Why Dante Stills is a perfect sleeper for 49ers in 2023 NFL Draft

Defensive lineman Dante Stills #55 of the West Virginia Mountaineers (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
Defensive lineman Dante Stills #55 of the West Virginia Mountaineers (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have always prioritized their defensive line in the NFL Draft, but a sleeper like West Virginia’s Dante Stills is a prime target late on day three.

After the San Francisco 49ers inked former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in free agency, then after grabbing edge rushers Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant to bolster the depth chart, and finally wrapping up by re-signing reserve lineman Kerry Hyder, it’d be safe to say adding more defensive linemen via the 2023 NFL Draft would be a bit redundant.

With a renewed stockpiling of players on the defensive line, only the highest-profile prospects added via the draft would stand a chance of making this year’s regular-season roster.

Considering the Niners aren’t selecting until the tail end of Round 3 to start, grabbing more D-linemen wouldn’t make sense, right?

Well, one should probably factor in a hidden-gem prospect out of West Virginia who might be a nice little find late on day three of the draft with whom the red and gold have already met on multiple occasions.

49ers can easily go after WVU’s Dante Stills late in 2023 NFL Draft

San Francisco starts picking late in the third round with three picks there, but West Virginia defensive lineman Dante Stills won’t hear his name called at that point.

In fact, there’s a modest chance he slips as an undrafted free agent. However, armed with four seventh-round selections, the 49ers shouldn’t have any trouble grabbing the 6-foot-4, 286-pound lineman at that point.

Dante Stills Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles
*2018West VirginiaBig 12FRDL9122145.53.0000002
2019West VirginiaBig 12SODL111882614.08.0000100
*2020West VirginiaBig 12JRDL101520359.52.0000210
*2021West VirginiaBig 12SRDL132973615.07.0100.00001
2022West VirginiaBig 12SRDL121313269.04.500011002
CareerWest Virginia875013753.024.5100.0042005

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 4/18/2023.

On the bad side, Stills is sort of a “jack of all trades, master of none.” And NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein basically described the problem:

"Stills lacks the girth of a 4-3 three-technique, the get-off of a 4-3 end and the two-gapping take-on of a traditional odd-front end. However, he has physical/play attributes that have allowed him to play in all three spots. Finding a fit for him will be paramount, but his quickness and agility will be valued in schemes employing gaming, active fronts."

Two thoughts on that. First, a wide-9 alignment might actually unlock some of Stills’ better attributes where he can operate a bit more in space.

The Niners operate a wide-9 D-line, for what it’s worth.

A second thought is much of Zierlein’s scouting report is reminiscent of another tweener-type D-lineman whom San Francisco drafted on day three many years ago, defensive end Ronald Blair.

Read more: What picks do the Niners have on Day 3 of 2023 NFL Draft?

Blair, not unlike Stills, was a bit too small for a 3-tech player and didn’t have the bend to be a prototypical edge rusher. And yet the former turned into a solid rotational end for the 49ers from 2016 through 2019.

On the positive side of things, which is what the Niners are banking on, Stills can play a number of positions, has an array of pass-rushing moves and hasn’t let the limitations affect him over his collegiate career.

And, as a seventh-round selection, San Francisco wouldn’t be wasting a pick but rather taking a low-risk, potentially high-reward flier on a prospect who could bloom in the right context.

One the 49ers have despite the position being crowded.

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