Don’t merely watch the NFL Scouting Combine. Watch it how John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will watch it.
When they’re in Indianapolis next week, they’ll search for specific players who play specific positions and have specific physical traits the 49ers desire. These are the positions and traits you should watch for, too.
POSITION No. 1: GUARD
Lynch and Shanahan have to find a starting guard, maybe two. That means they need to draft one during the first few rounds.
Last season, the Niners didn’t draft any guards — they inherited Josh Garnett, a first-round pick in 2016. During training camp, Garnett hurt his knee and missed the entire season.
Garnett is big, tall and slow. Built to push defenders backward. He may not fit the 49ers’ scheme. Shanahan likes smaller offensive lineman who run side to side. They don’t have to push defenders backward. They have to be fast.
Based on his picks in the past, Shanahan will look for guards who stand between 6-foor-2 and 6-4, and weigh between 293 pounds and 305 pounds. “Mini” guards. Then, he’ll target ones who run a 5.15-second-or-faster 40-yard dash with a 1.75-second-or-faster 10-yard split.
Those are magic numbers for Shanahan.
POSITION No. 2: MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Before this offseason, Lynch and Shanahan probably figured they were set at middle linebacker. Figured they had Reuben Foster for the long haul.
Now, Foster is awaiting arraignment in two states for potentially four charges, three of which could be felonies. The Niners may not have Foster much this season. They have to find his replacement right now.
That may not be easy. The Niners want their middle linebackers no shorter than 6 feet and no lighter than 229 pounds. They also want them fast and agile. Have to run the 40-yard dash no slower than 4.6 seconds. Have to run the 3-cone drill no slower than 7 seconds.
Very few linebackers at the Combine will meet those requirements.
So, the Niners may draft two linebackers to replace Foster: a big, slow linebacker to defend the run on first down and second down, and a small, fast middle linebacker to cover tight ends and running backs on third down.
POSITION No. 3: LEO
That’s what Lynch and Shanahan call their No. 1 edge rusher, their weak-side defensive end — the side away from the tight end.
Right now, their Leo is Cassius Marsh, who should really be a backup. Marsh has started only two games in his career and has recorded just six sacks.
The Niners like Marsh because he fits their physical profile for a Leo. Any Leo the Niners draft has to stand between 6-2 and 6-4, and weigh between 245 and 260 pounds. And he has to be fast and agile. The 49ers like speed rushers, not power rushers. A Leo has to run no slower than a 4.75-second 40-yard dash and a 7.15-second 3-cone drill.
Expect Lynch and Shanahan to draft a Leo who meets these requirements in the first two or three rounds.
POSITION No. 4: CORNERBACK
Of all the positions, the 49ers have the strictest physical requirements for cornerbacks.