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2016 Senior Bowl rosters: Defensive NFL Draft prospects

Niners Nation's Greg Valerio highlights and profiles the 2016 NFL draft-eligible prospects on the defensive side of the ball from the Senior Bowl.

The NFL Draft season is officially here, and while we all wait to see who will host the Lombardi Trophy next weekend (rooting for the Broncos here), we get to spend this Saturday (January 30th) intensely gazing upon potential future 49ers performing in the premier collegiate all-star game, the Senior Bowl. Let's take a look back at current 49ers who have graced the field of the Senior Bowl.

Phil Dawson, K - 1998
Joe Staley, OT - 2007
Colin Kaepernick, QB - 2011
Ian Williams, NT - 2011
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL - 2012
Quinton Patton, WR - 2013
Vance McDonald, TE - 2013
Chris Davis, CB - 2014
Jimmie Ward, DB - 2014
Dontae Johnson, CB - 2014
Brandon Thomas, OG - 2014
Trent Brown, OT - 2015
Jaquiski Tartt, S - 2015

The Senior Bowl is a scouting haven, where NFL talent evaluators, draft analysts, and couch GM's decipher the best of the best senior prospects in this years' class. For those selected few seniors, it's their last chance to play collegiate football competitively against quality talent, where iron sharpens iron in hopes of increasing a players' draft stock or create a memorable and lasting blip on an NFL teams' radar.

Players from both rosters will be coached under the tutelage of NFL guidance with fifth-year NFL head coach Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff coaching the North Team, and third-year NFL head coach Gus Bradley and the Jacksonville Jaguars' coaching staff coaching the South Team. Today, we take a look at several standout players on the Defensive side of the ball from each squad, specifically players who could fit with the 49ers.

North Team

DT Austin Johnson, No. 99, 6043 - 323 lbs., 9 1/2" hand, 32 3/8" arm, 77" wing, 5.27 40 - Penn State (1st-2nd)
***Met with 49ers at Senior Bowl***

Season stats: 78 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and 1 fumble recovery.

Austin Johnson is a thick-sized naturally strong prospect with an impressive game. He showcases an excellent combination of size (6'4" - 323 lbs.), quickness, power, awareness, and athleticism. He excels as a run defender anchoring the middle with is huge lower half easily capable of handling multiple blockers with active violent hands, tree trunk arms, ideal strength, and a solid stout base dominating front-side blocks at the point of attack. A former high school all-state performer in basketball, Johnson displays quick feet, impressive agility for his size, sound leverage, fluid lateral movement navigating through the trash, and a knack for shedding blocks quickly getting down the line consistently making impact plays (78 tackles for a DL) showcasing his natural athletic ability defending against back-side blocks. A stout run defender, Johnson also displays surprising pass rush ability utilizing his intense high-motor and continuous effort. A nose guard in the 49ers 3-4, Johnson also has the athleticism to succeed out of the 1 and 3 technique.

Draft projection: 1st-2nd

CB Eric Murray, No. 31, 5106 - 198 lbs., 9" hands, 31 1/2" arms, 76 1/4" wing, 4.51 40 - Minnesota (2nd)

Season stats: 66 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 7 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 forced fumbles.

Eric Murray is a very physical and strong corner with impressive flexibility, balance, fluid hips, quick feet, agility, change of direction skills, and explosion. A lockdown corner, Murray displays his physicalness and patience excelling in press-man coverage riding the receiver downfield staying on the hip pocket hounding and nagging receivers like a mosquito seeking fresh blood. Murray also displays excellent awareness, speed, and football intelligence impressively skilled in off and zone coverages, where he shows quick read and reaction skills, burst with impressive closing speed, great ball skills, and a fierce and reliable tackler hitting with explosion. A former high school wrestler, Murray displays a grit and eagerness in run support, and blitzes with purpose playing with a workmanlike intensity. Furthermore, Murray is a special teams stalwart bringing desired value at the next level.

Draft projection: (2nd)

OLB Kyler Fackrell, No. 9, 6046 - 244 lbs., 10 1/4" hands, 32 1/4" arms, 79 3/4" wing, 4.74 40 - Utah State (2nd)
**Senior Bowl No. 49**

Season stats: 82 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles.

Kyler Fackrell is a former high school basketball and volleyball player, as well as a former high school quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, safety, and return specialist. A true athlete, Fackrell showcases ideal size (6'5") and length for the position with a great ability to stack and shed setting the edge, impressive closing speed exploding off the edge (he's extremely fast with excellent burst), and looks very fluid and smooth in space covering a lot of ground. A blue-collar high character player with a tremendous work ethic that loves the game of football, Fackrell is adept at playing the pass and the run (perfect fit as an OLB in the 49ers 3-4 scheme), and back in October, was PFF's (Pro Football Focus) top ranked 3-4 OLB at +34.4 with the highest grade as a pass rusher, against the run, and sixth-highest in coverage. One thing of note, Fackrell is coming back from missing the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL; therefore, medical and durability will be highlighted.

Draft projection: 2nd

ILB Tyler Matakevich, No. 8, 6000 - 233 lbs., 9 5/8" hands, 30 7/8" arms, 75 7/8" wing, 4.73 40 - Temple (2nd-3rd)

***Senior Bowl No. 48***

Season stats: 138 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, and 5 pass deflections.

Tyler Matakevich is an intensely aggressive run and chase type high-motored linebacker playing sideline-to-sideline with tremendous instincts and awareness. He has good quickness, agility, and change of direction skills playing with aggression, excellent tackling technique, shows good short area quickness with nice lateral movement to quickly move around side-stepping defenders easily going through the trash. Shows strength in taking on blockers straight on and good hand technique in stacking and shedding. Good coverage skills with nice hip flexibility and ball skills, and is a great blitzer wreaking havoc in the backfield. He does not possess the eye-popping athletic traits or size, but Matakevich relies heavily on terrific instincts, a high football IQ, good quickness and burst, along with sound technique and physical play to make plays on a consistent level. The former high school baseball player has tremendous production with four consecutive seasons with over 100 tackles (493 total) and always has a knack for being around the action due to his outstandingly impressive instincts and awareness. The heart and soul of Temple's defensive, Matakevich displays excellent leadership abilities and the intensity and competitiveness to play with his hair on fire.

Draft projection: 2nd-3rd

Other North players of note

DT Adolphus Washington, No. 92, 6035 - 297 lbs., 4.96 40 - Ohio State (2nd)
DE Carl Nassib, No. 95, 6066 - 273 lbs., 4.71 40 - Penn State (2nd)
FS Darian Thompson, No. 4, 6017 - 215 lbs., 4.56 40 - Boise State (2nd)
DT Vernon Butler, No. 9, 6037 - 325 lbs., 5.06 40 - Louisiana Tech (2nd)
DT Sheldon Day, No. 91, 6006 - 286 lbs., 4.94 40 - Notre Dame (3rd)
ILB Blake Martinez, No. 4, 6015 - 239 lbs., 4.79 40 - Stanford (3rd-4th)
ILB Jared Norris, No. 41, 6011 - 239 lbs, 4.74 40 - Utah (3rd-4th)
CB Deiondre Hall, No. 1, 6015 - 192 lbs., 4.57 40 - Northern Iowa (4th)
OLB Joe Schobert, No. 58, 6014 - 247 lbs., 4.74 40 - Wisconsin (4th)

South Team

OLB Noah Spence, No. 9, 6025 - 254 lbs., 10" hands, 31" arms, 74" wing, 4.68 40 - Eastern Kentucky (1st)
**Senior Bowl No. 97**

Season stats: 63 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 forced fumbles.

A dominant force in the FCS at Eastern Kentucky, Noah Spence's journey to draft-eligible stardom has endured a rocky road. The former five-star elite high school prospect exploded on the scene with Ohio State showcasing his amazing pass rush talent bursting off the edge displaying explosion, quickness, agility, power, flexibility, and athleticism. A quick-twitch player, Spence erupts off the line displaying tremendous quickness and closing speed with excellent bend off the edge. He utilizes fair hand technique with a decent pop at the point of attack, quick to transition into his pass rush moves winning with tremendous speed and power. He also possesses great balance, body control (excellent leverage and dip), and impressive change of direction skills, where coming out of the arc from his bend he is able to adjust with ease and take advantage of his freaky athleticism and power. Spence has the versatility to play in space showing sound awareness, good coverage skills, and an excellent tackler in space; moreover, the versatility to line up on both the right and left edge winning on either side.

Unfortunately, Spence's rise at Ohio State ended abruptly after getting dismissed from the school and permanently banned from the Big Ten due to drugs (ecstasy). With the help of Urban Meyer, Spence was placed in a drug-treatment program, and ultimately ended up 3 hours down the road at Eastern Kentucky, again with the assistance of Meyer. Spence has been clean and has dedicated his life to be drug-free showing the willingness and maturity in overcoming his indiscretions; however, the red flags from his past will still need to be addressed moving forward into the NFL. Trent Baalke is one to give deserving players a second chance, and with pass rush an area of concern for the 49ers, Noah Spence is an elite prospect easily capable of filling the void the Niners currently lack in their pass rush.

Draft projection: 1st

ILB Reggie Ragland, No. 19, 6012 - 259 lbs., 4.72 40 - Alabama (1st)
***Met with 49ers at Senior Bowl***

Season stats: 102 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 7 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles.

Reggie Ragland is a superb downhill plugger type of linebacker with a terrific combination of size, physicality, speed, toughness, and strength. Ragland is a fierce and terrific tackler with quality bulk-ability easily taking on bigger blockers at the point of attack winning with proper leverage separating with violent and powerful hands stacking and shedding, impressive sideline-to-sideline capabilities, and very skilled coming off the edge. A tremendously smart player with a high football IQ, Ragland showcases excellent instincts and speed easily reading run keys and has the play speed (straight-line speed with a burst) to track down the football with impressive closing speed. Shows quality ability to play in coverage as well as rushing off the edge. Moreover, he brings value on special teams where he's a strong tackler hitting with immense explosion. Ragland is the best pure inside linebacker in the draft class and could've been a top draft pick in 2015, but he wanted to go back to school and earn his degree.

Projection: 1st

DT Jarran Reed, No. 90, 6032 - 311 lbs., 10 3/4" hands, 32" arms, 80 1/4" wing, 5.14 40 - Alabama (1st)

Season stats: 57 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass deflections, and 1 fumble recovery.

Jarran Reed is very strong defender with great size (6'4"), length, power, and athleticism. A large stout run stuffer, Robinson showcases power at the point of attack capable of handling two-gaps eating up blockers, great in collapsing the pocket, has sound awareness to stop ball carriers next to him utilizing good hand technique (great power in hands) stacking and shedding, and plays with good leverage and power with a high-motor chasing down ball carriers coming off back-side blocks. Reed has quick feet with balance possessing great lateral agility navigating impressively through the trash. The space-eater two-gap defender is extremely stout against the run dominating front-side blocks at the point of attack and displays great quickness for a man his size. He has the versatility to play nose guard in a 3-4, as well as the 5-technique, which makes Reed an ideal fit for the 49ers.

Draft projection: 1st

DE Bronson Kaufusi, No. 90, 6065 - 281 lbs., 9 1/2" hands, 34 1/8" arms, 79 1/2" wing, 4.89 40 - BYU (2nd)

***Senior Bowl No. 95***

Season stats: 57 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 forced fumbles.

BYU's edge rusher, Bronson Kaufusi, was targeted by Jim Harbaugh as a potential Stanford recruit back in the day, so there is your Harbaugh related nugget for the day. Kaufusi, a former collegiate basketball player for the BYU Cougars in the 2012-2013 season, showcases amazing size (6'7"), length, quickness, agility, strength, and athleticism. Utilizing his impressive length (long arms 34 1/8"), Kaufusi easily takes on front-side blocks maintaining ideal separation and leverage stacking and shedding opponents, and the quickness and agility to be a posing threat rushing the passer and attacking down the line with lateral quickness coming off back-side blocks. Kaufusi shows good awareness, strength, and stoutness setting the edge, with sound a reliable technique he continues to improve upon (father is BYU's defensive line coach), and displays various effective moves as a pass rusher. A standout amongst draft-eligible 3-4 defensive ends, according to PFF, Kaufusi earned the eighth-best run-defense grade and the second ranked pass-rush grade of all 3-4 defensive end prospects.

Draft projection: 2nd

Other South players of note

DT Sheldon Rankins, No. 98, 6015- 304 lbs., 4.92 40 - Louisville (2nd)
OLB Jordan Jenkins, No. 59, 6025 - 257 lbs., 4.64 40 - Georgia (2nd)
ILB Kentrell Brothers, No. 10, 6005 - 249 lbs., 4.86 40 - Missouri (2nd-3rd)
FS Jalen Mills, No. 28, 6001 - 194 lbs., 4.56 40 - LSU (3rd)
SS Jeremy Cash, No. 16, 6007 - 212 lbs., 4.56 40 - Duke (3rd)
DE Shawn Oakman, No. 2, 6074 - 269 lbs., 4.88 40 - Baylor (3rd)
OLB Dadi Lhomme Nicolas, No. 90, 6030 - 235 lbs., 4.58 40 - Virginia Tech (3rd)
OLB Eric Striker, No. 19, 5113 - 228 lbs., 4.68 40 - Oklahoma (3rd)
ILB Antonio Morrison, No. 3, 6010 - 232 lbs., 4.76 40 - Florida (4th)
CB Cyrus Jones, No. 5, 5096 - 196 lbs., 4.53 40 - Alabama (4th-5th)
CB Harlan Miller, No. 1, 6000 - 182 lbs., 4.52 40 - Southeastern Louisiana (4th-5th)