Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

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One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas

49ers rookie Brandon Aiyuk reaches 'soft 21 mph' running on treadmill

49ers rookie Brandon Aiyuk reaches 'soft 21 mph' running on treadmill

Every year at the NFL Scouting Combine, all eyes are on the 40-yard dash. Sometimes, though, numbers do lie. 

Brandon Aiyuk, who the 49ers took with the No. 25 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, ran a 4.50 40, but in reality, he likely is even faster. The former Arizona State receiver was coming off a core-muscle injury that surely hurt his time. 

How fast is the rookie? Well, he ran a "soft 21 mph" in a recent workout video. 

Aiyuk's speed actually is so impressive that only three players in the NFL reached a faster in-game speed than him last year. Tracked by a GPS device in Aiyuk's shoulder pads, he got up to 21.3 mph in 2019. Former 49ers running back Matt Breida had the fastest in-game speed in the NFL last season at 22.3 mph. 

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As a senior last season, Aiyuk hauled in 65 receptions for 1,192 yards (18.3 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns as freshman Jayden Daniels' top target. Aiyuk also averaged 31.9 yards per kick return and 16.1 yards per punt return. 

There's no doubt Aiyuk will have a tough learning curve in Kyle Shanahan's complex offense, especially with such an odd offseason. At the same time, he could be the perfect deep target for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, especially with his blazing speed. 

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

49ers' Raheem Mostert looks forward to running behind Trent Williams

49ers' Raheem Mostert looks forward to running behind Trent Williams

Life without Joe Staley at left tackle always looked like a point in the 49ers' timeline that would come with some growing pains.

Maybe not.

That’s because the 49ers worked hard to complete a trade with Washington for seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams before Staley went public on the final day of the NFL draft with his decision to retire after 13 NFL seasons.

Williams sat out last season, but big things are expected from the big man in an offense that places a premium on athletic linemen to perform coach Kyle Shanahan's steady diet of outside zone run plays.

“Trent is an unbelievable tackle,” 49ers running back Raheem Mostert said. “He’s probably one of the most athletic guys I’ve seen thus far on tape. I’m so excited and can’t wait to work with him.”

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

For the first time since entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2015, Mostert has established himself as a running back.

He led the 49ers’ run game with 772 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. Mostert rushed for a franchise-record 220 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers’ victory over Green Bay In the NFC Championship Game.

Williams (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) played his first four NFL seasons in Shanahan’s offensive scheme. He joins a unit that ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 2,305 yards rushing during the regular season.

[RELATEDHow 49ers' Raheem Mostert is preparing for steadier, heavier workload]

Mostert said he likes the composition of the 49ers’ offensive line, naming right tackle Mike McGlinchey, left guard Laken Tomlinson and center Weston Richburg as others who are fully capable of carrying out the demands of the offense. There figures to be competition at right guard with Daniel Brunskill, veteran Tom Compton and, perhaps, rookie Colton McKivitz.

“I can’t be any more happy and excited to get that ball rolling,” Mostert said.