Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: 49ers Turn NFL Draft Upside Down

Standing on the field turf of the Indoor Practice Facility in Provo, Utah, San Francisco 49ers’ general manager John Lynch and I briefly locked eyes. John was standing as far from the scrum of scouts and media as possible, off in a corner of the roped off area where the BYU draft prospects were working out.

As Lynch lifted his phone to his ear to talk to an anonymous caller, I saw a big smile cross his face. “Huh, wonder what that’s about?”, I thought to myself.

10 minutes later, while having a conversation with Zach Wilson’s agent, myself and the collection of scouts all felt our phones buzz. “The San Francisco 49ers have traded to No. 3 overall,” Adam Schefter’s tweet read.

Scanning the room for Lynch, we locked eyes again. And his smile was even bigger.

On a cold, rainy Friday morning at BYU, Lynch pulled off a trade that sent a ripple effect through the NFL. It was all anyone could talk about even as the BYU quarterback began his throwing session.

The 49ers would ultimately send three first rounds picks, including this year’s No. 12 overall pick, and a 2022 third-rounder to move up to No. 3 overall. That trade is for a quarterback—we might not know which quarterback just yet, but it’s a certainty that the 49ers would only trade that many selections in order to secure a quarterback of the future.

Finding that quarterback is key. Twitter has been abuzz since the trade with many experts predicting what Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will value at the position. Some see Mac Jones (Alabama) and his Kirk Cousins-like accuracy and play-action ability as the best fit given Shanahan’s previous passers. Others see the athleticism of Justin Fields (Ohio State) and Trey Lance (NDSU) as Shanahan’s chance to evolve and take his scheme to modern levels of quarterback play.

The truth is that right now, 32 days before the NFL draft, none of us knows what Lynch and Shanahan are thinking; and none of us knows which of the two will ultimately be the decider when it’s time to make the pick. Maybe they’ll be in harmony on who the top passer is, but no matter who makes the pick one thing is certain: The futures of Lynch and Shanahan are tied to getting this pick right.

Whether it’s Jones, Lance or Fields is to be determined. Each has benefits to their game and each has holes you’d worry about. But a new era is coming in San Francisco and this time it’ll be a quarterback hand-picked by Shanahan and Lynch.

The Scout’s Report

—Lost in the craziness of the two NFL trades on Friday was the BYU pro day workout. Quarterback Zach Wilson performed as expected. He was accurate, agile, showed off impressive arm strength and generally hit the mark for how a top quarterback should perform. But most importantly, Wilson was able to spend time in person with NFL teams. That’s something that, due to Covid-19, hasn’t happened in a year. The New York Jets sent general manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur to the workout—a strong representation. And I can report that the three Jets’ officials spent considerable time with Wilson’s father Mike throughout the day. Maybe that ultimately means nothing, but it’s notable at this stage of the process.

—The Philadelphia Eagles are loaded with future draft capital after trading Carson Wentz and then trading down in Round 1. They’ll have 11 picks in the 2021 draft (the most of any team), but most importantly they could have three first-rounders in 2022 (their own, Miami’s and Indianapolis’). The smart move? See what you have in Jalen Hurts at quarterback in 2021. If he plays well, you’re loaded to build around him. If he doesn’t, you have the ammunition to go after a Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson via a trade.

—The buzz is building that Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow is advocating for wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase to be the team’s pick at No 5 overall. The former LSU teammates would no doubt be a beautiful pairing in Cincinnati, but what about the offensive line? Weeks ago I wrote about sources saying the Bengals were all-in on Oregon’s Penei Sewell. While talking to league sources over the weekend about the Bengals going away from the line at No. 5 overall, I heard two things:

  1. The signing of Riley Reiff has taken pressure off the Bengals to go offensive line at No. 5 overall.

  2. The team feels the offensive line is much better than they played in 2020 and will play up to their potential in 2021.

  3. Burrow pushing for a wide receiver over a lineman shows his faith in the group.

Caleb Farley underwent a microdiscectomy last week, as reported by Adam Schefter, which had some folks proclaiming he would fall out of the first round. Hold up on that. I spoke to 10 teams about Farley since the Schefter report. Each believed he would still be a top 25 selection. And that was before he ran a reported 4.28s 40-yard dash at the Virginia Tech pro day.

— It is no secret the Carolina Panthers have been willing to get aggressive to get a quarterback this off-season, but something I heard over the weekend is that the Panthers are also okay if they sit tight at No. 8 overall and draft the first offensive tackle off the board. Greg Little was a second-round pick by the previous regime but hasn’t shown enough in two years to warrant a belief that he’s the future. If Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater are available—and both could be—the Panthers might be addressing the line instead of the need at quarterback.

— Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy tweeted out official (scout timed) numbers for Jaelen Phillips at the Miami pro day and they are wild. At 6054 (6’5 1/2”) and 266 pounds he ran an official 4.56s 40-yard dash. He also broad jumped 115”, had a 36” vertical jump and a 4.13 short shuttle to go along with a 7.01-second three-cone drill. If teams clear Phillips’ medically, he should be the favorite to be the first edge-rusher drafted.

