SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Tariq Ahmad is the new Adam Peters.

Well, not exactly.

When Peters, who is now the general manager of the Washington Commanders, first arrived with the San Francisco 49ers his title was vice president of player personnel. Ahmad’s new title is director of player personnel, which he shares with R.J. Gillen.

Peters operated out of team headquarters in Santa Clara when he was with the 49ers. Ahmad will spend more time in the office now, but his home base will continue to be in New Jersey, which will allow him to continue to play to his strength: attending college practices and games and seeing prospects in person.

“I love going to games,” he said. “I don’t love the travel. But I do love the ability to go watch things live and observe players in those settings, not just what you see on tape.”

With Peters now in Washington, Ahmad is now the 49ers’ top college scout, which made him the perfect candidate for our annual peek behind the draft curtain. Ahmad spoke for just short of an hour at team headquarters last week. Here’s what he had to say about the eight picks:

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Ahmad said that when Kyle Shanahan first arrived in 2017, he sat down with the scouting department and went into detail about what he looks for in wide receivers. And with Shanahan, who is exacting when it comes to receiver play, there were a lot of details.

“He went through all the things he looks for, from the start of the route to the intangibles, throughout the entire play and the way they finish,” Ahmad said. “So as part of that exercise, he definitely coached up movement skills: lower-body looseness, how they moved their shoulders — all the things that (a scout) needs to go through. I was an area scout at the time. And that drill told me that when I’m on the road, I’m going to be looking for this, this and this.”

Suffice to say, Pearsall has the qualities Shanahan described seven years ago, especially the movement skills. Pearsall’s 4.05-second time in the short shuttle was the sixth-fastest of any prospect at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and he was even disappointed in the time. He said he went there thinking he might set the record.

“The testing confirmed what we saw on the field,” Ahmad said. “It told us exactly what our eyes thought the numbers would be.”

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Pearsall contemplated entering the draft after the 2022 season, so the 49ers evaluated him last year, too. Ahmad said by the end of the 2023 season there were few questions about him and a lot of consensus within the building. So much so that the 49ers didn’t bring in Pearsall for an official visit, which is rare for a 49ers’ first-round pick. The only other first-rounder in the Shanahan-John Lynch era who didn’t visit Santa Clara was offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey in 2018.

Ahmad said that Pearsall’s lower-body looseness — something Shanahan liked about 2018 second-round pick Dante Pettis — always has stood out. Unlike Pettis perhaps, Pearsall also showed impressive toughness with the Gators last season.

“The physicality jumped off the tape this (past) year,” Ahmad said. “The demeanor going over the middle, the demeanor with the ball in his hands. The physicality jumped off the tape there.”

The 49ers took Green earlier than he was expected to be taken. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, for instance, rated him as a fourth-round pick and the No. 17 cornerback in the draft. He went at the end of the second round and was the 10th cornerback selected.

Green didn’t participate in the marquee end-of-season all-star game, the Senior Bowl. Instead, he was an East-West Shrine Bowl invitee and was one of the first Shrine Bowl players drafted last month.

None of his measurables — size, speed, arm length — stood out, and he had just one interception in five seasons at Florida State. For the 49ers, however, toughness and physicality supersede measurables, and Green leaped out to them in those areas. Ahmad said the feedback the 49ers received from Florida State coaches lined up very nicely with what they saw on the field.

“When you hear, ‘He likes hitting, he likes tackling more than he likes interceptions’ — that leaves such a strong memory of who he is,” Ahmad said. “He fits our culture, the way that we want to play defense.”

The 49ers learned that lesson in 2021 when they took two cornerbacks, Ambry Thomas in the third round and Deommodore Lenoir in the fifth. Thomas was faster and had better measurables. Lenoir, however, exuded feistiness and has been the superior player.

Ahmad said there were similarities between Green and Lenoir.

“As far as the type of guy, definitely,” he said. “The demeanor, the mentality, the passion for football, the competitiveness, the toughness. (Green) checks all those boxes at a really, really high level.”

