Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 shifts focus to undrafted free-agent linebacker Donavin Newsom and his prospects to make the roster this season.
The San Francisco 49ers had one of the better undrafted free-agent hauls following the 2017 NFL Draft, and former Missouri linebacker Donavin Newsom certainly helped this notion.
Newsom, a four-year contributor at college, best projects to be an inside linebacker at the NFL level.
At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, the 23-year-old Newsom brings a solid collegiate career to the table:
And it’s possible the Niners may have found a gem here.
Former NFL scout Chris Landry (h/t GridironNow.com) felt Newsom was one of the “more underrated linebackers in the draft” and even projected him to go in Round 6.
While he’s a bit undersized, Landry also pointed out how Newsom makes up for this concern with both speed and the ability to constantly be around the ball.
So, did San Francisco wind up finding a proverbial “diamond in the rough?”
Let’s take a look.
San Francisco 49ers
Why He’ll Improve
The 49ers inked free-agent linebacker Malcolm Smith this offseason and added former Alabama standout, linebacker Reuben Foster, in Round 1 of the draft.
Paired with incumbent LB NaVorro Bowman, one might think there isn’t enough room for Newsom to climb the depth chart.
Yet Niners Wire’s Chris Biderman broke down how smaller, faster inside linebackers are becoming more prevalent in today’s NFL. He wrote:
"The 49ers have starters lined up at inside linebacker but Newsom has the speed and size to play special teams while backing up the MIKE and WILL positions. The linebacker depth is unsettled and Newsom can earn a role with a strong training camp that highlights his athleticism and versatility."
Bowman is almost assuredly going to be the MIKE linebacker, while the WILL is up for grabs between Foster and Smith.
With a 4.54 40-yard time, it’s easy to see how Newsom could use his speed to act as a playmaking linebacker, especially in a backup role.
Why He’ll Regress
Size could still be a problem for Newsom at the next level, and he possesses some traits that could make this issue more pressing a concern within the NFL’s ranks.
While he’s capable of flying around the ball and using his speed to make plays, this tendency opens Newsom up to the possibility of missed tackles — an issue pointed out by DraftAnalyst.com.
The 49ers have struggled with poor tackling, especially at linebacker, in years prior. And this isn’t something for the team’s new regime to take lightly.
Another thing to consider is Missouri’s defense last year wasn’t particularly solid. We can’t pin this totally on Newsom, as he did lead the team with 46 solo tackles, but it’s something to watch during training camp and the preseason.
What to Expect in 2017
Linebacker depth was a major problem for San Francisco the last two seasons, so that gives Newsom a pretty good chance to crack the back end of the depth chart.
Bowman, Smith and Foster are all but guaranteed roster spots. But it’s likely the Niners keep an additional player here for insurance. And if Newsom is able to showcase some true talent, he may rise to a No. 4 spot when the 53-man roster is announced after the preseason.
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As a reserve, though, Newsom will have to add special teams abilities to his skill set. Whether or not he can do this will be mandatory for making the cut.
However, if he can’t, the 49ers may be wise to stash Newsom on the practice squad for a year or so, letting him develop his tackling technique and work his way up to a possible promotion.
Right now, he’s on the fringes of the roster but looks as if he could be on the stronger side of the bubble.