San Francisco 49ers

Long story: Pass rushers cite 49ers’ Aldon Smith at scouting combine

Florida’s Dante Fowler likely will be one of the first pass rushers taken in the May draft.
Florida’s Dante Fowler likely will be one of the first pass rushers taken in the May draft. MCT

Want to feel old? Then listen to draft hopefuls talk about spending their youths watching the pass rushers of yesteryear -- like the 49ers' Aldon Smith.

“Growing up I really liked Osi Umenyiora, Aldon Smith, Von Miller -- I’m a real big fan of a lot of guys," said Nebraska's Randy Gregory, 22, who may be the first pass rusher drafted in May. "A lot of time I just put on YouTube and watch film. Growing up I used to just sit back and watch the NFL. Now I really sit back and break down the game and look at how they pass rush."

Despite finishing with just two sacks in his suspension-shortened 2014 season, Smith's name was mentioned frequently in Indianapolis. Perhaps that's genuine admiration from college players. Perhaps it's a result of agents coaching their clients on what NFL evaluators want to hear.

When Kentucky's Bud Dupree was asked what he likes about Smith, for example, he seemed to be describing someone else. "I just like how he turned the corner and how he uses his speed a lot," Dupree said. "… He’s an athletic guy, a guy that I see myself being like."

That sounds more like Miller than Smith, who played along the defensive line -- sometimes at defensive tackle -- at Missouri, and who has been effective while with the 49ers at stunting and looping through the middle of the offensive line.

Smith, of course, stood out to the 49ers in 2011 because of his power, his balance and his long arms, which measured 35 3/8 inches. None of the college pass rushers likely to be attractive to the 49ers in the first or second rounds have levers equal to Smith's. But there are several in the 34-inch club (see below).

Florida's Dante Fowler doesn't quite measure up, but he is expected to be a top pick and perhaps will be out of the 49ers' reach. And he gets points for realizing that Aldon Smith is a contemporary, not a classic.

“Growing up Ray Lewis was my favorite player. I liked DeMarcus Ware when he was at the Cowboys," Fowler said. "He was really good at putting his hand in the dirt and playing (linebacker). That’s why I like to do both. As the game grew into a passing league, there’s a new generation of guys like a Von Miller and Aldon Smith. I try to work my game around them.”

Sudden but not speedy -- Stanford safety Jordan Richards went to the scouting combine hoping to prove to scouts and evaluators he was fast enough to play the position on the NFL level.

The Folsom High product received perhaps a C+ when it came to straight-line speed, running his 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, among the slowest of the safeties featured in Indianapolis.

His time in the three-cone drill -- 6.74 seconds -- was the best of all the safeties, however, and his short-shuttle time was among the fastest. Those drills measure acceleration and ability to change directions, critical skills for an NFL safety.

One of Richards' other assets is his smarts -- he's been on the Pac-12 all-academic team for the past three years. The results of the Wonderlic intelligence test administered at the combine are not yet available. To read more on Richards, projected to be a mid-round pick, click here.

Arm length

Aldon Smith, Missouri, 35 3/8

Some notable 2015 prospects

Bud Dupree, Kentucky, 32 5/8

Trey Flowers, Arkansas, 34 1/4

Dante Fowler, Florida, 33 3/4

Zach Hodges, Harvard, 34 1/4

Danielle Hunter, LSU, 34 1/4

Owa Odighizua, UCLA, 33 3/4

Preston Smith, Mississippi State, 34

Lynden Trail, Norfolk State, 34 7/8

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