49ers linebacker Elijah Lee prepares for first NFL start

49ers linebacker Elijah Lee prepares for first NFL start

SANTA CLARA – Linebacker Elijah Lee appears set to make his first NFL start, but he does not want to get ahead of himself.

After all, he said, although he is working with the 49ers’ first-team defense in preparation to face the Detroit Lions on Sunday, he is trying to maintain the same business-like approach as knowing he might be called upon at any moment.

“I just know that I have to do my job and prepare,” Lee said. “The coaches say, ‘Be a pro.' So when you’re a pro, you’re always prepared to be the next one up.

“It’s humbling. They put you out there because they trust you, so you got to take that and run with it.”

Reuben Foster is serving the second game of a two-game suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct. Veteran Malcolm Smith, who missed all of last season with a torn pectoral, has been out of action since sustaining a hamstring injury in the first preseason game. And Brock Coyle, who started alongside Fred Warner in the season opener last week in Minnesota, is out at least eight weeks after sustaining a compression fracture in his back.

“He’s ready to go,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Lee. “He’ll be getting some reps and we’ll see how it plays out for Sunday, but we have all the faith in the world in Elijah to go out and perform.”

Lee declared for the 2017 NFL Draft after his junior season at Kansas State with the idea of providing financial support for his mother. He received a middle-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, but was not chosen until the Minnesota Vikings invested a seventh-round pick in him.

He was among the Vikings’ final cuts last year, and the 49ers signed him away from Minnesota’s practice squad. Lee appeared in 14 games, mostly on special teams, as a rookie with the 49ers.

“I’m more of a rangy guy, sideline to sideline,” said Lee, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 229 pounds. “I’m not the biggest guys, but at the same time, I can play inside the box.

“Coming out of college, that was one of my worries, because in the Big 12, you never really have to take on blockers. You’re just running around, sideline to sideline. Now, it doesn’t bother me. I worked on that a lot, being more physical, being able to come downhill and come off blocks. That’s the only way you’re going to make plays in the NFL.”

Similar to their acquisition of Lee last September, the 49ers signed outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. Now, both are in significant roles. Nzeocha became the 49ers’ starting outside linebacker with the decision to trade Eli Harold to the Lions.

“They earned their roles to make this team, and now it looks like they’re going to get their opportunities,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on “49ers Game Plan,” which airs Saturday on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3) at 7 p.m.

“We don’t have to hesitate with those guys. They can play. They’re on this team for a reason, and they make me feel very good about our depth, whether they’re backing guys up or coming into a game or playing on special teams.”

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This Sunday, be sure to watch 49ers Pregame Live at noon and 49ers Postgame Live immediately after the game on NBC Sports Bay Area and live streaming on the NBC Sports app. Greg Papa, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt will have everything you need to know from the 49ers’  home opener.

NFL draft: 49ers in market for tight end to pair with George Kittle

NFL draft: 49ers in market for tight end to pair with George Kittle

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Iowa tight end Noah Fant just missed George Kittle on his trip from Iowa to visit the 49ers in Santa Clara this month.

When Fant was in the Bay Area, Kittle was in Iowa City. And around the time Fant returned, Kittle was heading back to California for the beginning of the 49ers’ offseason program.

Fant, who was a teammate of Kittle at Iowa two years ago, is also a tight end. He is expected to be a first-round draft pick. But the 49ers already have one tight end from Iowa, so why did he visit the 49ers?

“They’re trying to get two,” Fant told NBC Sports Bay Area on the eve of the NFL draft. “When they have a guy like George and maybe they draft a guy like me, it’s going to be essentially unguardable. It will be hard to find that many players who can cover two different tight ends who can run like receivers and block and do all of that.”

Kittle, a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, emerged as one of the game’s top young stars last season. He set the NFL single-season record for tight ends with 1,377 yards receiving despite the 49ers playing most of the season with reserve quarterbacks.

“Obviously, playing there with George would be something that’s insanely incredible, and something I would definitely enjoy,” Fant said.

Fant and another Iowa tight end, T.J. Hockenson, could be the first two tight ends selected on Thursday night at the NFL draft. Fant (6-foot-4, 249 pounds) ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. In his final two seasons of college, he caught 69 passes for 1,013 and 18 touchdowns.

The 49ers are clearly looking for an upgrade at tight end to create match-up issues for defenses. Fant was one of four draft-eligible tight ends who visited the 49ers in Santa Clara. He got excited when talking about the endless possibilities if he were on the field again with Kittle.

“Try putting a linebacker on us. They’d be too slow,” Fant said. “Try putting a corner on us and we’d be bigger than him. Safeties are a little harder because you could find a good safety like Jamal Adams or Derwin James, so you can get guys like that are going to be good.

“But then you’re bigger than them, and you go to the run game. Having that many different things you could do with a pair of tight ends would be something that would be pretty special. I can definitely see where their vision is with that.”

[RELATED: Lynch's third NFL draft pivotal for 49ers to take next step]

The likelihood of Fant ending up with the 49ers appears remote, unless the 49ers were to make a trade on Thursday. The 49ers’ first pick is No. 2. Their next pick is slated for Friday’s second round (No. 36 overall). Fant is expected to fall somewhere between those spots.

“If they traded back or they traded up from the second,” said Fant, who took visits to nine teams during the pre-draft process. “You never know what could happen. Obviously, I treated that visit like any other job interview. We’ll see what happens.”

NFL draft rumors 2019: Latest news, trade talk before Round 1 picks start

NFL draft rumors 2019: Latest news, trade talk before Round 1 picks start

Thirty-two football players lives will change forever Thursday night when they're drafted by NFL teams. But it isn't a simple process.

The draft order certainly will change, as teams jockey for position to pick the player they really want. Top of the list for many is Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, followed by a host of pass rushers -- Ohio State's Nick Bosa, Alabama's Quinnen Williams and Kentucky's Josh Allen, just to name a few.

The Arizona Cardinals are scheduled to pick first, followed by the 49ers, New York Jets and Raiders. What those four teams do could set the tone for the draft, so there will be lots of news and trade speculation surrounding them.

Follow this live blog through the day, until the start of Round 1 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET, and see how the dominoes might fall.

12:37 p.m.: Look for the Giants to be major players during Round 1.

11: 57 a.m.: Is Kyler Murray out of the running?

11:44 a.m.: The Steelers reportedly are interested in making a move up in the draft.

11:04 a.m.: The Cardinals apparently have no idea what they are doing.

10:55 a.m.:  Meanwhile, in Washington ...

10;32 a.m.: Another big-name defensive lineman could be on the move.

10:05 a.m.: Montez Sweat was expected to fall due to a heart condition, but that reportedly might not be the case. 

9:00 a.m.: The 49ers reportedly are shopping one of their recent top draft picks.

7:44 a.m.: Even Josh Rosen has no idea what the Cardinals are going to do.

7:38 a.m.: This seems like a bad idea. 

7:19 a.m.: The Cardinals reportedly have whittled down their choices for the No. 1 overall pick.

6.16 a.m.: Meanwhile, these teams reportedly are looking to trade down,

5:51 a.m.: There are two teams that reportedly could try to move up in the first round.

4:28 a.m.: If the Raiders want to take a quarterback, it might not be Kyler Murray.