49ers NFL Draft preview: Team with many needs could target top defenders
Kansas State defensive lineman Jordan Willis, who could play either of the edge positions in the 49ers' new defense, visited the team on Wednesday, a league source said.
Willis was a three-year starter at defensive end for the Wildcats. Last year he finished with 17 1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and a team-best 11 sacks. For the 49ers, he projects to either strong-side outside linebacker or 'elephant' defensive end.
The presumed starters at these spots at the moment are Ahmad Brooks at strong-side linebacker and Aaron Lynch at the defensive end position. At 33, Brooks is the oldest member of the defense and is not signed beyond the 2017 season. Lynch was suspended for four games last season, then dealt with a high-ankle sprain and finished the season with just 1 1/2 sacks.
Willis (6-4, 255 pounds) is considered a late first- to second-round pick.
He was one of the most athletic defensive ends at the recent scouting combine, finishing in the top 6 at his position in four drills, including the 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds) and vertical jump (39 inches). The only defensive lineman who outpaced Willis in the 40-yard dash was Temple's Haason Reddick, who was 18 pounds lighter.
Willis' 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash -- which measures how quickly a pass-rusher can burst up field -- was 1.54 seconds, impressive for someone his size. Over the last decade only a few lineman who were 250 pounds or more have been faster over that distance. One of them was Cliff Avril (1.50), who now mans the elephant end position in Seattle's defense.
The 49ers are allowed to host 30 draft-eligible players in advance of the April 27 draft. One of the other pass rushers known to be visiting is Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, who likely will be selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns. Here’s a list of the 49ers’ known visitors.