While the NFL Draft often focuses on big-name programs, the 49ers may be wise looking at these five small-school prospects in 2022.
A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers aggressively traded up to No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to grab quarterback Trey Lance, who hailed from a notably smaller collegiate program at North Dakota State but one that’s been somewhat of a riser in recent years.
Sure, the draft often features more than enough talent from the programs that dominate national attention. You’re going to read about plenty of NFL Draft prospects from Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and so on, while there are dozens of other household-name NCAA programs putting forth names into the draft every spring.
But, how about those second- and third-level schools you rarely hear about?
Entering the 2022 NFL Draft, there are a number of small-school prospects that could intrigue the Niners. Particularly as they look to get into day three of the draft where they hold five picks.
Here are five such players out of smaller programs who could find themselves targeted by San Francisco.
49ers small-school prospect No. 5: RB Pierre Strong, South Dakota State
The 49ers don’t necessarily need to add a running back in this year’s draft, but they easily could. Particularly with the knowledge their presumed No. 1 tailback, Elijah Mitchell, missed six games last year with injuries.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan loves speed, and that’s precisely what South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong has.
A year after rushing for 1,673 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 7.0 yards per attempt, Strong posted a quality 4.37 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine, showcasing that kind of straight-line speed that could help the Niners make up for veteran runner Raheem Mostert’s departure via free agency and to help guard against a would-be Mitchell injury.
He’s not much of a receiving back, so that’ll work against him in Shanahan’s offense. But the speed burst is there, and he could easily be a safe pick early on day three.