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MTS Notebook: 49ers in best position to make quick turnaround

Editor's note: analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes, including:

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's take on which of the NFL's bottom three teams has the best chance of making a dramatic turnaround in 2018.

Which of the three teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs this season -- the Browns, 49ers, and Giants -- has the best chance of being a playoff contender next season?

This is a question that was posed to me just the other day. To me, it's an easy one. The answer is the San Francisco 49ers.

If you're an NFL team looking to make a turnaround, you need to make sure you have the right person in place at three key spots: general manager, head coach and quarterback. I believe the 49ers have the right person in each of those spots. GM John Lynch lacks personnel experience, but he's surrounded by quality football men in that department, led by VP of player personnel Adam Peters. Lynch had a solid draft this past spring, and I expect him to continue to add players that fit the profile he had when he was an all-pro player -- tough and instinctive.

I think Kyle Shanahan is one of the top play callers in the NFL and I believe he will evolve into one of the league's best head coaches. He's very bright and he's been around the game his entire life. Just like Lynch, he's surrounded himself with quality assistants. Don't get caught up in his record this fall (1-10). The wins will come in time.

The deal to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots at the trade deadline this season was an excellent move by the 49ers. I was a big fan of Garoppolo's game when he was coming out of Eastern Illinois in 2014 and he had the opportunity to sit and learn behind the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, for the past few seasons. Garoppolo can make every throw and his mobility will fit beautifully in Shanahan's system. He's slated to get his first start as a 49er on Sunday against the Bears, and I believe he will emerge as a top-15 QB by the end of next season.

There are still roster holes for the 49ers to fill, but they have a nice young nucleus on defense. Reuben Foster, Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner should be mainstays for this unit for the next decade. This offseason, I would expect San Francisco to address the offensive line and add more explosive skill players on that side of the ball. I know the current record looks ugly, but I won't be surprised if the 49ers are competing for a wild-card spot in the playoffs next fall. -- Daniel Jeremiah


It seems like a foregone conclusion that Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will be recognized as the top player in college football when the Heisman Trophy is awarded next week, but the jury is still out on whether he will be a franchise player at the next level.

Despite throwing for more than 14,000 yards and posting a 125-29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his college career (three seasons at Oklahoma; one season at Texas Tech), NFL scouts question whether he has the size (generously listed as 6-foot-1, 220 pounds), game and character to be a franchise QB.

"The lack of size and athleticism are major issues for me," said an NFC scout. "You can't compare him to Russell Wilson or even Tyrod Taylor because he's not as explosive or as dynamic. ... It's hard for a short quarterback to play in this league unless they're phenomenal athletes. He has to be able to move around to find passing lanes and I don't know if he will be able to move enough to succeed in the league."

I had similar concerns about Mayfield's potential when I conducted an initial study on him prior to the season. I worried about his stature and experience as a "system" playmaker hindering his impact potential as a pro. I questioned whether he could turn his big-game flashes into consistent production as an NFL QB1. While I loved his rhythmic game and improvisational playmaking ability, I thought he needed to work on his deep-ball accuracy and pocket discipline to have a chance to succeed at the next level. I compared him to Taylor in his style of play and tagged him as a borderline QB1/QB2 prospect heading into the season.

Fast forward to the end of the fall -- I believe Mayfield has certainly put himself in a position to be considered a legitimate QB1 by coaches and scouts. He has played at a high level as the leader of college football's most dynamic offense while showing off an energetic game and an infectious competitive attitude that makes him the pied piper of the OU program. Although Mayfield's feistiness and athletic arrogance rub some opponents the wrong way, it certainly sparks his squad, which is a reflection of his leadership skills. He is an "alpha dog" in every sense of the word, and that is one of the necessary characteristics of the position.

After studying the tape from this season, I believe Mayfield has better arm talent than I originally suspected (graded as a B-plus in the summer; A-minus would be my current assessment) and is a more refined passer from the pocket. He's one of the best "catch-and-fire" tossers in the game, exhibiting a quick release and versatile delivery on rhythm throws. He has an uncanny ability to change ball speed and trajectory to work around pass rushers at the line of scrimmage or defenders in coverage. In addition, he will take a little heat off his throws to make it easier for his running backs and receivers to make plays on the move.

