A 49ers team that badly wants to boost its meager pass rush from a year ago continues to do homework on edge rushers who will be available in the upcoming draft.
On Wednesday the team was in Louisiana to work out LSU defensive end Arden Key, who is considered one of the most talented – and troubled – defenders available later this month. Key's workout was conducted in part by Chris Kiffin, the 49ers' pass-rush specialist who was hired in the offseason.
Key was one of the top pass rushers in the nation in 2016, finishing with 12 sacks, including two sacks and a safety in LSU's Citrus Bowl win.
Key has excellent length for the position – 6-foot-6 with long arms – but moves like a much smaller man and is able to slip under and around more lumbering offensive linemen. At the close of the 2016 season, he was on a trajectory to be taken in the first 10 picks of the draft.
Key, however, stumbled this past season. It began with his taking a leave of absence from the team in the spring. Local reports said Key sought treatment for an off-the-field issue. His weight ballooned to 280 pounds – his optimal weight is between 240 and 250 pounds, he said – and he finished the 2017 season with just four sacks.
"Arden Key from LSU is a really talented kid with some off-the-field issues," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "His character has to be checked, but he's gifted."
Those character concerns have not scared off the 49ers, who had a formal meeting with Key at the scouting combine, conducted this week's workout at LSU and who brought Key to Santa Clara on Friday for one of their "official 30 visits."
Their research comes a year after the team went through a similar process with linebacker Reuben Foster, whom they ended up taking with the 31st overall pick. Foster had a diluted drug test at the 2017 combine and was sent home early from the event following an altercation with a hospital technician.
On Thursday he was formally charged with three felonies stemming from a February incident involving his girlfriend. He faces an additional marijuana-possession charge in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The NFL is reviewing both, and they could lead to a multi-game suspension this season.
Key, meanwhile, has not spoken publicly about why he left the LSU team last year, but he said he's been forthright when NFL teams have asked him about it.
“I tell them the real," he said at the scouting combine last month. "I tell them that was my biggest adversity. I went through it and I’m past that and I’m looking forward.”
“They respond in a good way," he continued. "I surprise a lot of them, because a lot of them don’t know what happened. I tell them what happened, what I played a part in, but yeah, a lot of them are surprised. They’re blown away by the interview.”
The 49ers are looking closely at several options at the position.
They've conducted workouts with University of Texas-San Antonio pass rusher Marcus Davenport, a possible first-round pick, and Florida State pass rusher Josh Sweat, who could go in the second round.
No one is certain in which round Key will be selected.