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NFL Draft 2020: 49ers could target these three defensive linemen on Day 3

NFL Draft 2020: 49ers could target these three defensive linemen on Day 3

NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might fit their needs, along with some hidden gems. In this installment, we examine why the hidden gems on the defensive line the 49ers could target on Day 3.

DeForest Buckner played 810 snaps last year in the regular season as the 49ers’ most-worked defensive lineman.

As the 49ers enter this month's draft, they are not necessarily looking for one player to step in and single-handedly compensate for the loss of Buckner, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick in the draft.

At some point in the draft, the 49ers figure to add a player for defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to mold into a reliable rotational player.

Maybe the 49ers select a starter to play three-technique, Buckner’s old position, on base downs. Perhaps, they bring in a player who enters in nickel situations as an inside pass-rusher. They also could add an edge player to fit into a rotation that includes Nick Bosa and Dee Ford.

Earlier in this series, we looked at defensive tackles Derrick Brown (Auburn) and Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina), who could be options at No. 13 overall. If the 49ers trade back or wait until No. 31, defensive end A.J. Epenesa (Iowa) could be available.

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Here are three hidden gems the 49ers could consider in the fourth round or later:

McTelvin Agim, Arkansas

McTelvin Agim (6-foot-3, 309 pounds) who could be available in the fourth round, would compete right away for the starting job to replace Buckner.

He also has some pass-rush skills to develop as he registered six sacks in his first two seasons and 10 sacks in his final two seasons. He earned his spot on the SEC Academic honor roll and was a team captain as a senior.

He played defensive end before making the switch to defensive tackle as a senior. Agim has the kind of versatility that would enable him to fill-in at just about every spot along the defensive line in base situations.

D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina

D.J. Wonnum was named as a team captain as a sophomore and remained in that leadership role for his final three seasons at South Carolina.

Wonnum (6-5, 258) can add more strength and become a three-down player. He has the athletic ability to bend the corner as a pass rusher. His wingspan of 83 ¾ inches is the longest of any of the edge players in the draft.

He does not let up until the whistle blows, which enables him to track down quarterbacks who like to extend plays. In a division with Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson and Arizona Cardinals sensation Kyler Murray, that’s a good quality for a 49ers pass-rusher.

[RELATED: DeForest Buckner trade could make 49ers add D-lineman]

Jonah Williams, Weber State

Jonah Williams (6-5, 281) was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he is on the radars of NFL teams as a late-Day 3 selection. He is coming off a season in which he was the Big Sky Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year after registering 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

He has good strength and athleticism to develop as an edge player, where he would compete initially for a game-day role as part of the team’s defensive line rotation. Williams could step in and be a backup for base downs as well as nickel pass-rush situations.

He spent two years on a two-year church mission to Sao Paulo, Brazil. His maturity coming into the NFL gives him a chance to make a quick adjustment to the demands of the NFL game.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk explains why Jimmy Garoppolo can 'turn it loose'

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk explains why Jimmy Garoppolo can 'turn it loose'

Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk cannot say for sure how much differently Jimmy Garoppolo feels. But he knows the 49ers’ quarterback looks different from a year ago.

Last summer, Garoppolo was returning to the field after missing the final 13 games of the 2018 season due to a torn left ACL.

Garoppolo overcame all the mental hurdles to start 19 games and be one of the key figures in leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Juszczyk was asked on Tuesday if Garoppolo appears more comfortable as training camp gets going.

“It’s hard to say from an outsider’s perspective, other than he’s not wearing a brace,” Juszczyk said on a video call with Bay Area reporters. “That’s the biggest thing that stands out to me.”

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

In his first season as a full-time NFL starter -- and coming off major knee surgery -- Garoppolo had one of the top seasons in 49ers history. He completed 69.1 percent of his pass attempts for 3,978 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the regular season.

[RELATEDSteve Young believes 49ers must prove lasting power]

Juszczyk believes the fact Garoppolo is another year removed from the ACL injury will provide a major benefit to the 49ers' offense.

“When you don’t have to think about something, when something is not in the back of your mind, and it’s not weighing on you, it relieves so much stress, so much pressure, and you’re able to play so much more freely,” Juszczyk said.

“So if he’s not thinking about that knee and it’s not even in his head, that’s going to be a huge advantage for him and something that I know, just as an athlete, would make me play better. And I think you’re going to see it from him.

"When you don’t have to think about that stuff, you can just go and turn it loose.”

49ers safety Jimmie Ward could fill expanded role on defense this year

49ers safety Jimmie Ward could fill expanded role on defense this year

Jimmie Ward’s versatility and the whims of his many defensive coaching staffs with the 49ers -- along with a string of injuries -- never allowed him to get comfortable through his first five NFL seasons.

He somehow fought through years of adversity to remain as the team's longest-tenured player.

Ward’s position no longer is a question. He is entrenched at free safety. But Ward created a bit of a mystery when addressing the subject of where he might line up on a snap-to-snap basis this season. However, he certainly believes his days at cornerback are over.

“Last time I checked, I signed a contract to play safety, but if anything happens, I have to be open-minded and do whatever’s best for the team,” Ward said Tuesday on a video call with Bay Area reporters.

Ward was the 49ers’ starter at nickelback, cornerback and safety during his time with the 49ers. Last year, he proved to be one of the more effective free safeties in the league.

In the offseason, the 49ers signed Ward to a three-year, $28.5 million contract.

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

Under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, the 49ers have played primarily a cover-three defense. But the 49ers have the ability to be a lot less predictable this season with all of their starters in the defensive backfield returning for the second year in a row.

“It helps out a lot,” Ward said. “Since we’ve been back, I just feel like we’ve just been working on the chemistry and all our defensive checks. I feel like it’s going to play a big role in this upcoming season.”

Ward is capable of playing spots all over the field. He suggested earlier this offseason the 49ers might rely on him to become more of a game-changer.

[RELATEDSteve Young believes 49ers must prove lasting power]

But what, exactly, does that mean?

He could be featured in man or zone coverages. He could also be used on more blitzes. Ward said everyone will have to wait to see the answers when the 49ers open the regular season on Sept. 13 against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium.

“I feel like if I tell you more details about that I’m kind of giving away the game plan,” he said. “I don’t know other teams to hear how they’re going to use me.

“I don’t know, but it’s going to be interesting. Just make sure you watch that first game, because I could be anywhere.”