Mayfield has also shown a more disciplined and refined approach in the pocket this season. He fully exhausts all of the options in a play before fleeing the pocket, exhibiting improved patience and awareness. Although he will float and drift at times, Mayfield does the majority of his damage as a flamethrower between the tackles. As a result, some of the questions I had before the season about his ability to connect the dots as a pocket passer are no longer major concerns.

On the move, Mayfield remains a dangerous dual-threat playmaker on the perimeter. He makes accurate throws rolling to either side of the field while also flashing enough running ability to move the chains when he flees the pocket. The Sooners' QB1 is so effective creating plays on the run that it's easy to envision him playing in an offense that utilizes movement passes, particularly the stretch-bootleg combination. With that in mind, I believe Mayfield certainly fits the bill as a "WCO" (West Coast Offense) quarterback. He's at his best executing quick-rhythm passes and movement throws, which are staples of that offense.

From a critical standpoint, Mayfield's extensive experience in an "Air Raid" offense could work against him. Evaluators will question whether he can successfully transition into a pro-style system that requires more full-field reads and complex progressions. Although we've seen Jared Goff grow into a high-end QB1 as an Air Raid disciple, he's one of the few "Air Raid" alums who has succeeded as a pro following a collegiate career running the "throw-it-around-the-yard" system. Thus, there is some hesitation when projecting how Mayfield might play in an NFL system.

Mayfield will also need to show evaluators that he can carve up an elite defense as the driving force of the offense. Sure, he played well against Ohio State and their collection of A-listers (27 of 35 for 386 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions) in September, but the bulk of his production has come in a Big 12 conference that's allergic to good defense. That's why Mayfield needs to lead his squad into the College Football Playoff to dispel some of those concerns about his ability to thrive against marquee defenses. The potential candidates in the mix to make the playoff (Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Miami and more) have strong defenses with enough NFL-caliber personnel to give evaluators a peek at how he could perform at the next level.

With a rematch against TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday, Mayfield will get a chance to keep the momentum going in his effort to be a first-round pick. Eventually, he will get a chance to address all of the on-field concerns about his game and an opportunity to clear up some of the character issues that have clouded his candidacy as a Heisman Trophy winner. Those issues are part of a pattern that's leading some scouts to question his maturity as a potential franchise player.

From his arrest in the offseason to his obscene gesture vs. Kansas last month, the Sooners' QB1 hasn't exhibited exceptional leadership skills at all times.

"I think he's a good college player with some potential, but I think he's a QB2 at the end of the day," said an NFC scout. "He lacks ideal measurements and his character issues will eventually come to the surface. I just don't know where to slot him when you put all of the pieces of the puzzle together."

Considering the lofty standard quarterbacks are expected to meet, Mayfield has a lot of work to do on and off the field before he can earn high marks as a potential franchise QB prospect. -- Bucky Brooks


South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst has come up several times in my discussions with NFL scouts during the fall. After studying his tape this week, it's easy to understand why so many evaluators have big grades on him. He has outstanding size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and speed (he's been timed in the low 4.6s in the 40-yard dash).

He's primarily used as a flexed-out tight end or off the ball as the "move" tight end in the Gamecocks offense. He has outstanding play speed, showing the ability to consistently separate from linebackers and safeties. He also has a good understanding of working in zones and presenting a big target to the quarterback. Hurst tracks the ball naturally and he's shown the ability to attack the ball at the highest point.

Hurst also offers tremendous upside. He played minor-league baseball for two years before walking on at South Carolina and is just scratching the surface of what he can become on the football field. Hurst is a junior, but he did walk out with the seniors during South Carolina's last home game and is expected to apply for early eligibility into the 2018 NFL Draft. He will be in the mix to be the top tight end selected. I see a lot of similarities to Greg Olsen in his play. -- Daniel Jeremiah


As an NFL scout, I loved the opportunity to watch two highly rated players at the same position play against one another. They won't be on the field at the same time, but it makes comparing them much easier when you see them competing in the same environment.

That's why I'm looking forward to Friday's Pac-12 title game. Stanford's Bryce Love and USC's Ronald Jones are both highly rated players with a similar skill set. They both have great speed (expect both to run the 40 in the low 4.4s or better) and possess unexpected power for their size. They fight for extra yards and finish every run. While both guys are capable receivers, neither one has been featured in the passing game this fall. I have a higher grade on Jones at the moment, but I'm looking forward to watching how Love performs on the big stage in this game. He's been battling an ankle injury for several weeks, but he has continued to put up big numbers. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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