Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players this season looks at UDFA defensive lineman Noble Nwachukwu and his chances to make the 2017 roster.
The San Francisco 49ers have a very deep defensive line entering 2017, and it’s a unit made deeper by the acquisition of undrafted free-agent rookie Noble Nwachukwu.
Nwachukwu spent his college days at West Virginia, where he was a four-year player registering 117 total tackles, 83 of them solo.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive lineman also posted 13 sacks, including 7.5 his junior year, suggesting he offers something of an interior pass rush:
|2013||West Virginia||Big 12||FR||DL||4||4||1||5||1.0||1.0||0||1|
|*2014||West Virginia||Big 12||SO||DL||12||19||12||31||6.5||0.5||4||0|
|*2015||West Virginia||Big 12||JR||DL||11||33||8||41||11.5||7.5||1||1|
|2016||West Virginia||Big 12||SR||DL||12||27||13||40||7.5||4.0||2||1|
Nwachukwu comes from an athletic family, and this type of production helped him earn consideration from a San Francisco front office that has already invested heavily along the defensive line in recent seasons.
While good, this also presents a bit of a problem for the rookie. The D-line is going to be very crowded during training camp. So Nwachukwu is going to have to do more than just prove his value.
Let’s take a look at how the West Virginia product can go about improving his stock, why he may struggle and what to expect this season.
Why He’ll Improve
While his size isn’t exactly ideal for a traditional defensive end, Nwachukwu is able to use his speed to get around blockers and get into the backfield.
He ran a 4.83 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is pretty solid for players of his build.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein broke down some more of his strengths:
"Bursts out of stance and plays with urgency. Rushes with early shoulder turn and generates some speed-to-power. Has quick inside move. Plays with knee bend and excellent pad level. Makes a point of exploding into blocker at first contact. Has cross-face quickness for disruption into gaps against run."
Some of these positive attributes can be seen in this DraftBreakdown.com video below:
Speed rushers, especially from interior positions, are prized commodities at the NFL level. And it looks as if Nwachukwu has the ability to vary his rushes as well.
Why He’ll Regress
It’s impossible to overlook Nwachukwu’s size, or lack thereof, and exactly where he’d fit in an NFL defense.
He’s nowhere near the size required for 3-4 defensive ends, and he’s not exactly a size fit for what we’d assume to be San Francisco’s 4-3 ends either. And he’s still a tweener type when looking at a potential fit as an EDGE.
While there is some variety to his pass-rushing moves, these may not go over nearly as well at the pro level.
Zierlein pointed out how Nwachukwu has some difficulty disengaging from blockers, and that’s something viewed in the video above.
What to Expect in 2017
Solomon Thomas, taken in Round 1 of the NFL Draft, capped off a plethora of moves made by the Niners to address their D-line this offseason.
This crowded position means Nwachukwu will have an uphill battle to earn one of the final roster spots San Francisco likely holds open for this group. And while his size works against him, some feel as if Nwachukwu’s chances aren’t that bad.
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For example, SFGate.com’s Kevin Lynch felt as if Nwachukwu would be a player with the best chance to make the roster, writing, “Looking at him on film, you wonder how he slipped out of the draft. He’s quick, slippery, and has a sense for where the ball is.”
This is a great commendation, and one can hope the unteachable traits are good enough to secure him a roster spot.
But most likely, Nwachukwu’s best chances to hang around this season would be on the practice squad — a reserve option if the 49ers need to add reinforcements to the D-line this season.