Why 49ers could draft pass rusher Marcus Davenport at No. 9
It turns out that finding a franchise passer is easier than finding a franchise pass rusher.
The 49ers, of course, traded for Jimmy Garoppolo in October, and even if they hadn't, they would have had an excellent shot at Kirk Cousins in March. Players who beat up on guys like Garoppolo and Cousins, however, have proven far more elusive.
A year ago, the 49ers had Myles Garrett as their top-rated player in the draft, but Garrett was taken No. 1 overall by the Browns. The 49ers studied soon-to-be-free agent pass rushers Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul, but their teams all made sure they didn't reach the open market.
Which is to say, there aren't many avenues to find edge rushers, and when you have a chance to land an elite one, you take it. That pass rusher this year is my 2018 Draft Crush … Marcus Davenport.
(Rip shroud off of portrait; wait for murmurs of shock and surprise to subside; some audience members may faint.)
Yes, Davenport is an unconventional choice.
He's a one-time wide receiver and basketball standout who played at the University of Texas-San Antonio, which began playing football only in 2011. Davenport is on track to be just the second Roadrunner drafted by the NFL and the first to go in the opening round.
He's a self-described introvert who reads books on philosophy, loves art, anime and writes poetry — lots of poetry — in his free time, several examples of which can be found on his social media feeds.
If that scares you — He reads books?! Is the guy soft?! — just watch him on the field. If 49ers coordinator Robert Saleh wants "violence" as the theme of his defense, then Davenport would fit right in. His go-to move is to stagger offensive linemen with his nearly 34-inch arms and drive them back to the quarterback.
They're so ill-treated by Davenport during games that there are several examples of them striking him in the back after the play is over. That is, he goes from bookish to jerkish between the hash marks, and he gets under their skin.
Does he have size? Yes, in abundance. Davenport is nearly 6-foot-6, 265 pounds with a frame that can pack on more weight and strength.
Can he move? Yes, he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, which was faster than 11 running backs at the same event.
Is he a scheme fit? Yes, much more so than Arik Armstead, who was the starter at the Leo defensive end spot last year, and Solomon Thomas, whom the 49ers are eyeing to start there this year. Both are interior linemen or at least "big end" players in San Francisco's scheme. Davenport would be the best athlete on the line; he is a true edge player.
Is he refined? No, he isn't. He doesn't have a full arsenal of fancy moves like Boston College's Harold Landry. He's not a technician like Ohio State's Sam Hubbard.
But that's also where Davenport's allure lies. There is plenty of room for him to get better. He was 198 pounds when colleges were recruiting him, which is why he wound up at UT-San Antonio. He's a late bloomer who only recently has grown into his body, who is only just now getting used to his new-found strength.
The critique of last year's first-round pick, Thomas, was that he didn't have much room to grow. His frame was filled out and he already had very good technique. It was as if the 49ers drafted him on the 11th floor of a building that has 12 stories.
With Davenport, there's a sense that he's only just begun his ascent. He's often compared to Detroit Lions pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah, not just because they had similar size and combine scores but because of their similar rawness coming out of college.
Ansah had just 4 1/2 sacks his senior season at BYU. He's had as many as 14 1/2 in one season after the Lions — and then-general manager Martin Mayhew, who is now one of the 49ers' top personnel men — used the fifth overall pick on him in 2013.
The 49ers studied Ansah earlier this year in the hopes that the Lions would allow him to hit the open market. They didn't.
And so it's only fitting that as we drop to a knee and extend this rose to Davenport, we also include a verse:
A middle linebacker,
a receiver who runs faster?
Nay, the Niners' biggest need
is a ferocious sack master
The minority report on Davenport
▪ Davenport's value is in his potential. He has plenty of room to grow, and it's easy to imagine him becoming a dominant pass rusher. But there's an inherent risk in projections, and there are plenty of safer picks in the draft, starting with Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
▪ He almost invariably played against offensive-line opponents who won't even glimpse the NFL. He dominated many of them, especially with his strength. But there will be a learning curve against the bigger, stronger and far more talented NFL left tackles with which he will engage.
▪ Davenport has a very limited bag of pass-rush tricks at this stage. His favorite is a straight-at-'em power rush, which is a nice foundation for building an array of moves but which won't cause his opponents to lose sleep.
▪ He rushed from a two-point stance in college. He'll have to adjust to firing out of a three-point stance if he plays defensive end with the 49ers. For all of his athletic gifts, Davenport was never quick off the snap in college and that is something that needs work.