As the 2018 NFL Draft nears, teams are still finalizing evaluations, and getting all their ducks in a row. The 49ers on Thursday took an opportunity to gather more information on potential picks by venturing down to SoCal where they saw a one-off workout at USC featuring two big-time playmakers in Ronald Jones and Deontay Burnett.
The unique thing about it is, it was a pro day for just two skill players – Jones and Burnett were limited by hamstring injuries at the Trojans’ official pro day March 21, and both wanted another go of it in front of pro scouts. It’s no mystery who the 49ers were looking at. And even though first-round prospect Sam Darnold threw there, the 49ers certainly aren’t interested in a quarterback that high.
Burnett posted a 4.70 40-yard dash, and caught balls from quarterback Troy Williams of Utah. The junior wideout, who caught 86 balls in 2017 as USC's leading receiver, has mostly flown under the radar in a deep and very undefined WR class.
Not only are both players immensely talented, but we specifically discussed Jones and Burnett as a 2018 prospects that fit the 49ers’ criteria at running back and receiver. In fact, both were at the top of our lists.
Jones at a glance
It's not hyperbole to suggest that Jones might be the best NFL running back to emerge from this draft class. He is that good, and has that kind of potential. Jones at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds is about where the 49ers' backs are in terms of size, but he is a longer strider than what they have, and has the explosiveness to challenge Jerick McKinnon.
He's a powerful ball carrier inside, he can break long runs outside, and also be a threat out of the backfield, really executing the full gamut of any offense. And given his experience in zone and pass-catching ability, he projects well to Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Jones is also a game-breaker type, which the 49ers could always use more of.
In the passing game, he can be a reliable bailout for the quarterback.
Burnett at a glance
Burnett, a slender 6-feet, 186 pounds, comes from a spread attack also not unlike Shanahan's. He is generally hard to cover and makes sure to catch the ball when it comes his way, and by any means necessary. One of the things to like about him is he has no fear, sacrificing his body it seemed almost weekly for Darnold.
In the process, Burnett also made some ridiculously aggressive and acrobatic grabs over his career with the Trojans.
Here is another one you might've seen on ESPN's Top 10.
His speed and fluidity helps him win deep as well, and he has the confidence as a pass catcher to make sure he converts those opportunities into points. What we learned from Shanahan early on was how much he covets polished route runners, sure-handed receivers and guys that have a penchant for getting open. Burnett is one of those players.
Media courtesy AP Images, James Simpson