The 49ers will visit this week with a pair of inside linebackers, Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds, who are strong options for the ninth pick in the draft and whose selection could bring better clarity to one of the team's murkiest positions.
Smith, who played at Georgia, arrived in the Bay Area on Monday night and is visiting the 49ers on Tuesday, a league source said. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Edmunds was scheduled to arrive Tuesday night and visit with team officials on Wednesday, a different source said.
Both played middle linebacker in college, the same position the 49ers drafted Reuben Foster to play last year. Foster, however, is facing three felony charges relating to a February incident involving his girlfriend and could spend as much as 11 years in state prison if convicted.
The 49ers and Foster have agreed that he stay away from the team facility while the case is ongoing. Foster is scheduled for a plea hearing on April 30, and if there are no delays, the court case would begin with jury selection in late July, the same time the 49ers are reporting for training camp.
Without Foster, Brock Coyle probably would be the top in-house option to play middle linebacker for San Francisco with Korey Toomer, Elijah Lee and others also competing for the role.
Edmunds and Smith would be far more prominent candidates should the 49ers take them in the first round.
Both played middle linebacker for their respective teams but are very different players. There also has been plenty of debate among so-called draft experts over who is the better prospect.
Smith is short and fast and is built like the Falcons' Deion Jones, who plays middle linebacker in Atlanta. His speed — Smith ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash last month — would be an asset in covering running backs and making plays all over the field. Smith was the captain of Georgia's defense last year, and his leadership skills are part of what makes him an attractive choice.
Edmunds, meanwhile, is a longer, bigger player who was nearly as fast as Smith, having run his 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. Edmunds probably is better than Smith at warding off guards and other blockers because of his long, 34 1/2-inch arms, and personnel evaluators like his potential.
Edmunds won't turn 20 until next month and could add more weight to his frame. Some teams wonder whether his best position will be as an edge player — such as a strong-side linebacker in the 49ers' scheme — and because of that has a bit more versatility than Smith.
Both players have their backers.
ESPN's Louis Riddick, who is a former scout and front-office executive, likes Smith and said he compares well to Foster.
"And Reuben — I considered him to be one of the top two, three players in the draft last year," he said on a conference call this week. "So take that for what it's worth. But Roquan Smith can play. He can play all day long."
The NFL Network's Mike Mayock, meanwhile, has Edmunds ranked ahead of Smith.
"I see incredible upside," Mayock said of the Virginia Tech product. "I see an off-the-ball linebacker, I think some of the 3-4 (defense) teams could look at him and say he could be an outside linebacker, in addition to being an inside linebacker. Right now what I say is a starting-off-the-ball linebacker and a potential sub at edge rusher. He's got a skill set. I don't use this word often, but he has a skill set that's unique."
The 49ers' pre-draft visits were scheduled weeks ago and are not a reaction to the charges that were filed against Foster on Thursday. However, the team has known for months that Foster, at the very least, could have to serve a multigame suspension this season and is one more infraction away from being cut from the squad altogether.
San Francisco also visited and otherwise spent time with several other options with the No. 9 pick, including Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and UT-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport.