The San Francisco 49ers decided to forego spending a 2021 draft pick on the linebacker position, but bolstered the unit with two undrafted free agents inked on Thursday, May 13.
One of those linebackers, Justin Hillard of Ohio State, was picked up after a strong recommendation from former college teammate Nick Bosa.
49ers assistant general manager Adam Peters told Matt Barrows of The Athletic that the standout defensive end has been heading up the Hillard camp for months. Peters was interviewing Hillard at the Senior Bowl when he snapped a photo and sent it to Bosa.
Bosa’s response: “You’ve got to get that guy!”
The two players were teammates for three seasons at Ohio State between 2016-18.
Hillard Took a Long Road From Columbus to San Francisco
Hillard’s time in a Buckeye uniform extends all the way back to the Urban Meyer era, playing in his sixth and final season as a member of the defense in 2020.
In total, the linebacker played in 50 games for Ohio State over that time, including seven starts. Four of those starts came in the six games the team played during last year’s COVID-abbreviated campaign on their way to a National Championship Game appearance.
For his career, HIllard recorded 84 total tackles, nine of them for a loss. He also forced a fumble, recovered three fumbles, and grabbed two interceptions during that time. Most of that production came during last season, after the NCAA afforded Hillard a rare sixth year of collegiate eligibility.
The linebacker boasts considerable size, listed at 6-feet and 1-inch tall and weighing 231 pounds. His injury history includes multiple bicep issues, which sidelined him for his freshman season in 2015 and allowed him to appear in only three games the following year. He also suffered an achilles injury in 2019, but was still able to start in three games for the Buckeyes that season.
Hillard is One of Five Undrafted Free Agents the 49ers Signed Thursday
Along with Hillard, the 49ers also signed linebacker Elijah Sullivan out of Kansas State. The two joined a group of five undrafted free agents San Francisco inked to deals on Thursday.
Also among that group were Austin Watkins Jr., of Alabama at Birmingham; tight end Josh Pederson, of Louisiana Monroe; and offensive lineman Alfredo Gutierrez, of Tecnológico de Monterrey.
In addition, the 49ers also completed deals with five of their eight draft picks Thursday. Offensive linemen Aaron Banks and Jaylon Moore were among them, as was running back Elijah Mitchell, safety Talanoa Hufanga, and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.
Former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, taken third overall in the first round, has yet to sign a deal, as does running back Trey Sermon (Ohio State), and cornerback Ambry Thomas (Michigan). The team is expected to reach contract agreements with all three players.
The 49ers kick off a three-day rookie minicamp beginning Friday, May 14.