SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -Three months after the San Francisco 49ers' coaching staff spent a week at the Senior Bowl, they landed two big souvenirs in Patrick Willis and Joe Staley.
The 49ers selected Willis, the award-winning Mississippi linebacker, with the 11th overall pick in Saturday's draft. San Francisco then pulled a surprise, trading next year's first-round pick and a fourth-rounder this year for New England's 28th overall selection - which they used on Staley, a powerful offensive tackle from Central Michigan.
Both players spent a week in January with coach Mike Nolan and his staff in Alabama, where the 49ers' coaches have twice served as volunteer coaches at the Senior Bowl, the all-star game where dozens of prospects show off their skills.
After watching Willis and Staley during those practices three months ago, the 49ers decided both players can be cornerstones of the future - even though Staley had no idea he made such an impression on the 49ers.
``There's a common theme here,'' Nolan acknowledged.
Willis spent time after Senior Bowl practices with 49ers assistant Mike Singletary, who knows linebackers. Offensive line coach George Warhop had glowing reviews for Staley, so the 49ers made a move to acquire two first-round picks for the second straight season.
Once Willis got over the excitement of being around the former Chicago Bears star, he realized Singletary has plenty to teach him.
``I got to know him really well,'' Willis said. ``I'm ready to go there and give him everything I've got, and give the organization everything I have.''
Willis was named the SEC's defensive player of the year after leading the league in tackles for two straight seasons, and Nolan believes he'll eventually become the ball-hawking weak-side linebacker that's critical to San Francisco's 3-4 defense. He'll compete with 11-year starter Derek Smith for the No. 1 job in training camp - and Willis believes he'll win it.
``I still can't even believe it,'' said Willis, who also won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. ``My heart's still beating hard. I'm just so excited to get out there. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little boy.''
In Willis, Nolan claimed he got the top player on his draft board - a physical, speedy tackler with all the skills necessary to fill any role on the defense. The 49ers figure Willis eventually will form a formidable linebacker tandem with Manny Lawson, their first-round draft pick last season.
``He'll make an impact right away as a third-down linebacker,'' Nolan said. ``On first and second downs, he'll compete for a spot, but he should make an impact on us right away.''
Singletary praised Willis' work ethic and enthusiasm, but stopped short of comparing Willis to himself.
``He certainly makes our defense faster,'' Singletary said. ``He certainly adds speed. It gives us some versatility. Wherever the ball is, there's a good chance he's going to be around it. He has good vision, and he has all the intangibles - the speed, the desire and the instinct to find the football.''
The Niners' biggest surprise was their risky move to get Staley, a converted tight end who became a dominant 310-pound left tackle with the Chippewas of the Mid-American Conference.
Nolan sacrificed his 2008 first-round pick and this season's 110th overall pick to land Staley, who probably will replace Kwame Harris as the 49ers' starting right tackle this fall. Nolan then swung a deal with his second-round pick to acquire Indianapolis' first-round pick next season.
Staley, whose 4.7-second time in the 40-yard dash made him the fastest offensive lineman at the combine, was as surprised as San Francisco's fans to hear he was headed to the West Coast. He enjoyed playing for Warhop at the Senior Bowl, but never thought the partnership would continue.
``I didn't really know that they were interested,'' Staley said. ``I'm glad the 49ers traded up and picked me. I got a little taste of their offense when I was down at the Senior Bowl, and I'm just excited to get started.''

Recent NFL Discussions

2017 Heisman Odds on Wed, Mar 2017 by Blade
College / NBA today on Sun, Mar 2017 by TtomBoBadly
SNOW on Tue, Mar 2017 by Michael Cash
EARLY COLL PLAYS FOR WED. on Wed, Mar 2017 by Timmy1961

Top NFL Public Bets

NFL Top Stories

Thumbnail The Next Atlanta Falcons Despite suffering one of the greatest collapses in sports history at Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons still managed to overcome significant odds to reach the NFL’s...
Thumbnail Eddie Lacy 2017 Prop Odds After signing with the Seahawks earlier this month, how many touchdowns and rushing yards will Eddie Lacy earn in 2017?
Thumbnail DeSean Jackson Bucs Prop Odds How many touchdowns will DeSean Jackson post with his new team in 2017? Here's a look at the odds.
Thumbnail Brandin Cooks Patriots Prop Odds How many total receiving yards will new Patriot Brandin Cooks have in 2017?
Thumbnail Alshon Jeffery TD Prop Odds How many touchdown passes and receiving yards will Alshon Jeffery rack up in 2017? Oddsmakers have released projections for the newest Eagle.

NFL Team Pages