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49ers roster breakdowns, 90-in-90: DE Noble Nwachukwu

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today: UDFA DE Noble Nwachukwu

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.

Of all the position groups, the defensive line is the 49ers most stacked. That’s no surprise with the team’s last three first-round picks on the D-line, two of them in the top ten. So it’s quite an honor for UDFA Noble Nwachukwu that the Niners signed him, but it will also be very tough for him to crack the roster, especially as a tweener squarely in between the sizes of prototypical 3-4 DEs, 4-3 edge rushers, 3-4 linebackers and 4-3 DEs.

But this son of two immigrants from Nigeria overachieved in college too. Stoic and downright quiet off the field, he’s explosive and powerful during games. Despite not playing football until his junior year in high school, he learned quickly enough to notch 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss his junior year. A quieter senior year (with 4 sacks, 7.5 TFL) due in part to nagging injuries, along with his size, dropped him below late round draft projections.

He’s widely praised for his character. Last October, his father died suddenly just 22 hours before a big game against TCU. Nwachukwu responded with 3 tackles, 2 TFL and a sack before going home to join his family in Texas.

Basic info

Age: 22 (turns 23 on November 30, 2017)
Experience: Rookie
Height: 6’1
Weight: 268 lbs
Arm Length: 33 1/8”
Hands: 9”
40-yard dash: 4.83 (Combine)
Vertical jump: 30 1/2”
Bench press: 27 reps x 225 lbs.
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.52
3-Cone Drill: 7.33 (Pro Day)

Scouting reports

6-2, 275

West Virginia

Appeared in 47 games (38 starts) during his five years (2012-16) at West Virginia, finishing his career with 126 tackles, 29.5 TFLs, 15.5 sacks, 7 PDs, 3 FFs and 1 FR. As a senior in 2016, led the team with 4.0 sacks and finished with 40 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 2 PDs, 1 FF and 1 FR. In 2015, started all 13 games for the second-consecutive season and tallied 47 tackles, 13 TFLs and a team-high 8.5 sacks, 1 PD and 1 FF 2.0 sacks, 3.0 TFLs, 1 INT and 1 FR. As a sophomore, started 13 games and notched 34 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 4 PDs and 2.0 sacks. Appeared in 9 games in 2013, finishing with 5 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack and 1 FF. Redshirted in 2012. Attended Wylie (TX) HS, where he was a two-time unanimous first-team all-district 10-4A defense member. As a senior in 2011, registered 53 tackles, 8 TFLs and 1 FF. Born 11/30/94 in Wylie, TX

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Nwachukwu played all four years for the Mountaineers and was productive for the final three. He finished his career with 117 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. His pre-draft profile projected him as a fifth-sixth round pick and called him “agile and explosive.”

Why he might succeed in the NFL

Nwachukwu is explosive off the ball, with good twitch, considerable strength and the ability to drop into pass coverage. He’s a good tackler and has a high motor. Given his late start in the game and physical gifts, he has considerable upside.

Why he might not

He’s just not NFL size, not only his height but also his short arms and tiny, Goff-like hands.

Odds of making the roster

It looks like the 49ers would at least consider allotting one roster (or practice squad) slot for an undersized, high-motor pass rusher with upside. You can tell because they picked up two this spring — Nwachukwu and 6th round pick Pita Taumoepenu. It’s extremely unlikely they’ll keep both, so Noble’s first task is outpacing Pita T, who is 25 pounds lighter, a quarter inch taller, and ran a 4.67 40 yard dash compared to Nwachukwu’s 4.83. Taumoepenu had nine sacks against tougher PAC-12 competition his senior year and has much better times in the short shuttle and 3-cone drills as well.

If neither makes the 53-man roster, Pita T. is more likely to be claimed by other teams, which might be Nwachukwu’s best hope to stick with the Niners — on the practice squad.