There are a pair of linebacker prospects that are commonly mocked to the San Francisco 49ers: Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds. Both defensive standouts could be on the board when the 49ers go on the clock at pick No. 9.
They’re different players by nature. Smith is a traditional inside linebacker with natural instincts and touted sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability. Edmunds is a bit of a hybrid player without a defined position. That said, he’s a physical freak and only 19 years old. Analysts laud his versatility to play in coverage while also possessing pass rush abilities.
So which prospect do various draft experts prefer? Our panel of gurus discuss.
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: Tremaine Edmunds
I’ve got Edmunds as my fifth-best player overall. I’ve been a huge Tremaine Edmunds fan. He’s 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds with 34-inch arms. The kid is 19 years old. He’s a special player. He plays off the ball on the inside, but if you wanted to, I think you could let him rush the quarterback. There’s so much to get through when you’re trying to throw over the middle against a guy with as much length as Edmunds has. Roquan has great instincts and range laterally. I had a buddy in the league compare him to Jonathan Vilma.
Dane Brugler, NFL Draft Scout: Roquan Smith
Give me Roquan. He doesn’t have the same size dimensions as Edmunds, but Roquan is a quicker mental processor. He puts himself in positions to make plays. Edmunds has a higher potential because of his size and his athletic profile, but he’s not there yet, and there’s no guarantee he reaches that potential. I know what Roquan is right now, and that’s a play-making linebacker. I’ll take that.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Tremaine Edmunds
I would take Edmunds. I think the upside is so much higher. I love Roquan Smith. I think there’s an argument to be made that he was the best defensive player in college football last year. I just worry a little about him getting off blocks. We kind of saw him neutralized in the first half against Oklahoma and in the first half against Alabama. I think Edmunds, with his size, speed and athleticism – I’d rather have that future. Especially since he’s only 19 years old.
Rob Rang, NFL Draft Scout: Tremaine Edmunds
Edmunds is my higher-ranked player, but it depends on what you’re trying to do: Are you trying to win now or project two-to-three years down the road? If the latter, Edmunds is your guy. He’s a 19-year-old kid who is still growing into his body. He’s not currently as instinctive or productive against the pass as Roquan is. Both of them are top 15 players. Smith can make a more immediate impact. At the same time, if you give Edmunds a few years and allow him to use his length as a pass rusher, then he has the higher upside. He has greater positional versatility as well. I expect him to be the first of the two taken in the draft.
Matt Bowen, ESPN: Roquan Smith
For me, it’s Roquan Smith. I think Edmunds is going to get drafted higher than Roquan, but when I turn on the tape of Roquan Smith, his speed to the football is outstanding. He has the ability to play against the run and to drop into space in coverage. He can matchup against a running back out of the backfield. He can track the ball consistently using the correct technique. More importantly, he tackles. If I’m going to draft a linebacker, I want a guy who can tackle and use proper technique. He’s super explosive on contact, and his football intelligence is off the charts.
The NFL Network draft analyst recently announced his updated top-50 prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft.