In the past several weeks, the NFL writers and draftniks who spend their time reading the tea leaves and deciphering which players will be taken by the 32 NFL teams have been busy updating their predictions.
Just after the playoffs ended, many mock drafts had the 49ers selecting a wide receiver with their first-round pick, the 30th overall.
Now – after a free-agent season in which the 49ers have signed receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss – some of that focus has shifted to the team’s offensive line. A roundup of what some of the best-known mock drafts are saying about the Niners’ top pick in the first round on April 26 now includes two names that previously weren’t linked to San Francisco, Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler and Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes.
The players some are projecting to be taken by the 49ers:
Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks: Tight end Coby Fleener of Stanford
NFL.com’s Charles Davis: Reyes
Peter Schrager, Fox Sports: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Zeitler
Pro Draft Guide: Fleener
The Sporting News: Reyes
Albert Breer, NFL.com: Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Zeitler
Mel Kiper, ESPN: Wide receiver Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
Todd McShay, ESPN: Reyes
By drafting Zeitler, a first-team All-America pick, the 49ers would have a rookie ready to step into the vacant right guard position created by the departure of Adam Snyder. Zeitler started all 14 games in 2011 at right guard for the Badgers.
Zeitler, who is 6-foot-4 and 314 pounds, is described in scouting reports as a “perfectionist” and a hard worker who gets the most out of his ability. According to CBS Sports, citing NFL Draft Report statistics, Zeitler led all of college football with 142 knockdown blocks and had 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns for Wisconsin, which averaged 237 yards per game on the ground.
Though the 49ers are solid on the defensive line, with all 2011 starters returning, Reyes might be too good to pass up.
Reyes, 6-foot-4 and 299 pounds, was a first-team All-Big East player who started 42 games at Connecticut and had 31.5 tackles for loss, 10th in school history, according to CBS Sports. In college, Reyes played both tackle and end but was considered by scouts to be much stronger against the run than as a pass rusher. CBS noted that scouts reported Reyes outplayed some of the nation’s best offensive line prospects in the Senior Bowl.
The Niners reportedly have met with both Zeitler and Reyes -- but also have met with many other players in preparation for the draft, including several wide receivers. With few holes in their offensive and defensive units, the Niners can afford to choose the best prospect available, rather than draft for need.