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NFC West draft grades: 49ers GM John Lynch bolsters defense

Former NFL player/scout Bucky Brooks and Around The NFL's Conor Orr are performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2017 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is Bucky's review of the NFC West.


BEST PICK: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
San Francisco 49ers, Round 1, No. 3 overall

The 49ers desperately needed a pass rusher with a nonstop motor and explosive athletic attributes to solidify a defensive line that's brimming with young talent. Thomas is an Energizer Bunny with outstanding hand skills and first-step quickness. He can rush from the edge on early downs and slide inside in obvious passing situations to abuse offensive guards with his dynamic game. He could be the 49ers' version of Michael Bennett in their new defense, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NFC West.

MOST SURPRISING PICK: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
San Francisco 49ers, Round 1, No. 31 overall

The arrival of Foster should fill the void created by Patrick Willis' retirement a few seasons ago. The Alabama standout is a heat-seeking missile between the tackles and his knack for putting big licks on runners will change the way teams attack the 49ers' defense. With Foster also showing outstanding awareness, instincts and ball skills in coverage, the 49ers snagged a blue-chip player at a bargain-basement price at the bottom of the first round (thanks, at least in part, to health concerns that he'll need to put to rest).

BIGGEST SLEEPER: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
Seattle Seahawks, Round 2, No. 35 overall

There's no denying McDowell's talents as a disruptive interior defender, but the Michigan State star failed to dominate Big Ten competition consistently due to a low-revving motor that frustrated every coach and scout who peeped the tape. In Seattle, however, he steps into a locker room where he will be held accountable for his performance and production by his peers, which could spark the ultra-talented playmaker to reach his potential. If he simply raises his exertion level and competes like a mad man, McDowell could emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber force early in his career.


NOTE: Draft classes are ranked from best to worst within the division.

» Round 1: (No. 3 overall) Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford; (No. 31) Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama.

» Round 3: (66) Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado; (104) C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa.

» Round 4: (121) Joe Williams, RB, Utah.

» Round 5: (146) George Kittle, TE, Iowa; (177) Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech.

» Round 6: (198) D.J. Jones, DT, Mississippi; (202) Pita Taumoepenu, OLB, Utah

» Round 7: (229) Adrian Colbert, DB, Miami

Credit John Lynch for knocking it out of the park in his first draft as the 49ers' general manager. The former broadcaster landed a pair of blue-chip players in the first round after convincing the Chicago Bears to cough up a boatload picks for the No. 2 overall selection. Thomas gives the 49ers a slippery pass rusher with dynamic skills as an inside/outside rusher. Foster is a menacing linebacker with a nasty demeanor and some serious "thump" to his game. He fills a void on the second level that's been missing since Patrick Willis retired a few years ago. Williams is a rugged runner with the speed to take it the distance. Beathard, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher as a developmental quarterback prospect.

» Round 1: (No. 13) Haason Reddick, LB, Temple.

» Round 2: (36) Budda Baker, S, Washington.

» Round 3: (98) Chad Williams, WR, Grambling State.

» Round 4: (115) Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh.

» Round 5: (157) Will Holden, OT, Vanderbilt; (179) T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina.

» Round 6: (208) Rudy Ford, S, Auburn.

The Cardinals continue to collect hybrids for their multi-faceted defense. Reddick can play multiple spots as an inside linebacker with edge-rush skills. He could have a stellar rookie season, starring in their exotic packages. Baker is a Tyrann Matheiu clone with exceptional instincts and awareness. He might be the best slot corner in the draft, which is a huge asset to a team that loves to attack with blitz pressure from all angles. Williams came off the board sooner than most expected, but the All-SWAC pass catcher has a combination of size, speed and ball skills that could make him a solid WR2 in the Cardinals' scheme. Logan is an electric returner with outstanding speed and burst. He could enhance their special teams units and fill a role as an RB3.

Seattle Seahawks

» Round 2: (35) Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State; (58) Ethan Pocic, C, LSU.

» Round 3: (90) Shaquill Griffin, DB, Central Florida; (95) Delano Hill, SS, Michigan; (102) Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina; (106) Amara Darboh, WR, Michigan.

» Round 4: (111) Tedric Thompson, FS, Colorado.

» Round 6: (187) Michael Tyson, S, Cincinnati; (210) Justin Senior, OT, Mississippi State.

» Round 7: (226) David Moore, WR, East Central (OK); (249) Christopher Carson, RB, Oklahoma State.

The Seahawks don't mind gambling on talented prospects with prototypical physical traits and inconsistent games. McDowell is a boom-or-bust prospect with immense talent and potential. His production at Michigan State doesn't reflect a big-time playmaker because of his low-revving motor. If the Seahawks can get McDowell to play with more urgency, the ex-Spartan could blossom into a real difference maker. Jones is also an enigmatic talent with Pro Bowl traits but scant production. The 300-pounder flashes as a disruptive tackle, but coaches will want to see him play with more energy and focus as a pro. If the light comes on for Jones, he could shine in the Seahawks' scheme. Offensively, Pocic should shore up a hole in the middle. He's a versatile interior blocker with size and strength. Darboh gives the team a sturdy pass catcher to throw into the rotation as a WR3/WR4.

» Round 2: (44) Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama.

» Round 3: (69) Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington; (91) John Johnson, S, Boston College.

» Round 4: (117) Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M; (125) Samson Ebukam, OLB, Eastern Washington.

» Round 6: (189) Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane; (206) Sam Rogers, FB, Virginia Tech.

» Round 7: (234) Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh.

The Rams wanted to add weapons around their young franchise quarterback, Jared Goff, to help him grow into a playmaker at the position. Everett is a hybrid tight end with size, speed and ball skills. He could play the Jordan Reed role in Sean McVay's offense as a versatile pass catcher on the perimeter. Kupp, a polished route runner with strong hands and superb ball skills, could occupy a big role as a WR3 in the Rams' passing attack. Johnson gives Wade Phillips a dynamic safety with cornerback-like skills. He could be a surprise starter in the secondary as a rookie. Ebukam is an athletic freak with the physical tools to emerge as a rotational player early in his career.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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