COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 Tennessee at Missouri

The positions the 49ers are focusing on gives us a hint where they’re looking at in the draft

If you’re looking to keep track of all the prospects the San Francisco 49ers have either spoken to or met with during the NFL Draft process, Steph Sanchez is keeping track in a Google doc.

The players in the front seven are doing their interviews today, and a handful have said they’ve met with or had a formal interview with the Niners:

It’s less about the players and more about the positions and where they’re expected to go. The 49ers have Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead under contract, but only Kalia Davis is the other defensive tackle after that. The Niners don’t have a choice to add to the position this offseason, whether via the NFL Draft or free agency.

If we’re thinking ahead, edge rushers are in the same group. Clelin Ferrell, Randy Gregory, and Chase Young are all free agents. Robert Beal Jr. and Drake Jackson are the only players under contract outside of Nick Bosa. So, it’ll be another offseason where the Niners invest in their favorite position.

DT Maason Smith, LSU – Formal

Smith was the top-ranked player in Louisana in the 2021 class coming out of high school and a former 5-star recruit. He was a freshman All-American with four sacks and a promising future. Smith was No. 17 on The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s “freaks list,” where he clocked as fast as 19.2 miles per hour.

But, as a sophomore, he tore his ACL in the first quarter of the first game of the season. You could see Smith begin to turn it on this past year as he grew further and further away from his ACL injury. He’ll fall because he didn’t produce like he would have had he been healthy, but the talent is there for the 21-year-old, 6-foot-6, 315-pound defensive tackle. The hope would be his best yet to come, and he only gets better two years removed from injury.

Smith is projected to go in the third round. The 49ers own picks 94 and 98 in the third round.

DT McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M – Formal

Jackson doesn’t come with any injury history but has off-field questions that’ll be asked during interviews at the combine. He was suspended for two games in 2021 after being arrested for felony possession — this was four months after being arrested for possession.

He’s listed on the shorter side for a defensive tackle, as he’s a shade under 6-foot-2, but he’s 331 pounds with an impressive get of who can hold up against double teams. How he measures and his arm length will determine where he’s drafted.

A 4-star recruit in the 202 class, Jackson missed four games in 2022 with an undisclosed injury. He was on a long list of underachieving high recruits for the Aggies. Jackson finished last season with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.

Edge rusher Austin Booker, Kansas – Formal

Booker is the intriguing prospect you take a swing on earlier than you may be comfortable with and reap the benefits for. He’s 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, and this past season was his first year playing more than one game of Division I football.

Booker was incredible. He finished with eight sacks and 12 tackles for lossand has the natural ability as a pass rusher that’s difficult to teach. He’s a unique player as he doesn’t win with speed or explosion and looks a bit tight-hipped, but he covers a ton of ground with his strides and figured out how to be disruptive.

Booker will need seasoning, so the third round is probably right around his range.

Edge rusher Darius Robinson, Missouri – Meeting

Robinson played for five years at Missouri but didn’t pick up football until his junior year. I’ve seen Robinson mocked as high as the first round, with his floor around the middle of the second round.

The 6-foot-5, 296-pound was First-Team All-SEC after producing 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. The graduate student had a sack in seven straight games. But, as a grad student, you wonder if his age will cause him to fall.

Here he is beating a future first-round pick for a sack:

But Robinson won’t face many 21-year-olds who are green at the next level. There’s little upside in taking a graduate student early. But he produced against the highest competition, played with a high motor, and would provide instant depth as an edge rusher. Plus, Robinson ran plenty of stunts and games upfront, much like the Niners do.

While he’s being mocked high, I’d guess he goes more in the Drake Jackson range — closer to the end of the second round.

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