Because they traded away their fourth rounder to ensure to trade up in the first round and ensure that they would land Anthony Davis, and gave Miami their fifth rounder for WR Ted Ginn Jr., the 49ers first pick on the third day didn't come until the sixth round, the 173rd overall. One would think that at such a low spot the leading rusher of the SEC, only the best conference in all of college football, wouldn't be there waiting for them.
Yet that's exactly what Mississippi State RB Anthony Dixon, who had a school-record 1,391 rushing yards last season, was doing. Dixon is also the Bulldogs' all-time leader in rushing yards (3,994) and touchdowns (42). For all his accomplishments, you'd think that he'd be quite upset or bitter about not being picked sooner, but the upbeat Dixon doesn't seem to be wired that way, and called being drafted by the 49ers, "a dream come true."
In fact, he's actually an avid fan of the team and has been his whole life, going back to the Jerry Rice (another Mississippi native) days.
He's very familiar with the current roster, including running backs Frank Gore and Glen Coffee. "I've watched those guys, studied them, and whenever they're on TV I try to watch them," he said.
Dixon is determined to have a positive attitude, regardless of how low the odds are stacked against him. Just being drafted in itself is a blessing for a guy looking to take care of his family. "If I didn't show anyone that I have first round talent, then I'm sure going to try my dangest to play like that when I get there," he said.
Dixon described his game as "very physical," adding, "I embrace contact, I enjoy the contact. I like to practice and I love the game of football."
The scouting report on him is that, as a 233-pounder, he's a guy who prefers running between the tackles, fighting for yards and always falls forward. He doesn't have the speed to go around the edge or to run away from anybody, he's not elusive, and he's been known to fumble when in a pile, however.
Dixon does have pretty good hands for a big man as a receiver though. For now his role will probably be a hammer in short yardage situations, where the Niners were poor last year, though that had more to do with their blocking than their backs.
Work ethic should not be an issue with Dixon. He's had a tough upbringing, including a couple spells of homelessness, and indicated that period of his life was a source of motivation for him. He also had a DUI last season, however, but that was his only character red flag. Hopefully it was just a one-time incident and he'll learn from it.
Pittsburgh's Nate Byham, meanwhile, has also had to deal with a less-than-idyllic childhood. "I was raised by my grandfather," he said, adding, "I've never met my father and my mom has had a lot of drug and alcohol issues and a lot of personal issues throughout my life. I've been in and out of a lot of houses and a lot of close friends have helped me out. I've always been with my grandfather and he's been a rock and taken care of me."
Byham will now look to return the favor, hoping to begin a long and successful career as a second or third tight end. He has no aspirations about being the next Dallas Clark. In fact, he's well aware where his strengths lie, and how different his viewpoint about the position is from the norm. "I like to bloody noses," he said. "I don't shy away from contact, I'm going into the hole and I'm looking to hit somebody. I think that's what makes me unique. There's not too many tight ends these days that want to go in there and try to hurt somebody. I'm trying to inflict pain."
In a draft class filled with all-catch, no block tight ends such as Florida's Aaron Hernandez and BYU's Dennis Pitta, there's no question that Byham is the best blocker of the bunch. At 6'4, 268 pounds, he better be. "It's something I pride myself on," he explained. "I've had coaches my whole life, like Dave Wannstedt [at the University of Pittsburgh], who like to play old-school, hard-nose football."
Byham's Pittsburgh connection will serve him well, as he's already got a couple of friends and fellow alums on the 49ers in corner Shantae Spencer and linebacker Scott McKillop. "I was golfing with Scott last week and I lifted weights with Shantae three days ago," he told reporters during his conference call. "They said I'm going into a great system with a great coaching staff. I'm so happy to be a part of that program."
The scouting report on Byham is what one would expect. He's slow out of his release as a receiver and doesn't have much speed or route-running skills. However he does have good hands and he caught 20 balls as a junior. He wasn't drafted to be a receiver. Last year the 49ers used primarily two-tight end sets and while second TE Delanie Walker's speed is a mismatch, but blocking isn't his forte. With Byham, the running game should be much-improved, even if he doesn't always line up as a tight end. "He can also give us some flexibility as an H-back," Singletary explained. "He can line up and play fullback and go downhill and go and dig out a linebacker."
Arizona State's Kyle Williams won't be digging out too many linebackers for the 49ers, but the hope is that he'll be burning them plenty as a slot receiver.
A smaller guy at 5'10 and a 188 pounds, Williams caught 57 passes last year for the Sun Devils for 815 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also named second team All Pac-10 as a punt returner, with a 10.0 average. Indeed it's that skill that might be his ticket on the 53-man roster, as Ginn is more of a kick returner, who hasn't returned punts full time since his rookie season in 2007.
Williams is also the son of Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, who played football himself for Stanford. He was born in San Jose and drafted by his father in the 47th round, but seems to be leaning toward an NFL career. "Being drafted by the 49ers is 200 percent better [than being drafted in baseball]," he said. This is a dream of mine since I was a kid."
Williams was thrilled to be returning home to the Bay Area (he was born in San Jose) and said his brother, a huge 49ers fan, got him to root for the team as a kid and watch all their games. "I spent a lot of my life here before we moved to Chicago and it's basically my second home," he said. "I've still got a lot of uncles and cousins here, a lot of faithful 49ers fans in my family and I know my grandmother is ecstatic that I'll get to play close to her."
The scouting report on Williams is that he's quicker than fast, that he gets out of his stance well, runs good routes and has small but reliable hands.
"I work out of the slot for the most part, I'm a quick guy, elusive, I get on top of people quick, can stop on a dime, and I get in and out of my breaks," Williams said, listing his strengths, while adding that he bulked up to over 190 pounds for his pro day and still ran a 4.3 flat on his 40-yard dash.
Another quick guy is the 49ers final pick, 7th-rounder Phillip Adams, a CB from South Carolina State and the 224th overall selection.
5'11 and 193 pounds, Adams has the kind of size the 49ers want in their corners and is a hard hitter as well. The 49ers were intrigued enough by Adams to have him over for a visit at their Santa Clara complex. "He's a physical guy, he'll come up and hit you, and he can run," Singletary said, before adding the disclaimer, "But he's real raw."
Adams was first team All-MEAC last season, and was fifth on his team with 53 tackles, and tied for first with three interceptions, two of which he took back for touchdowns.
The scouting report on him is that he's an imposing corner who excels in playing press coverage. However, he struggled quite a bit when playing off his man due to stiff hips and he isn't experienced at all in playing zone.
Overall it's not a bad haul for three sixth-rounders and a seventh and the 49ers hope that all four guys will find their niche and contribute sooner rather than later. None of the quartet is a head-scratcher, which is rare considering where they were picked in the draft. From the sound of it they all have the mentality that Singletary is looking for. Now it's just a matter of finding out if they have the skills.