49ers should focus on edge-rushers, cornerbacks, offensive line at combine

A closer look at the positions the San Francisco 49ers could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis:

Positions of need: Edge-rusher, cornerback, interior offensive line. The Niners also could use a game-breaker at receiver or running back but with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in place, those positions aren't as pressing as the three listed here. Veteran Elvis Dumervil led the 49ers in sacks last season with just 6.5 and he did so despite only playing a part-time role. The lack of consistent pass rush coming from the edge wasted the consistently strong push coming from tackle DeForest Buckner in the middle. At cornerback, rookie Ahkello Witherspoon offered long-term promise and nickel corner K'Waun Williams re-signed but the Niners have a big question on the outside opposite Witherspoon. Dontae Johnson, who started for most of the season, is a free agent and struggled in coverage and with penalties. A big, physical corner for their zone scheme would be ideal. The 49ers also have serious questions on the interior of the offensive line where incumbent starter Brandon Fusco (guard) is set to hit free agency and Laken Tomlinson (guard) is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Even if they bring back Fusco, the 49ers could use an upgrade to help protect Garoppolo and bolster a run game that was inconsistent at best in 2017.

Three players the 49ers should focus on at combine:

  • Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: The Niners' pick, whether it's No. 9 or 10, is normally considered too high for a guard but there are rare exceptions and all signs point to Nelson being one. Considered the most pro-ready offensive lineman (and, perhaps, player) in the draft, Nelson is a 6-foot-5, 325-pound wrecking ball. Given the 49ers' need at the position, the combine will be very important in helping them determine how Nelson would fit in their outside zone-running scheme. While Nelson has the ability to succeed in any system, if he tests well in some of the speed and agility drills, it would answer key questions about how he might fit in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense though if he does well, he might not last until the Niners' pick.

  • Harold Landry, DE, Boston College: Working under the assumption that North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb will probably be off the board by the time the Niners pick, Landry could be the ideal combination of need and value. Landry might be the better fit, anyway, because he has the athletic profile the 49ers could use here. The 6-3, 250-pound Landry is a bit on the small side but big enough to play the Leo pass-rusher spot in the 49ers' defense. Landry racked up 25 sacks, 48 tackles for loss and 10 forced fumbles over the past three seasons. He'll have had a couple of months to train for the combine by the time it arrives. If he has added some bulk to his frame and still tests well athletically, he could regain the buzz he lost in his last college season and push his way back toward being a top-10 pick and a good match for the 49ers.

  • Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: Like with edge-rusher, we can also probably rule out the possibility of Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick slipping into Niners' territory. Jackson already looks the part of a good scheme fit at the position. At 6-1, 192 pounds with long arms, Jackson boasts the ideal size to play outside corner in coordinator Robert Saleh's Cover 3 defense. Jackson needs refinement and didn't have a huge body of work for the Hawkeyes, but he finished last season with eight interceptions and 48 tackles. The Niners went for a bigger corner in Witherspoon in last year's draft and Jackson could be a good complement on the other side. The interview process will be important for Jackson in Indianapolis given how he only burst on to the scene in 2017. This position would be best addressed in free agency but if the Niners can't find the right fit there, Jackson or Ohio State's Denzel Ward should be on their radar.