Like Lenoir, the 49ers will look at Green at both outside cornerback and the grittier nickel spot during upcoming practices.

“When we were in draft meetings and watching him, I remember Kyle really enjoying his tape because of those reasons,” Ahmad said. “The physicality, the willingness to aggressively work to the football. That was a really strong part of his game.”

One of the things that impressed the 49ers about Puni was that he was asked to play center at the Senior Bowl.

He has the length — 6-5 with 33 3/8-inch arms — to play tackle, which is what he mostly played (left tackle) last year at Kansas. Still, he looked natural at center against defensive tackles like Ohio State’s Mike Hall Jr., Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus and Clemson’s Tyler Davis, all of whom were drafted last month.

“And I thought he got better every single day,” Ahmad said. “He competed immediately and his technique improved. He looked really good by the end of the week.”

That convinced the 49ers that Puni had the quickness to play on the inside, and he’ll get his start at guard. His quickness also was underscored by his impressive 4.4-second showing in the short shuttle, a drill that illustrates how fast a player can fire out of his stance and change directions.

How impressive is 4.4 seconds for someone who weighs 313 pounds? Some of the bigger-bodied receivers in this year’s draft didn’t time as well.

Ahmad noted that lateral quickness not only is critical for staying in front of fleet-footed three-techniques in pass protection, but in the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme, it’s essential that offensive linemen get an initial step on their opponents and then hit their aiming points.

“If you’re not quick-footed, if you don’t have the initial suddenness to get there, then you lose quickly,” Ahmad said.

For some reason, this year the 49ers aren’t revealing which draft picks earned “gold helmet” status, which means the prospect was “exemplary” in several areas, including performance, leadership and intelligence. Only about 15 to 20 players per draft class get that designation and the 49ers might be lucky to snag one or two each year. Ji’Ayir Brown and Brayden Willis were gold-helmet guys in 2023. The team had none in 2022.

The best guess on who might have earned the status this year? Mustapha. Not only was he a team captain at Wake Forest, he nailed his interview with the 49ers at the combine. Ahmad said it was one of the best sessions the team had this year.

“Mature, extremely bright, confident,” Ahmad said. “He left a very positive impression.”

So positive, in fact, the 49ers also didn’t feel the need to bring him in for an official visit. The team reached a consensus on him quickly and easily.

With Talanoa Hufanga still recovering from last year’s ACL tear, Mustapha seems to have a good shot at landing a prominent role as a rookie. His intelligence and experience — he played in 35 games at Wake Forest — hint at someone who could play immediately. So does his physical style of play, which the 49ers say was similar to Green’s.

“We just love the way he plays the game, plays our style,” Lynch said last month of Mustapha. “We talk a lot about running to the football and getting there with bad intentions, and Malik kind of embodies that. One of our favorite interviews, one of my favorite interviews at the combine.”


The 49ers aren’t saying which players this year earned “gold helmet” distinction, but Malik Mustapha seems to fit the bill. (Robert Kupbens / USA Today)

Guerendo is a good example of a player who was liked in every corner of 49ers headquarters.

The team’s research and development department, which creates analytic data for every position, highlighted Guerendo early in the college season. The 49ers also got a detailed report from Midwest area scout Ryan Kessenich about Guerendo’s five, largely injury-filled seasons at Wisconsin.

One of the knocks on Guerendo is that he started just one of the 41 games in which he played since 2018. He dealt with hamstring issues in 2019 and 2020, then suffered a Lisfranc injury (left foot) in 2021. His lone start came last year after he transferred to Louisville.

“(Kessenich) sent me a dissertation on this kid and why he was under the radar on every single step along the way,” Ahmad said. “I didn’t ask for this. He just saw (Guerendo’s) name on the list as one we were going to talk about and thought he should go above and beyond. And it answered a ton of questions that we had and helped the momentum of why we liked him so much. We were not rationalizing why he didn’t have starting experience. There were reasons every single step of the way.”