Parting Shots

10. Everyone got riled up about the NFL expanding to 17 games, but it felt like we knew this was coming. Now the hope should be that the league does the right thing and drops to two or three preseason games to accommodate the extra regular season game.

But, please remember this when the salary cap jumps like crazy in two years. Players will love the added cap space and bigger salaries. A 17 game regular season schedule might not be something they like right now, but taking the longer view approach would show them that this is good for the NFLPA and the game.

9. Fun With Numbers

Most picks: Eagles (11)

Fewest picks: Seahawks (3)

I don’t think Russell Wilson is being moved this off-season, but if he were, the Eagles have to be a favorite to go after him given their current and future draft capital.

If that situation were to continue deteriorating, I’d keep a close eye on Philly.

8. Riser of the Week — RB Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma

It’s running back week here at The Draft Scout as myself and assistant scout Jerod Brown go through the prospects and finish our reports on them. One player moving up is Rhamondre Stevenson.

Stevenson is a squat, powerful back who impressed in limited touches at Oklahoma but also had a great week at the 2021 Senior Bowl. He might be viewed as a short-yardage only player for some teams, but my hope is a power run team (Atlanta Falcons?) views him as an every-down powerhouse and feeds him the rock.

Stevenson has a third-round grade on my board.

7. Faller of the Week — DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami

I’ve spent time talking about Rousseau here in the past. The idea that he was a lock Round 1 pick when he opted out of the 2020 season was based on a fantastic sophomore year and (to be honest) limited tape exposure to a redshirt sophomore player.

Now, with the rise of Jaelan Phillips and an average pro day workout, Rousseau is firmly outside the first round. You should expect to see that reflected in mock drafts as they start to roll out more and more.

The first line of my scouting report on Rousseau says “boom or bust”. In the right situation, he could develop into a good player, but he is the most raw pass-rusher in the class and has just one year of experience in college. Evaluating players is a lot about mitigating risk; Rousseau brings a considerable amount of it given his lack of experience (he played safety and wide receiver in high school) and average athleticism. That’s why we’ll see him fall in the draft.

6. Sleeper of the Week — RB Jake Funk, Maryland

If you want a deep, deep sleeper at running back, keep an eye on Maryland’s Jake Funk. Most teams I’ve talked to have a late Day 3 or UDFA grade on him, but he’s a very intriguing athlete with the speed, hands, and power to contribute in the NFL.

This might be a name to file away for a year or two, but I’d go to bat for him as a Round 6-7 player.

5. Sleeper of the Week II — RB Kene Nwangwu, Iowa State

And one more deep sleeper at running back — Iowa State’s Kene Nwangwu.

At 6’0” and 210 pounds he ran a 4.32 at the Maryland pro day. Even if you adjust that time for a pro day favorable clock, he’s very fast. It shows up on tape, too, even though he had limited touches in college.

Again, a deep name to file away as a potential Day 3 pick.

4. Don’t Forget About…

Remember Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo? He burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and followed it up with a very good 2019 season that saw him miss three games with injury. Adebo then opted out for the 2020 season and his name kind of stopped being mentioned.

But let’s go back to the tape—it’s good. There will be injury questions but Adebo has the size (6’1”, 190 lbs) and ballhawking skills to be very good in the NFL very early in his career.

3. Two Guys, A Girl and a Podcast

This week we caught up with Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little. He was super fun to talk to and opened up about not playing football for the last two years, playing left tackle vs. right tackle, and his hidden talents.

Check it out here.

2. The Draft Scout Summer Content

The 2021 NFL draft is 32 days away but some of you have asked what the “off-season” will look like here.

Well, there is no off-season in the NFL.

Post-draft I’ll be posting grades for every team’s drafts, looking at best fits/worst fits for the picks, updating things like team needs, power rankings and getting a start on the 2022 draft class.

We will also ramp up the interactive events. More member-controlled mock drafts (including re-drafting previous classes). More happy hours. We’ll start the scouting clinics.

Basically, all the things you can get involved with that I haven’t had time to run while getting ready for the 2021 draft!

So stick around. If you’re on the monthly plan, I promise this summer’s content and events will be worthwhile.

And, as always, your feedback is cherished.

1. Drink of the Week — Boulevard Tank 7

As a noted enjoyer of adult beverages, I’m often asked what my all-time favorite beer is. That’s a very hard question to answer because I find beer preference to be very seasonal, very much based on the activity and also based on my mood. Weird, I know.

But if I could pick ONE beer to drink for the rest of my life, Boulevard’s Tank 7 would be the winner.

Officially considered an American Saison Ale, Tank 7 is a big beer with citrus flavors and a hoppy finish. It was originally labeled a farmhouse ale and that designation fits it very well. It’s full of flavors and a stout 8.5% ABV.

So if you’re looking for something more substantial to work into your beer rotation, Tank 7 is the Andrew Luck of beer prospects.