49ers Projected to Pull Off 3rd Round Stunner in Draft: ‘A Great Fit’

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Getty Jimmie Ward and Talanoa Hufanga get involved in a pile against the Rams on January 30, 2022. Hufanga is getting some safety help in round three of the draft, one analyst predicts.

Any college football fan who found their way to Sacramento State football likely noticed the sight of Marte Mapu leaving field destruction and debris in his wake — emerging as a versatile and explosive hitter for a Hornets team that went 12-1 and became beloved across the 2022 college football landscape.

The designated nickelback but part-time linebacker Mapu has the San Francisco 49ers being among the NFL teams taking a liking to him since then — with pre-draft visits including for his Pro Day. The 6-foot-3, 216-pounder, though, has long been considered a non-day two prospect; due to a chest injury that prevented him from working out in front of scouts at Sac State and for being a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) representative.

However, one draft analyst projects the 49ers will pull this stunner: Taking Mapu before the third round ends. Dane Brugler of The Athletic is throwing out the upper body setback and Mapu’s status as a non-FBS prospect. He wrote down on Monday, April 17 that Mapu is ending day two of the draft by going No. 102 to the 49ers in the third round.

“A torn pec kept Mapu from working out prior to the draft, but the non-combine prospect still has a decent chance of hearing his name called on Day 2. His ability to cover and play the run as a nickel linebacker would be a great fit in the 49ers’ scheme,” Brugler said.

Mapu was lauded as a tone-setting, Swiss Army knife defender for the Hornets who doesn’t shy from using a seek-and-destroy mindset. He’s a field semi-truck who at full speed, is the last thing those coming toward him want to run into. His hands also came in handy as Mapu snatched a combined six interceptions in the last two seasons in the 916.

Most telling is this: Brugler is so intrigued with Mapu’s skill set, that he has the Hornet going ahead of eight different Power 5 prospects including two hailing from traditional NFL hotbed Alabama in guard Emil Ekiyor and defensive tackle Bryon Young.

Mapu Could be ‘Big Safety’ Option if Added to the 49ers

Mapu is listed as a hybrid linebacker/safety prospect going to the 49ers. However, given his stature, he could pass as a big safety option for a 49ers defense needing an extra presence in the defensive back room.

Draft expert for nfl.com Lance Zierlein is one who believes Mapu will eventually have to settle for one spot at the next level even with his knack for playing multiple spots.

“Mapu has been praised for his versatility, but he might need to prove he can excel in at least one department — whether in run support or in coverage — at the next level,” Zierlein wrote.

Zierlein includes how Mapu lacks the short-area quickness and long speed desired for NFL defenders. So to start, Mapu may be asked to limit himself to tight ends when in coverage. However, Mapu is at his destructive best in the box and coming downhill.

He’d fit in a room that features another defender who has an LB and DB element to his game in Marcelino McCrary-Ball. Mapu could additionally challenge in the safety room as the 49ers are tasked to replace veteran captain Jimmie Ward. Mapu and Talanoa Hufanga together would be a sore thought for wideouts and anyone who treks with the ball in their direction.

Son of Former Chief has Pre-Draft Visit With 49ers: Report

Meanwhile, the 49ers continue to squeeze in some final “top 30” visits with the NFL Draft 10 days away for them. And the son of a former third-rounder spoke with the Niners.

Per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network on Tuesday, the Niners are receiving a visit from West Virginia defensive lineman Dante Stills, who’s the son of former Kansas City Chiefs third-rounder Gary Stills from the 1999 draft.

The younger Stills produced 24.5 career sacks across five seasons including eight and seven in 2019 and 2021, respectively. The 6-foot-3, 286-pounder also produced 53 tackles for a loss including 15 in the ’21 campaign.

His older brother Darius was another from the family who played in the league as he was added as an undrafted free agent by the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021.

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