NFL Draft Preview: What Bay Area stars could hear their name called in April?

Take a look at any NFL roster and one thing you’ll see is the amount of Bay Area college stars littered across every depth chart. Just this weekend, several former Bay Area college standouts will headline the NFL playoffs, with stars like Jared Goff, Cameron Heyward, Zach Ertz and Keenan Allen fighting to move on to championship weekend.

Signal callers like Goff, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers spent their college careers in the Bay Area. Playmakers like Marshawn Lynch, Christian McCaffrey and DeSean Jackson all wowed the Pac-12 before heading on to the NFL, While underrated Bay Area prospects like Doug Baldwin, Marvin Jones, Andrus Peat, Alex Mack and Trent Murphy have gone on to have steady NFL careers. Locally we’ve seen Bay Area college players show out for the 49ers like Soloman Thomas, Richard Sherman and Jason Cabinda from San Jose State for the Raiders.

Bay Area schools like Stanford and Cal have produced a bounty of NFL talent, while small schools like San Jose State, Fresno State and UC Davis provide sleepers in the past; and that hasn’t changed in 2019. The NFL Draft has been headlined by big-time prospects who have gone to school in the Bay Area in the past, and it’s fair to say Bay Area colleges are a NFL hotbed for talent at the next level. Who’s next to represent the Bay Area in the NFL?

Unlike years with Luck and Goff, no Bay Area college has a top-tier prospect that will hear their name called first overall, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent coming out of Palo Alto or Berkeley. This year, the Bay Area prospect pool starts on The Farm, with a few of Stanford’s towering pass catchers.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is probably tabbed as the best prospect to come out of a Bay Area college this season, and his 14 touchdown grabs are a big reason. Arcega-Whiteside was a touchdown machine this season for the Cardinal catching a touchdown pass in seven of 13 games. He had two, three-touchdown games this season and ranked third in all of college football for touchdown receptions.

Arcega-Whiteside’s ability to use his 6-foot-3 size to box out defenders in the red zone will get any offensive coordinator excited. Like any big bodied receiver, how fast Arcega Whiteside runs at the NFL Scouting Combine will be a big determining factor for his draft stock. If he puts together a good series of workouts at his pro day and the Combine, he could be one of the first receivers off the board in April.

Arcega-Whiteside’s running mate, Kaden Smith, is looking like the next great tight end out of Stanford. Ertz, Coby Fleener, Austin Hooper and Dalton Schultz have paved the way for Smith to get looks at the next level. Smith is the definition of a physical specimen, standing at 6-foot-5 and checking in at 253 pounds, with serious athleticism to pair with his elite size. Smith has all the traits you want to see in a tight end prospect, but still has work to do with route running and spacing the defense.

Stanford running back Bryce Love has torn his ACL and will miss the Combine. It’s brutal news for Love, who was the runner-up for the Heisman a year ago, and a favorite to win the trophy before this season before a disappointing 2018 campaign. Love’s 739 rushing yards on 166 attempts marked his lowest yards-per-carry (4.5) in his career, and that output, combined with the injury, could hurt his draft stock, but as the NFL gets faster and faster there isn’t much of a doubt that some team will take a chance on Love. He’s a good fit for the Oakland Raiders, so watch out for Jon Gruden to take a swing.

Rounding out Stanford’s potential prospects is corner Elijah Holder, in the mix thanks to an underwhelming corner class for 2019. There’s only about two to three established corner prospects in this class, so if Holder can impress during his pro day, his stock can rise. He’s the type of player San Francisco 49ers general manager (and Stanford alum) John Lynch usually takes a flyer on. Missing out on the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine game won’t help him, though.

Going from the South Bay to the East, Cal’s draft talent pool is a little murkier compared to Stanford. Several guys will get shots at the next level, but no players jump off the big board. While most of Stanford’s talent comes from the offensive side of the ball, Cal’s potential lies on defense with guys like Jordan Kunaszyk.

The 6-foot-3, 236-pound Kunaszyk will benefit from a weak linebacking class which could elevate his stock in April. He’s flown under the radar so far, but has been a tackling machine for the Golden Bears in his career (his 258 tackles rank 10th on Cal’s all-time list) and seems to diagnose plays very well. Kunaszyk could challenge to be a special teams standout early in his career with potential to play inside as his career grows.He drew a lot of comparisons to Zack Follett during his time at Cal, and Follett made noise on special teams for the Detroit Lions before injuries cut short his NFL career.

Kunaszyk would be a good fit for either of the local teams. With the 49ers having parted ways with troubled inside linebacker Reuben Foster, Kunaszyk’s intellect and tackling ability would allow him to develop into a nice complementary piece for BYU product Fred Warner.

Bears fan favorite receiver Vic Wharton III should have a spot on a roster at the next level with his route running ability and punt returning skills, but inconsistent quarterback play didn’t do him many favors.

Two smaller-school guys will get a shot to prove they belong at the Senior Bowl in receiver Keelan Doss from UC Davis and tight end Josh Oliver from San Jose State. Doss will be watched by many, as he’s been labeled a small school darling in a jam packed receiving class. Doss and Oliver will get the chance to match up against some of the Power 5’s toughest competition in Mobile, Alabama during the Senior Bowl, where both Bay Area staffs will be coaching.

No matter what, history shows that Bay Area college’s can produce an elite group of talent for the NFL’s next crop of stars.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Cal defensive back Ashtyn Davis would be coming out this season. He is staying in school for his senior year.

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