Even with the Super Bowl less than two weeks away, NFL draft season is here for most of the NFL.

For the 49ers, their draft needs have been well documented. They need help at cornerback, pass rusher and along the offensive line. A less pressing need exists inside linebacker, where the team added veteran Malcolm Smith last spring to a lucrative five-year contract.

Smith, 28, wasn’t the most celebrated free agent addition after his two underwhelming seasons in Oakland. The veteran wound up missing last season after suffering a torn pectoral early in training camp. The team can’t be sure about how well Smith will ingratiate himself, which might lead to addressing his position with a first round pick in the draft.

Georgia’s Roquan Smith has been a popular name linked to San Francisco. His addition next to Reuben Foster would invoke memories of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman manning the middle of the league’s best front seven from 2011 to 2013.

But an under-the-radar prospect might be Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, who could give the 49ers a versatile linebacker capable of playing in the middle and rushing the passer, offering the defense a useful piece its been missing.

Edmunds was the prospect NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah projected to the 49ers with the ninth pick in his first mock draft of the season.

Jeremiah’s take:

Edmunds is one of my favorite players in the draft. He has a rare blend of size, speed and athleticism. He would be a perfect complement to Reuben Foster at the second level of the 49ers’ defense.

Edmunds is a different kind of linebacker than Smith, who closely resembles Foster with a stout, physical frame. Edmunds stands a lanky 6-foot-5 and logged 10 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss over his last two seasons, showcasing his versatility for the Hokies’ defense.

ESPN’s draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is also high on Edmunds, who thinks his size makes him unique. Kiper had Edmunds going No. 12 overall to the Bengals in his first mock of the season.

From Virginia Tech Insider:

“I think Tremaine is a physical and athletic specimen,” Kiper said on a teleconference. “You could say freakish talent. Just a top-level athlete. And he can play inside and outside. And the inside linebackers with great length, Jon Gruden’s always pointed this out, the inside linebackers with great length are very valuable. And I’m sure Jon Gruden will have an interest in Tremaine Edmunds for that reason. He liked Zach Cunningham last year coming out of Vanderbilt, who had a very good year with the Houston Texans, was one of the top defensive rookies in the league.

“So having height at inside linebacker is a rarity. Normally you don’t see 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 inside linebackers. And he disrupts quarterbacks and passing lanes. Quarterbacks hate seeing tall inside linebackers out there. He’s athletic. He can play inside and outside. He’s had over 100 tackles the last couple years. You think about production, the work ethic, the physical and athletic talent, the bloodlines with his father, who I scouted when he was a tight end when he was at Maryland. That’s why I have him going right now 12 to Cincinnati. He could even go a little higher than that.”

Edmunds could play two positions for San Francisco depending on which personnel package they deploy. He could be used at WILL linebacker next to Foster off the line of scrimmage, or pass rusher off the edge in obvious throwing downs. His long-term spot might be at SAM linebacker, where San Francisco uses Eli Harold, who’s entering the final season of his contract in 2018.

While his exact fit remains unclear, the 49ers shouldn’t have any problem selecting Edmunds if they believe he’ll become the best player they could get at their draft slot.

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Insidethe49 Site Staff

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