free agents.

Datone Jones, DE
6-4, 280, UCLA
Jones is another player who shined at the Senior Bowl. He'll enter the league as a DE-DT 'tweener, similar to current 49ers starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Both entered the league in the 280-pound range but currently are right around 300 pounds in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme.

Jesse Williams, DE-NT
6-3, 320, Alabama
Williams was the central cog in Alabama's defense and is another player who has the size to play nose tackle and the athleticism to move to defensive end, and he played both at Alabama. Williams, who is from Brisbane, Australia, also is freakishly strong and is expected to challenge the combine record in the bench press. His short-ish arms will allow him to do that, although NFL teams prefer longer arms on linemen.

-- 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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