After months of speculation, the wait is almost over. The NFL Draft arrives today, but before Roger Goodell walks to the podium, here’s one last prediction: The San Francisco 49ers will select Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with the ninth pick overall.
Here’s one word to describe why: potential.
Potential is a scary word when it comes to drafting a 19-year-old in the top 10, but the 49ers identity resides solely on potential for now. Their roster isn’t built to for a deep playoff run. Yet.
Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t an All-Pro, yet. Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had a winning season, yet. John Lynch hasn’t drafted a Defensive Player of the Year, yet.
Edmunds may not have all the fundamental, technique-driven skills a front office wants to see in a in a first-round pick, but his ceiling could be higher than anyone in the entire class. That’s all the 49ers need right now.
The 49ers are sitting in one of the best positions in the top 10. They have no immediate need forcing their hand to reach. They can let teams in front of them fight for quarterbacks while they sit back and let the player they want fall to them.
No one from San Francisco’s coaching staff or front office is on the hot seat pressuring them to make a splash. 49ers CEO Jed York has shown faith in his current regime, signing both Shanahan and Lynch to six-year contracts. Lynch has proven during last year’s draft and this year’s free agency that he has a plan and is sticking to it.
While the division rival Los Angeles Rams loaded up over the offseason by trading picks and spending the big bucks, Lynch didn’t fret. He sat back and extended players, only spending smart money. He inked Richard Sherman to a team-friendly deal that guarantees him just $3 million and signed center Weston Richburg to protect Garoppolo, his big-ticket item.
With a combination of unreal athleticism, size and raw potential, Edmunds could be the next brick to be laid in Lynch’s foundation.
San Francisco is the right fit for Edmunds, too. The 49ers have a team in place that can elevate his career to the next level. It starts with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Saleh has had a hand at developing some of the best linebackers in the NFL. He’s worked with Bobby Wagner in Seattle, Telvin Smith in Jacksonville and Brian Cushing in Houston. Edmunds could use an on-field veteran mentor to teach him the game.
The 49ers have lacked that veteran since parting ways with NaVorro Bowman, but they do have a mentor on the coaching staff with 10 years of NFL playing experience. Former Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler Demeco Ryans is San Francisco’s new linebacker coach and has all the wisdom from an illustrious professional career a young rookie needs.
On the field, San Francisco’s defensive line boasts three first-round picks who could help Edmunds develop by clogging the line of scrimmage and giving the prospect time to diagnose plays in front of him.
One of Edmunds flaws is failing to read plays well. This blind spot leads him to take bad routes to the football, relying on his speed to recover. That doesn’t play well at the pro-level when everyone is an exceptional athlete. Edmunds could also benefit learning how to tackle correctly. He tends to use his long arms to drag guys down instead of putting his nose on the football, a small problem that could easily be coached up; remember, he is only 19 years old. Edmunds needs to learn how to play the linebacker position the right way as a professional with discipline. The San Francisco coaching staff can handle that.
Outside of the fit with San Francisco, Edmunds mixture of size, athleticism and length makes him a menace on the football field. Edmunds stands at 6-foot-4, 253 pounds with an insane wingspan of 83 inches. For perspective, that is the wingspan of some offensive tackles. That combination Edmunds makes him an impact player in coverage from Day 1. He showed consistent ability to blanket tight-ends and running backs and sometimes Virginia Tech used him to cover slot wide receivers. Edmunds has fluid hips reminiscent of a safety in coverage.
Edmunds has serious burst and a explosive first step making him a fierce blitzer. He has the ability to rush up the middle and on the edge, an underrated versatile skill that will keep him on the field in all situations.
Edmunds has been compared to players like Anthony Barr because of his athletic ability and eight-time pro bowler Urlacher because of his size. Neither don’t do him justice because we have never really seen a player like Edmunds before.
Whatever you’ve seen, read or heard about Edmunds doesn’t really matter, because he won’t be drafted for the player he is now, but the player he could be someday.
Lastly, Edmunds wore number 49 at Virginia Tech. A sign, perhaps?