Links: Pre-draft running back visits raise questions

As National Football Post reported last week, Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter will visit the 49ers today. Then, today, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reported Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas will visit San Francisco next week.

Both Hunter and Thomas are viewed as a potential second-round selections, which could inspire this question: What? And this: Huh?

Haven’t the Niners been told what they are going to do? After two-plus months of draft coverage, hasn’t everyone already determined that the 49ers will draft the best available pass-rusher or cornerback in the first round, trade their second-round pick to move up and draft a quarterback and take a pass-rusher or cornerback in the third round (whatever position was ignored in the first round). I mean, c’mon, running back? Not until the fourth round, at earliest, fellas.

Of course, the problem with such speculation – as educated and well-reasoned as it might be – is that it’s speculation. It’s a mistake to read too much into pre-draft visits, but the invitations to Hunter and Thomas are at least a reminder that the Niners’ draft could end up looking radically different than what’s currently floating around in cyberspace.

The draft is always filled with surprises, meaning after the first two rounds the Niners might not have Von Miller or Patrick Peterson or Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton … and they might not draft Owen Marecic in the fifth round, either.

• Seth Wickersham wrote this illuminating draft-related cover story for ESPN the Magazine on much-scrutinized Washington quarterback Jake Locker. The story centers around Locker, it’s really just as much about how NFL scouts evaluate quarterbacks – and how they can form wildly different opinions from watching the same tape.

Writes Wickersham: “Locker isn’t really to blame for this downward spiral. He’s a victim of a very subjective science: quarterback evaluation, which often reveals as much about the evaluators as it does about their subject. Because while scouts analyze every trait imaginable, from leadership to arm strength, final grades are based on an individual’s beliefs about what matters most. That’s why three football men can watch the same player during the same game, sometimes the same throw, and derive three different assessments.”

Wickersham spoke with an NFL offensive coordinator and two directors of college scouting for the story and asked them to break down Locker’s five-touchdown performance in a 35-34 win over Oregon State last year. The evaluations were different, but they arrived at a general consensus: Locker’s flaws earn him a second- or third-round grade, but his talent and potential probably make him worth a first-round gamble.

• On the opposite end of the quarterback-prospect spectrum is Delaware’s Pat Devlin, who is projected to be a late-round pick.

For a Division I-AA signal-caller who might be drafted in the seventh round, Devlin is getting a lot of pre-draft attention. Some of that is due to the ready-made comparisons to Joe Flacco, another Delaware quarterback who transferred from a Division I school. But as Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks notes in this story, Devlin is also getting attention because he might be a late-round gem.

Banks even invokes the Greatest Sixth-Round Pick in NFL History:

“Devlin’s game actually has drawn comparisons to (Tom) Brady circa 2000 by some league sources, when scouts saw a prospect with slightly above average arm strength and decent accuracy, but missed on detecting how much Brady’s intelligence, competitiveness, poise and leadership would add to the overall equation in his future Hall of Fame career. Those intangibles have some teams thinking Devlin is a prospect worth investigating.”

• This might only be of interest to the semi-crazed members of the 0-16 Coalition, but I wrote this story about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck from the Cardinal and White Spring Game on Saturday at Kezar Stadium.

An amusing aside: Stanford’s quarterbacks were off-limits during the game. That is, they were not to be tackled. And the general sense was that the Cardinal were not even to breathe on Luck, whose right arm is worth several zillion dollars.

The non-contact rule was first tested in the second quarter when Luck tucked it and ran up the middle. A few defenders converged on him before easing up at the last moment. The crowd giggled.

Then, two minutes later, with Stanford inside the red zone, Luck rolled right and threw an incompletion in the end zone. As he released the ball off-balance, however, Stanford reserve freshman linebacker Blake Lueders shoved him to the ground.

Luck was fine. But Lueders was nearly placed in handcuffs. The nearest official quickly tsk-tsked him and first-year Stanford co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, a former 49ers assistant, immediately lectured him. I couldn’t overhear what Tarver said, but he was flashing the freshman a what-in-the-world-are-you-thinking look.

• One, two, three and exhale … Patrick Willis will not be on the Madden ‘12 cover, an honor which often comes complete with kidney lacerations and influenza.

In fan voting, Willis was soundly beaten by Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (61 percent to 39 percent) in the Elite Eight of the bracket-style competition. In the semifinals, Vick will face Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis (the mid-major left standing) will face Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the other semifinal.

• The NFL schedule is expected to be released prior to the draft, but a league spokesman said this morning that it won’t be unveiled this week.

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