The 49ers used one of their three draft picks Friday on BYU's Fred Warner, a linebacker known for his speed and coverage skills and perhaps a candidate to fill in for Reuben Foster should he miss an extended period due to ongoing legal matters.
Warner, who led the Cougars in tackles last season, stands 6-foot-3 and has said one of his favorite NFL linebackers is Bobby Wagner, who essentially runs the Seahawks defense from his middle-linebacker spot.
That's the position the 49ers are eyeing for Warner, who visited Santa Clara in the run-up to the draft. During that visit, he met with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who was an assistant with the Seahawks when they drafted Wagner out of Utah State in 2012.
"They went over film of how the linebackers play, and they really liked my ability to break on balls, to use my hands to strike defenders and tackle, of course," Warner said. "… I feel like I can fit in right away and do some damage."
Warner has received the most acclaim for his coverage skills, which are coveted in an increasingly pass-centric NFL. He said he lined up across from the opponent's slot receiver as much as 90 percent of the time in BYU's defense and last year broke up five passes and had one interception.
"I think that's kind of why they liked me so much – my ability to play out in space and cover at a high level," Warner said.
General manager John Lynch said the 49ers also liked Warner's height. "We covet length," he said. "Guys that have great length and great ability to move – it shrinks the field."
Foster, a first-round pick a year ago, has been asked to stay away from the team facility while his domestic violence case is being considered. Lynch has said that won't change until the case is resolved or there is a significant development.
Both Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have said that if it's proven that Foster hit his ex-girlfriend as prosecutors allege, he will quickly be dismissed.
Other candidates to play middle linebacker this season are Brock Coyle, who started 10 games at the spot last season, and free-agent pickup Korey Toomer.
In the second round, the 49ers jumped ahead 15 slots to select Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis, who holds the NCAA record with nine punt returns for touchdowns.
He also caught 22 touchdowns in the last two seasons from quarterback Jake Browning (Folsom High School). Pettis spent most of his time with the Huskies as an outside receiver, though he played out of the slot last season.
That versatility appealed to Shanahan.
"We think Pettis has a little bit of everything," he said. "I think we can use him sometimes like we use Marquise (Goodwin), if need be. I think we can use him inside similar to how we use Trent (Taylor), if need be. I think he has the hands and the toughness that is similar to Pierre (Garcon). In the meantime, I think he's going to be a very good punt returner for us."
With their final pick Friday, the 49ers took Southern Mississippi's Tarvarius Moore, an extremely fast and athletic safety that the 49ers are curious about moving to cornerback.
Moore has the requisite size for the position, standing 6-2 with long, 33-inch arms. He wasn't invited to the combine but stood out at his school's pro day by running his 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds and leaping 38 1/2 inches on the vertical jump.
"He's a guy who played safety at Southern Miss," Lynch said. "We think he has an opportunity to play some corner for us. We're going to check that out. ... He's a special athlete. But he's also a guy who on tape shows up, gets the ball."
With veteran Richard Sherman recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jimmie Ward have been the most prominent 49ers playing cornerback during spring drills. Shanahan said Friday that if Ward, a free safety last season, fares well at cornerback, he will remain there when training camp begins in July.
49ers Day 2 draft picks
Selected: Second round, No. 44 overall
Position: Wide receiver
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 186 pounds
Comment: Pettis will compete with Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson and Kendrick Bourne for snaps at wide receiver in 2018. He and Taylor become the top two candidates on punt returns.
Selected: Third round, No. 70 overall
College: BYU Position: Linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 236 pounds
Comment: Warner fits the mold for a 49ers linebacker in that he’s got very good speed and is good in coverage.
Selected: Third round, No. 95 overall
College: Southern Mississippi
Position: Defensive back
Height/weight: 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
Comment: Moore appears to have freakish size and athleticism, standing 6-2 with long 33-inch arms and running his 40-yard dash at his school’s pro day in 4.32 seconds.