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North team defensive prospects in the 2018 Senior Bowl

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Taking a look into some players that may fill needs for the 49ers on the defensive side of the ball

Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Senior Bowl practices are set to get underway today so it’s time to start highlighting the players to watch in this Saturday’s game. Considering the success of several of last year’s participants at the NFL level, this game can serve as a precursor for looming breakout candidates next season. The goal today is to isolate a few players on the defensive side of the ball that could step in and improve our squad in 2018.

Last year the San Francisco 49ers were able to land multiple year-long contributors from the 2017 Senior Bowl. Both Trent Taylor and C.J. Beathard had noticeable roles in the teams turnaround from the prior season. Taylor may have found himself a starting role going forward, while Beathard should serve as a solid backup to Jimmy Garoppolo for years to come. With various needs on both sides of the ball, the 49ers will look to hit gold again in this years game, that will feature more than a few high profile prospects on the defensive side of the ball.

I welcome your input in the comments below or on Twitter. I’m sure some of you are fans of these respective teams, and have added insight on these players.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/OLB, Oklahoma

Measurements : 6’1, 240lbs. Est. 40 time - 4.71
2017 Stats : 14 Games Started, 47 Tackles, 17.5 TFL, 8.0 Sacks, 2 PBU, 3 FF

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was the defensive leader on a Oklahoma team that reached the semi-finals this year. Listed at only 6’1 some may question his size for the next level but he makes up for that in other ways. Possessing a multitude of pass rush moves and a heck of a bend around the edge makes him somewhat of a hybrid for the NFL. His weight is yet to be determined so what he comes into the combine at could change how teams look at him. The knock on him is that at his current size and length he may struggle in run coverage at the next level where the tackles are 300lbs on average. When asked to sit back in coverage he held his own so he is not a one trick pony.

The 49ers are in pretty big need of pass rush help and Okoronkwo is an intriguing target. None of us really know exactly what Robert Saleh wants from both his SAM and LEO positions but I’d venture to guess Eli Harold and Arik Armstead are not the solution. Okoronkwo is the type of player who could step into the lineup and give us some flexibility. Size isn’t everything as our own Elvis Dumervil has made a living getting to the qb. He could serve as an excellent mentor to Okoronkwo who already has quite the arsenal of pass rush moves but will need to learn how to best use his body against larger NFL opponents.

I expect Okoronkwo to have a solid showing at the Senior Bowl this week and measure out really well at the combine. It really just comes down to what teams view him as from a position standpoint. If he slides a bit he will go down as a value pick in this draft. Pass rushers still come at a premium though so I believe the need will keep his draft stock high nonetheless.

Round Projection - Late 1st - Early 2nd

Garret Dooley, OLB, Wisconsin

Measurements : 6’3, 246 lbs. Est. 40 time - 4.80
2017 Stats : 14 Games Started, 41 Tackles, 12 TFL, 7.5 Sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF

Not exactly on the same level as T.J. Watt, Dooley became a starter this year and was overall solid for the Badgers. The word I would use to describe him is reliable. He managed to put up some nice numbers but by no means is a menace as a pass rusher. Lacking bend makes it hard to envision him as an edge rusher at the next level. However, he may find himself switching position to ILB in the NFL where his instincts could really shine. As far as strength and size he has a nice blend that has served him well. A great game this Saturday could move him up a lot of draft boards come April.

Last year San Francisco suffered more than a few injuries in their linebacker group. The untimely loss of Malcolm Smith and eventual release of NaVorro Bowman made us very thin throughout the year. Dooley could serve as a late round flier that could contribute on special teams and provide solid depth. I view him as a high character, high motor player who will work his tail off to make an NFL roster.

Round Projection - 6th

Duke Dawson, CB, Florida

Measurements : 5’10, 202 lbs. Est 40 time - 4.55
2017 Stats : 11 Games Started, 23 Tackles, 2 TFL, 4 INT, 9 PBU, 1 TD

One of the players I’m very excited to see this weekend is Duke Dawson. His best fit in the NFL will be as a nickel corner where he played for the Gators. Dawson had a heck of a game when matched up against Christian Kirk , a top WR prospect in this draft, earlier this year. Between his ball skills and instincts Dawson possesses the necessary skills to thrive in the NFL.

Regardless of what happens in free agency the 49ers are likely to add some more depth at corner. Although K’Waun Williams has done a solid job at the nickel position, the lack of bodies behind him is concerning. Dawson could challenge him early, and give us options should the injury bug strike again next year. There are better highlights films on him out there, but let’s just say the music choice on them isn’t ideal for this article.

Round Projection - 3rd round

Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

Measurements : 6’3, 250 lbs. Est 40 time - 4.74
2017 Stats : 8 Games Started, 38 Tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 2 PBU

Outside of Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen I don’t think there is a player in the Senior Bowl that will be studied as hard as Harold Landry. Landry has a skill set which had him poised to be a top 15 pick coming out of the 2016 season, after leading the nation with 16.5 sacks. It’s hard to deny his ability to get to the passer but missing out on critical games this season has done him no favors. Often facing double teams and chips during games hurt his stat line as well. That being said his long arms, speed, and ability to bend around the edge are what all teams seek at the next level.

Landry projects to be just what the 49ers covet at their LEO position on the line. A big body that can get after the quarterback but hold his own on running downs. Having played the spot in the 4-3 at Boston College only helps the matter. Going off his 2016 tape we would all be happy to have him, but seeing a drop-off in production in 2017 gives reason for pause. Landry is hoping to prove doubters wrong this week at the Senior Bowl but his greatest ally may be the Combine. Assuming his ankle is all healed he could leave a lasting impressive on scouts with some gaudy numbers.

Round Projection - 1st round

Marcus Allen, S, Penn State

Measurements : 6’2, 207 lbs. Est 40 time - 4.55
2017 Stats : 13 Games Started, 71 Tackles, 4 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FF

With quite a few promising Safety prospects coming out this year, Marcus Allen is not getting nearly enough attention. The vocal leader of the Nittany Lion defense had another solid year in 2017 to finish out his collegiate career. While not the same type of athlete as Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick , Allen showcased his versatility often on defense. Named Defensive MVP of the Nittany Lions, Allen showed high character and dedication until his last snap. The god son of NFL stud Curtis Martin, Allen looks to be a early contributor at the next level.

Despite the rise of Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt this past year there are still questions at safety for the 49ers. Eric Reid is a pending free agent and Jimmie Ward can’t seem to stay healthy and may slide back to playing corner. With so much emphasis being put on the safeties in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense it’s hard to say we are set at the position. Reid played well this year but being moved to LB because of other injuries on the team didn’t help solidify his role as a safety going forward. I’m of the opinion he won’t be back with the team and his leadership and ability needs to be replaced. Allen projects as more of a Free Safety at the NFL level which could match up well with Tartt who originally was viewed as a Strong Safety. It seems lazy to say it but I can’t help but think John Lynch is still working towards his dream secondary, so I’m not ruling out a early pick at safety in the draft either. Free agency will show a good amount of our hand going forward but as of now it’s something to consider.

Round Projection - 2nd

Additional players to keep on eye on at the Senior Bowl that don’t represent as much of a need or team fit for the 49ers :

Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford

6’4 295lbs - 2017 Stats - 102 Tackles, 16.5 TFL, 7 Sacks, 2 FF

Kyzir White, S, West Virginia

6’2 216lbs - 2017 Stats - 94 Tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 INT, 1 Sack, 4 PBU, 2 FF

Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State

6’4 265lbs - 2017 Stats - 20 Tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 Sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FF