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Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

There were moments to hold your breath, but in the end, the 49ers made easy work of the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in their NFC divisional-round playoff game. 

San Francisco now faces Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, and are one win away from Super Bowl LIV in Miami. And while The Faithful is dreaming of sunshine and palm trees already, the 49ers' front office will have their eyes on a talent-laden college game. 

When two undefeated Tigers look to tame each other Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, there will be a plethora of NFL draft talent between Clemson and LSU. As the 49ers keep winning, however, their draft slot keeps sliding. 

For a team without many holes on its roster, the 49ers should still be able to find talent near the end of the first round. If prospects from this season's national championship fall to them in April, general manager John Lynch will be grinning from ear to ear. 

Here are six prospects, ranked by fit, that the 49ers should have their eyes on in this year's natty. 

6. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Running back could actually be a bigger need than wide receiver for the 49ers in 2020. No, you didn't read that wrong. And no, this coffee isn't Irish. 

Tevin Coleman carried the 49ers past the Vikings, but the five-year veteran has no guaranteed money on his contract next season. Matt Breida is a restricted free agent and it sure seems likely the front office moves on from Jerick McKinnon, who has missed the last two seasons with injuries after signing a four-year, $30 million contract in March 2018.

That leaves just Raheem Mostert, who broke out this season at 27 years old. With his speed and versatility, Etienne could be a great compliment to Mostert, who still serves as a special teams star. 

Etienne has combined for 3,194 yards rushing yards the last two seasons and 48 total touchdowns. Oh, and he has game-changing speed. 

Shanahan could get the very best out of Etienne. Teams will vary their opinions on the explosive running back, but it's easy to see why he could thrive on the 49ers.

5. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The 49ers could have a really interesting decision to make if Jefferson is on the board at the end of the first round. With so much receiver talent in this year's class, that could easily happen, too. 

As a junior this season, Jefferson turned into an absolute star. He hauled in four touchdowns in the Peach Bowl and has 18 on the year. The 6-3 target can play inside or outside, though he really thrived when he turned into a long slot receiver. 

Does coach Kyle Shanahan tell Lynch to make Jefferson his newest toy? Or does Lynch tell the coach the 49ers have bigger needs? 

Jefferson's spot in the draft will be really interesting. Another big game against Clemson will only help his stock.

4. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

Don't throw the ball to Terrell's side. Raiders second-round pick and former Clemson Tiger, Trayvon Mullen, looks like a quality starter for years to come. Terrell might be better. 

Terrell, 6-1 and 190 pounds, is rangy and knows how to use his hands as a physical corner in stride. He doesn't shy away from contact and invites QBs who wish to challenge him. 

There's no doubt Terrell should be mentioned with Kristian Fulton (see below). He might fall further than the LSU Tiger, but this Clemson corner is a stud.

3. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Richard Sherman is a baller. That was true five years ago, and still is today at 31 years old. But Sherman can only cover one side of the field. 

As 49ers fan saw the past two weeks, in the two biggest games of the year, Ahkello Witherspoon sure doesn't look like the answer in Year 3. Emmanuel Moseley is solid, but he also is far from a star. 

Fulton, however, could be a shut-down corner at the next level. He played a bit banged up this season, yet still had 13 passes defensed. 

It seems likely Fulton will be gone by the time the 49ers are selecting, but another top corner could still be on the board in Terrell.

2. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the 49ers need help at wide receiver. 

Rookie Deebo Samuel already is a real weapon in Kyle Shanahan's offense and looks like a future, versatile star. Kendrick Bourne was the highest-graded 49ers offensive player in their playoff win over the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus, but isn't a No. 1 option. 

Higgins can be. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Higgins has ideal NFL size as an outside threat. And he can make catches like this. 

And this.

The 49ers need a game-changer on the outside. In a deep receiver class, Higgins could be around late into Day 1. If he's there, Lynch needs to make him a Niner.

1. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

The draft always is unpredictable, but it seems highly unlikely if Delpit hasn't been taken by the time the 49ers are on the clock. That doesn't mean he isn't the best fit, though. 

Delpit is the top safety in the draft and a top-10 talent. The 2019 Thorpe Award winner is 6-foot-3, 203 pounds and has plenty of Derwin James in him. 

Now that we know Robert Saleh will return to the 49ers, the defensive coordinator could have a lot of fun with a player who can do this: 

[RELATED: 2020 NFL mock draft: 49ers, Raiders picks before national title]

Jimmie Ward will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The defense is completely different with Jaquiski Tartt. Pair him with Delpit, and the 49ers would have a dangerous duo at the back of their defense. 

49ers' Kendrick Bourne, NFL stars not fans of league's escrow proposal

49ers' Kendrick Bourne, NFL stars not fans of league's escrow proposal

With each passing day, the concerns over the coronavirus grow.

For the sports world, that means uncertainty. Will the games be played as scheduled? Will there be fans in the stands? What will revenue look like?

On Tuesday, the NFL reportedly made a financial proposal to the Players Association, and it didn't sit well with the latter group.

NFL Media's Tom Pelissero reported, citing sources, that the NFLPA told its board of representatives that the league is proposing to put 35 percent of players' 2020 salary into an escrow account.

Pelissero relayed a response from an NFLPA executive Don Davis.

As you can imagine, the idea of not getting their full salaries didn't sit well with the players, including 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.

Raiders right tackle Trent Brown weighed in.

Several other NFL stars, including newly minted $503 million-man Patrick Mahomes, shared the same reaction.

The NFL reportedly wants to cut the preseason from four games to two games, and the NFLPA later voted that no preseason games be played.

It's clear the two sides have a lot to work out before training camps open later this month.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

Who's the best tight end in the NFL?

While many feel strongly on the subject, there really are only two acceptable answers. You can bicker back and forth as to who is superior between 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but they're clearly in a tier unto themselves.

If you're partial to the intricacies of route-running, Kelce might be your choice. If you like a bruiser who contributes in all aspects of the offense, Kittle surely is your guy.

If there is a separation between the two, it's by hairs. Don't take my word for it. More than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players recently voted on the top 10 players at 11 different positions for the upcoming 2020 season, and the top two tight ends were separated by the slimmest margin of any position group.

To the delight of 49ers fans, and the ire of those of the Chiefs, Kittle came out on top. Just barely.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After the first round of votes, ESPN's Jeremey Fowler reported Kittle and Kelce sat at a dead-even split. Additional voting and follow-up calls were required, which ultimately tilted the result in Kittle's favor.

Just like Kelce, Kittle was ranked as high as No. 1 at the position, but no lower than No. 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only other player to receive a first-place vote, but last I checked it's 2020 and not 2015.

"Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons make Kittle a top contender, but his blocking and intensity helped earn him nearly half the first-place votes," Fowler wrote. "Where Kittle beats everyone is at the line of scrimmage and with the ball in his hands, as he forced a league-high 20 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus."

The voters were full of compliments for Kelce, but Kittle's mentality, leadership and scheme flexibility proved to be the tie-breakers.

"Be on the field, and see how he elevates the play of everyone in the offense. It's tangible," one NFC coordinator said. "He lifts everyone up."

"The passion on tape is unmatched," an AFC executive explained. "He's got that dog in him. More competitive than Kelce."

"Unreal passion, energy, toughness, blocking," said another executive.

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Kittle might have won the vote, but last time he and Kelce were on the same field, the Chiefs tight end got the better of him, both in the box score and in the Lombardi Trophy department. Of course, if Kittle isn't called for that questionable-at-best offensive pass interference penalty, it might be a completely different story.

In any case, there's no shame in Kelce being ranked below Kittle, nor would there be if it was the other way around. They're both extremely special players, and it's not a coincidence that their teams arguably are the two best in the NFL.