While an edge rusher is the San Francisco 49ers’ top need in the 2019 NFL Draft, not much is being said about linebacker. Alabama’s Mack Wilson could help fill the void.
Entering 2018, the San Francisco 49ers were supposed to have a dynamic playmaking trio at linebacker, consisting of veteran Malcolm Smith, a second-year standout in Reuben Foster and the rookie, Fred Warner.
Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.
Foster, after his third arrest last year, was released in November. Smith’s injury history with the Niners continued, and less-than-stellar play relegated him to being inactive down the final stretch of regular-season games.
The only standout was Warner, who led the 49ers defense with 124 tackles.
Most analysts and pundits would argue San Francisco needs pass-rushing help first in the 2019 NFL Draft. They’d be right. Yet with the notable shortages at linebacker, it would make some sense for general manager John Lynch and Co. to target a relatively deep linebacking crop this April.
One name to watch here is Alabama’s Mack Wilson.
LSU’s Devin White is probably the first linebacker taken off the board this year. After that, it’s probably a toss-up between Wilson and Michigan’s Devin Bush. Yet Wilson, who stands three inches taller at 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, is probably the safer bet, at least physically.
Mack Wilson’s Strengths
Wilson is a prototypical run-stopping linebacker, which seems more like a throwback in today’s pass-happy NFL. But more on that fit with San Francisco in a moment.
He does have some issues with angles and anticipation, which can be problematic. But if Wilson is able to get to his man, he’s about as reliable as it gets bringing down opponents’ ball carriers. Wilson also won’t give you top-end speed, although his sideline-to-sideline skills are more than adequate if he takes the right angles.
As far as coverage goes, Wilson is much more effective in zone. He did have six interceptions over his final two years at Alabama, and the majority of those came in zone coverage. Considering the Niners had just two picks last year, finding anyone with ballhawking abilities would be a bonus.
Mack Wilson’s Weaknesses
Again, the tackling angles. That can be quite a problem for Wilson, at times, as it seems he’s often a step late after the snap, forcing him to take bad angles and unnecessary risks.
This appears to be more of an issue in man coverage, which isn’t his strength at all. He’s likely to be something of a liability in coverage, at least early on, until he’s coached up to properly recognize route trees at the NFL level.
Additionally, that slowish first step means he’s not anywhere near as explosive, which cut into the total amount of tackles you’d generally like to see from a top-tier inside backer.
How Mack Wilson Would Fit with the 49ers
The good news for the Niners would be Wilson wouldn’t have to be tasked with a lot of coverage duties. That’s Warner’s strength, leaving Wilson to primarily hold down the weak-side (WILL) spot in San Francisco’s defense.
Typically, most teams prefer to run behind their left tackle, which would be towards Wilson’s side, in this case. And considering the Niners have to face three notable running backs within their division twice a year — the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson, the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley and the Seattle Seahawks’ Chris Carson — having a premier run stopper isn’t a luxury pick. It’s almost a necessity.
And it helps Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller listed Wilson as the best run-stopping linebacker in this year’s NFL Draft.
What makes a Wilson-to-49ers scenario possible is the chance the Alabama product slips into the early stages of Round 2. San Francisco owns the No. 36 overall pick, which opens up the chance of taking Wilson after Lynch makes his first selection on day one.
The 2019 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 25 from Nashville, Tennessee.