We are in the midst of bowl season, and if you want to take part in all the inane conversations between now and the draft, this is a good time to start studying. The teams of two potential 49ers first-round targets – Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams and Boston College pass rusher Harold Landry – play Wednesday, but neither player will be on the field. Some other first-round targets over the next week:
Alamo Bowl, Thursday, 6 p.m.
Stanford vs. TCU – The 49ers have used a first-round pick on a Stanford player the last two years. That’s unlikely to happen in 2018. Running back Bryce Love is the top candidate – and would fit well Kyle Shanahan’s offense – but is at a loaded position this year and hasn’t even said whether he’ll enter the draft. Still, general manager John Lynch will not shy away from Stanford players like other teams might. Chances at least one Stanford rookie is on the 49ers’ offseason roster in 2018: high.
Sun Bowl, Friday, noon
N.C. State vs. Arizona State – This is the bowl game that sealed Solomon Thomas’ standing as a top-five pick a year ago. Another defensive lineman, N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb, is the most heralded player in this year’s game. He’s more of an edge rusher than Thomas and would fill a need for a 49ers squad that ranks 25th in sacks this season. However, it’s hard to see Chubb falling to pick No. 8, which is where the 49ers currently are sitting.
Fiesta Bowl, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Washington vs. Penn State – Shanahan the other day disputed the notion that he’d never consider a running back with a first-round pick. (Then seemed to support the notion by listing a number of mid-round running backs who, if there was a re-draft, would be taken with a top pick). If he did fall in love with a runner in the first round, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley likely would be the one. He’s a terrific athlete and an excellent pass catcher, something at which Carlos Hyde, a soon-to-be free agent, has struggled in 2017. If the 49ers were intent on complementing Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, Barkley would be a big piece. Barkley has not yet said whether he will enter the draft. Washington’s run defense, meanwhile, ranks third in the nation.
Citrus Bowl, Monday, 10 a.m.
Notre Dame vs. LSU – This game features a couple of offensive linemen, Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey, who are likely to be first-round picks. Guard may be No. 1 on San Francisco’s offseason to-do list. Is Nelson athletic enough to be taken in the first half of the draft? LSU, meanwhile, may have the No. 2 runner in the draft, Derrius Guice, and a good pass rusher in Arden Key (who will not play in the game due to injuries, including a broken finger).
Sugar Bowl, Monday, 5:45 p.m.
Alabama vs. Clemson – The 49ers have exactly one boundary cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon, locked up for next season. San Francisco’s defensive scheme is a sound one and Witherspoon is growing stronger with every game, but one thing has been clear this season: The system puts a lot of pressure on its cornerbacks. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick is considered the top player at his position, and his size, physical style and caliber of competition mesh well with what the 49ers do. The question: How long will he possibly last in Round 1? Meanwhile, Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley is slippery and fast and has drawn comparisons to Marvin Harrison. He may end up being the top pass catcher in the draft and will get an excellent test from Clemson’s defense.