A large contingent of 49ers coaches, including head coach Kyle Shanahan, were on hand to watch former Stanford players Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey go through a pre-draft workout on Thursday.
Thomas, a defensive lineman who could be drafted higher than any defensive player in Stanford history, took part in a series of agility drills along with fellow defensive lineman Jordan Watkins. Neither Thomas nor McCaffrey ran the 40-yard dash or related tests after having done so at the scouting combine earlier this month.
A number of NFL defensive coaches, including Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, watched Thomas’ workout. The 49ers have the second overall pick in the upcoming draft; the Bears draft third. No Stanford defensive player has been drafted in the top 10 since linebacker Jeff Siemon went 10th to Minnesota in 1972.
The 49ers used a first-round pick on a defensive linemen in the past two drafts in Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Could they make it three in a row with Thomas?
“It really doesn’t concern me what we’ve done in the past,” Shanahan said. “If we think that player can help us and improve us, that’s what we’ll do. You want to get the best player possible. There’s lots of options open.”
Asked if Thomas (6-foot-3, 273 pounds) could line up at the edge of the defensive line – at the so-called Leo position in the 49ers’ new defense – Shanahan said: “I believe so. I believe he can line up probably anywhere inside that he wants. But (I’m) still not done with my research yet.”
McCaffrey, who went through running-back drills earlier this month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, handled punts and kick returns Thursday while also running routes and catching passes as a slot and wide receiver. Former Stanford quarterback Robbie Picazo and former Colorado State-Pueblo quarterback Chris Bonner served as the quarterbacks for McCaffrey and for Stanford receivers Francis Owusu and Michael Rector during the workout. Bonner has been training with McCaffrey in the Denver area.
“Today I wanted to really make sure that I could run routes from the slot, I can run routes from outside, that I can catch kick and punt returns,” McCaffrey, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2016, said.
The 49ers are looking for a running back to go along with Carlos Hyde and have hosted at least one free agent at the position, Tim Hightower, in recent weeks. Shanahan said McCaffrey’s value lies in his versatility.
“He can do a little bit of everything, whether it’s special teams, all the skill positions on the offense – except for maybe quarterback,” Shanahan said. “Maybe not tight end, either.”
McCaffrey’s father, former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey, was on hand for Thursday’s workout. The elder McCaffrey was a third-round pick out of Stanford in 1991 and played 13 seasons in the NFL, including one – in 1994 – with the 49ers.
While Shanahan was at Stanford, 49ers general manager John Lynch attended Notre Dame’s pro day where quarterback DeShone Kizer worked out. NFL.com reported that Lynch took Kizer to dinner on Wednesday.
Et cetera – Shanahan and Carolina’s Ron Rivera were the only head coaches in attendance. Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing and Jets offensive coordinator John Morton were among the assistants on hand Thursday.
▪ The 49ers’ contingent also included special teams coordinator Richard Hightower, running backs coach Bobby Turner, receivers coach Mike LaFleur and linebackers coach Jason Tarver.
▪ Former Stanford players on hand included 49ers’ 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett, quarterback Kevin Hogan and tight end Coby Fleener. Thomas is represented by the same agent, Tom Condon, who represents Garnett.