The team’s R&D department, meanwhile, really liked Guerendo’s speed and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Ahmad said the GPS data the 49ers had on Guerendo was in line with his eye-catching 4.33-second 40 time at the combine. The 49ers were especially impressed by his game last year against USC.

Ahmad also said the 49ers spent a lot of time discussing the new kickoff rules and the type of prospect who could take advantage of the changes. The ideal return man, for instance, is someone who gets up to speed quickly and who can break tackles, which seems to describe Guerendo. Not only was his 40 time impressive for someone who weighs 221 pounds, so was his 1.54-second 10-yard split.

“When you watch the tape, he really jumps out,” Ahmad said. “You see the speed, you see the power, you see the size. You see a really, really talented runner that all of us were excited about.”

The 49ers’ experience with Cowing, who was taken with the final pick in the fourth round, was similar to last year’s with cornerback Darrell Luter Jr., a fifth-round pick.

The 49ers hosted both players on official visits and were impressed by their maturity.

“I wouldn’t say that he stood out above this year’s group,” Ahmad said of Cowing. “I think this is a really impressive group from top to bottom. But it was how mature he was, how thoughtful he was, the questions he asked. It just showed his maturity and told us it would be a good transition to the NFL.”

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Ahmad said he saw Cowing in person twice when Cowing was at Arizona, once at a practice in 2022 and once for the Nov. 25 game at Arizona State. Cowing was sensational that day — nine catches for a season-high 157 yards and a touchdown — but Ahmad was struck more with how he conducted himself during the pre-game period. That also gives some insight into what scouts like Ahmad are interested in when they attend games.

“He was dialed in and focused,” he said. “He had an awesome routine: headset on, going through all these steps. In that setting his professionalism was impressive. It really stood out. “

Like Puni, Kingston ran an impressive short shuttle at the combine (4.47 seconds). And only three other guard prospects had faster 10-yard splits than his 1.72-second mark: First0rounders Troy Fautanu (1.7) and Jordan Morgan (1.69) and fourth-rounder Mason McCormick (1.71).

Ahmad said Kingston was a favorite of offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who is famously picky about which prospects he likes in the draft.

“He has a lot of that quickness and power and explosiveness that we want,” Ahmad said. “He’ll get on guys quickly, he’ll get on great angles. He’s got power and he can sustain blocks.”

Kingston’s biggest drawback is his length. His 32 1/8-inch arms certainly are shorter than what the 49ers want at tackle and aren’t quite ideal — though they’re serviceable — at guard, which is where Kingston will begin his 49ers career.

“It’s definitely still a factor, but it’s reduced when you slide inside,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad said Kingston looked good at the combine and was really impressive at USC’s pro day where he blasted out 36 bench press repetitions of 225 pounds, one of the highest counts in this year’s draft class.

“To me, bench press doesn’t always translate to power on the field,” Ahmad said. “But it does tell me a lot about how hard you trained for the last four or five years. And it tells me how hard and long you trained for pro day. Because you’ve got to stay healthy to be able to do that consistently throughout your career — you build on your strength every single year.”

Only a handful of players remained on the 49ers’ draft board when it was their turn to pick at the end of the seventh round. Linebackers coach Johnny Holland’s conviction in Bethune in the run-up to the draft pushed him over the top.

Holland likes how quickly Bethune processes and works toward the ball.

“I was walking by his office one day and he pulled me in,” Ahmad said. “And he started showing me all these clips of run fits, how he took on blocks, his short-area quickness.”

The 49ers took two linebackers late in last year’s draft, Dee Winters in the sixth round and Jalen Graham in the seventh. Ahmad said linebackers always are valuable for special teams coverage units, especially now considering the new kickoff rules.

Said Ahmad of Bethune: “He’s got the mentality, the demeanor, the movement skills — all the things to be a very good special teamer.”

(Top photo of Ricky Pearsall: Robert Kupbens / USA Today)



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