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How technology enhanced NFL teams' player scouting at 2019 Senior Bowl

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USATSI

How technology enhanced NFL teams' player scouting at 2019 Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — Zebra Technologies, the people behind NFL Next Gen stats, collected data at the Senior Bowl practices for the second year in a row, and came up with some interesting information. 

You’ve seen the yellow halo around players in replays during NFL broadcasts. You’ve seen the skill-position player list above the ticker during games. That same technology revealed some standout performances at the Senior Bowl throughout the week.

For example, Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat made more waves than just beating his guy in one-on-ones. He was the fastest-recorded lineman on the first day of Senior Bowl practice, according to Zebra stats. His 19.3 mph topped the linemen and all linebackers, and would have ranked him ninth among the 17 defensive backs on Day 1.

Sweat’s performance is even more impressive when you take into account that he reached that speed in a 10- to 15-yard window, as opposed to the open field that a defensive back has to accelerate.

[RELATED: Raiders keeping close eye on edge rushers]

Unfortunately, when practice was moved inside Wednesday because of inclement weather, Zebra couldn’t collect stats, as the facility has to be pre-fitted to track players even though their pads have the tracking devices already embedded in the shoulder area.

On Day 3, the fastest player on the North team was North Carolina State linebacker Germaine Pratt, who recorded a speed of 20.4 mph. Memphis running back Tony Pollard came in second at 20.1 mph, and Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin was clocked at 19.6 mph.

The South team had South Carolina standout wide receiver Deebo Samuel with the top speed of 20.8 mph. Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson ranked second with 20.0 mph, and Temple defensive back Rock Ya-Sin rounded out the group at 19.9.

Every ball used at the Senior Bowl, as in the NFL, is embedded with a tracking device that records its velocity and rotation. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier recorded the fastest pass at 66 mph. Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson threw the ball with the most spin, at 852 rotations per minute.

To put those numbers in perspective, Baker Mayfield’s top rotation at last year’s Senior Bowl was 674 rpm and 65.7 mph, and Josh Allen’s was 710 rpm and 66.1 mph.

[RELATED: How Reuben Foster's situation impacts 49ers]

While those might not be the best conditions for a receiver to make a catch, it does show the quarterbackarm stre's ngth. They obviously also need to have touch and placement on a ball to be successful.

Scouts also can evaluate kickers with the help of Zebra Technologies, which can accurately measure the hang time, distance and height of each kick and punt. 

Not only does this data give scouts an idea of the players' peak performances, it can give them insights to their conditioning level. Because a player’s speed is recorded on every route throughout a practice and game, personnel evaluators can see at what rate their speed decreases over that time period.

While this information cannot take the place of scouts' eyeball tests, it already has proven to be very useful and valuable in evaluating current and future players.

Why NFL Media's Peter Schrager believes Richard Sherman is underrated

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AP

Why NFL Media's Peter Schrager believes Richard Sherman is underrated

Richard Sherman's resume is as long as any other cornerback, but NFL analyst Peter Schrager believes the 49ers veteran is underrated. 

"I think Richard Sherman last year had a really good season," Schrager said on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" on Monday. "The Achilles didn't seem to bother him all that much. And then when it mattered most, [he] was shutting down the No. 1 wide receivers in the league, and that was with a completely depleted defense and an offense that had an undrafted rookie named Nick Mullens keeping them afloat. I think Richard Sherman [is] still underrated." 

Sherman started 14 games in his first season with San Francisco, defending a career-low four interceptions and intercepting zero passes for the first time in his career. Those low counting stats would be concerning for a defensive back's first season in their 30s, even excluding the season-ending Achilles injury he sustained in 2017, but Sherman's production wasn't the same as his best years with the Seattle Seahawks in large part because NFL offenses didn't seem to underrate him. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman was targeted just once every 12.6 coverage snaps. No cornerback was avoided more than him, and Sherman also ranked first among corners in allowing a reception every 20.7 coverage snaps. In other words, opposing quarterbacks seemed to rate Sherman as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. 

[RELATED: 49ers have important conversations beginning during OTAs]

How long that continues is an open question. Sherman is entering his ninth year in the NFL and turned 31 in March. Twenty-eight defensive backs were 31 or older last NFL season, and only 12 of them were 32 or orlder. Sherman will be 33 if he finishes out the three-year deal he signed with the 49ers last year, and it seems likely he will targeted more the older he gets. 

But until then, it's clear Sherman's opposition under center view him as one of the best cornerbacks in the league even if Schrager's punditry peers do not. 

Ex-49ers linebacker Reuben Foster carted off field after suffering leg injury

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USATSI

Ex-49ers linebacker Reuben Foster carted off field after suffering leg injury

Organized team activities began Monday for NFL teams, and Washington suffered a loss shortly after the opening of camp.

Former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster went down during the second play of OTAs with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury. He was on the ground for several minutes before being carted off while in tears.

After an receiving an MRI, Foster's injury appears to be very serious.

That's a brutal development for Foster and Washington.

[RELATED: 49ers have important competitions beginning during OTAs]

Foster was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was the beginning of a tumultuous time in the Bay Area.

The Alabama product was arrested three times and suffered multiple on-field injuries during his time with the 49ers. San Francisco cut ties with Foster last November after he was accused of committing domestic battery at a team hotel in Florida.

Washington claimed the linebacker off waivers a few days later. Foster recorded  84 solo tackles in his 16-game career with the 49ers.

The 49ers have since revamped their linebacking corps after Foster's departure. They signed Kwon Alexander to a four-year contract in the offseason and spent a fifth-round draft pick on Arkansas' Dre Greenlaw.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch hope Alexander, once he gets fully healthy, and Greenlaw can fill the role left by Foster's departure in the middle of the defense.