2016 NFL Draft: 5 Late-Round Prospects the 49ers Should Target
By Jerod Brown
James Burgess-Inside Linebacker-Louisville
The 49ers need to find someone to play next to inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. They gave Michael Wilhoite a shot but he is simply not skilled enough to be a long-term starter. Gerald Hodges, who was acquired from the Minnesota Vikings, played well as a starter but is still developing as well. The team should not be hedging their bets on either of these two men.
Most assume that the 49ers will, at some point in the draft, look to target an inside linebacker that they can pair with Bowman. Bowman was drafted to pair with former 49er Patrick Willis and the two created the best inside linebacker tandem in the league when Bowman took the starting spot.
Now, after Willis’ retirement, the 49ers are looking to enact the same strategy to return the defense to dominant form.
If the 49ers skip throughout the first few rounds, they should target James Burgess from Louisville. Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack are hot commodities. And Arizona’s Scooby Wright could be a mid-round target. But Burgess should be available late and he offers an opportunity to develop the new partner in crime for Bowman.
Chad Reuter is a Draft Analyst for NFL.com and had this to say about Burgess as a prospect:
"Don’t let Burgess’ size (6-0, 229) fool you. He drills ball carriers into the ground. The Miami native is explosive to the play and brings bad intentions. But he also shows a knack for reading quarterbacks and making plays on the ball, with six career interceptions. Burgess will be a nice fit for a 3-4 team looking for an inside gap-shooter."
The 49ers are certainly a 3-4 team looking for an inside gap-shooter. Burgess could be their guy to alleviate some of the stress from Bowman. Bowman certainly looked strong after injury, including earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, but the team likely wants someone next to him to help protect their investment.
Burgess isn’t without his flaws, and he may have benefitted from a dominant defensive line in front of him.
The 49ers will boast a strong defensive line over the next year or two but Burgess will need to show an ability to beat blocks if he expects to start for any team in the NFL. The issue may not be a lack in talent, but simply a lack in opportunity.
Burgess may take a season or two to develop. That was the case with Bowman as well. Sometimes, sitting on the bench and getting acclimated to the NFL is the best thing that can happen for players. Burgess would come to San Francisco with little expectations for the immediate future, allowing him to grow into a productive role with the team.
Next: Predicting 49ers Roster Ahead of Free Agency
Regardless of how they use their picks, the 49ers will need to cash in on the depth of talent in this draft. There will be players available on the third day that will make immediate impacts for their teams. The 49ers need to determine who those players are and then target them.
With as many as 12 picks, the 49ers sit positioned to take impact players in each round. The players that they grab late can come to camp with little-to-no expectations about their performance. Those are the players worth taking fliers on.
We’ll debate plenty over the next three months about who the 49ers should draft with their first pick. But what about their 10th, 11th or 12th pick? Will those picks be cause for debate? Ultimately, the players that join the team are looking for an chance to produce. And the 49ers need production.
The 49ers have could potentially introduce nearly 20 percent of a new roster to build the quality and depth of this team. If they are going to compete for division titles anytime soon, Baalke will have to hit on these young guys more than he misses.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN Statistics unless otherwise indicated.