All San Francisco 49ers draft talk is centered around which quarterback they should take. The QB conundrum has overshadowed many interesting non-quarterbacks.
Every year there are plenty of impact players who go outside of the first round. It’s common in the NFL to refer to these gems as “draft crushes.”
Some of my recent draft crushes (both successful and unsuccessful) include New York Giants guard Shane Lemieux (Oregon/2020), Minnesota linebacker Troy Dye (Oregon/2020), Seattle receiver D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss/2019), Green Bay punter JK Scott (Alabama/2018), Green Bay receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (USF/2018), Denver tight end Jake Butt (Michigan/2017), Baltimore linebacker Tim Williams (Alabama/2017), and edge rusher Noah Spence (E. Kentucky/2016).
I am not a film guru, but I watch what I can and use stats, past performance data, and athleticism to formulate my opinions. Here is a rundown of my draft crushes for the 2021 draft:
Quinn Meinerz, Offensive Guard/Center, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Despite playing Division III, the 6’3, 320-pound Quinn Meinerz caught everyone’s attention at the Senior Bowl.
Meinerz is not just a meme-machine.
He has great talent and can start at guard immediately. Once fully adjusted to NFL speed, he can become a starting center. That timeline fits especially well with the 49ers, who need a right guard at present, and a center to take over for veteran Alex Mack in a year or two.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein has Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen as Meinerz’s pro comparison. That is another reason Meinerz would be perfect for the 49ers.
Meinerz is quite different from projected right guard Daniel Brunskill, who is 20 pounds lighter. Like Jensen, Meinerz finishes blocks, and is an extremely strong and sturdy lineman who would help the slighter Mike McGlinchey and bring a needed toughness to the right side.
Jaelon Darden, Wide Receiver, North Texas
The 49ers need speed and a slot receiver.
Mohamed Sanu has not looked good in his past two years of football.
Richie James Jr. is extremely inexperienced on offense and seemingly always leapt by someone else on the depth chart.
Kendrick Bourne signed with New England and still might be just as likely to play a game for San Francisco as third-year receiver Jalen Hurd.
The 49ers need to find a versatile field-stretcher, and the North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden, fits that bill (4.46 40-time). His 1,190 receiving yards in 2020 trailed only Devonta Smith and Elijah Moore, both projected first rounders, and his 19 receiving touchdowns were second to the Heisman-winning Smith.
The quick Darden “offers instant gadget-package potential” according to Zierlein. If there’s one thing head coach Kyle Shanahan loves, it’s gadget potential on offense (see George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, Deebo Samuel, Jerick McKinnon, Brandon Aiyuk and Hurd).
Jaret Patterson, Running Back, Buffalo
Zierlein praises the 5’7", 195-pound running back Jaret Patterson for his “legendary work ethic,” and a “build [that] is compact and powerful with a low center of gravity.”
The physical Patterson is hard to tackle, doesn’t fumble and has “proper technique” when picking up pass-rushers. That’s three of the best traits in a running back.
He does, however, have a lot of mileage and little experience catching the football. He has 636 rush attempts over the last three seasons and just 20 catches.
Yet, his career 6.1 yards-per-carry and 52 rushing touchdowns ease those worries.
Patterson might not have the upside of Alabama running back Najee Harris, but he would offer a solid tackle-breaking weapon to Shanahan’s play-action offense, at the likely cost of a fifth rounder.
Daviyon Nixon, Defensive Tackle, Iowa
The 49ers started their quest to replace DeForest Buckner by drafting Javon Kinlaw with the 14th pick in 2020.
They continued that impossible journey this offseason by signing Samson Ebukam (who allows Arik Armstead to play inside more often), D.J. Jones and Zach Kerr.
San Francisco should not stop there. There are plenty of intriguing middle-round interior prospects such as Alim McNeill (NC State), Jay Tufele (USC), Tommy Togiai (Ohio State) and Darius Stills (West Virginia), but Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon might be the best of the bunch.
Nixon (6’3, 313) had 74 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 19 TFLs in 21 career games for the Hawkeyes, earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in an All-American 2020 season. He would provide depth on the interior, with the potential to supplant Jones in 2022, at the cost of a Day 2 pick.
Jevon Holland, Safety/Nickel, Oregon
Oregon defensive back Jevon Holland would be the perfect addition for a couple reasons.
Holland offers plenty of upside, and was even considered a first-round pick prior to his opt-out. He had 4.5 TFLs and nine interceptions in two seasons as a versatile ballhawk for the Ducks defense.
He has lined up at safety and nickel at Oregon. San Francisco has shown a preference for defensive backs who can line up all over the field.
An added bonus is that Holland is a decent punt returner (15.3 yards-per-return in 2019), which is better than all five 49er returners last year.
Paulson Adebo, Cornerback, Stanford
Cornerback was a popular choice in mock drafts when the 49ers still had the 12th pick.
Jaycee Horn, Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II were all options, but the upside of Day 2 corner Paulson Adebo allowed for further flexibility in the first-round.
Adebo did not play in 2020, but was an impressive piece on Stanford’s defense the previous two seasons, totaling 97 tackles, eight interceptions, 27 pass deflections and five TFLs.
The 6’1", 198-pound corner is ideally not a Day 1 starter. With only 22 games at the collegiate-level, he’ll need time to refine his athleticism and size, but that will come with experience. He’d get that by learning behind Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley this season.
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