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Under-the-radar Senior Bowl prospects that could go in Round 1


MOBILE, Ala. -- Take a close look at Kyler Fackrell in the Reese's Senior Bowl this week.

You just might be looking at a first-round draft pick.

Date: Saturday, Jan. 30
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network

2016 Reese's Senior Bowl coverage:


The Utah State linebacker is garnering an increasing amount of attention from NFL scouts, and while he might not come from a brand-name college program, his draft value isn't suffering for it. He's one of many prospects from smaller schools -- be they FCS or Group of Five teams -- whom NFL scouts are buzzing about. The Senior Bowl, which will be broadcast live exclusively on NFL Network on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET, is Fackrell's first and perhaps best chance to solidify his place as one of the top defensive players in the 2016 NFL Draft.

"He missed some time with an injury as a junior, but I felt like if he came back and had a good senior year, he'd be a good candidate down here," said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage. "You hear some talk that he could potentially be in first-round consideration. I think he's definitely in the class of guys that could get a potential (NFL) starter grade. We'll see where he goes from there over the next few months."

Over the last few months, he's done plenty. Fackrell (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), a pass-rushing linebacker suited to a 3-4 defense, was the Aggies' second-leading tackler with 82 on the season, with 15 tackles for loss, four sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. In Mobile, however, things are more complicated for Fackrell. Senior Bowl defenses operate in a 4-3 look, so Fackrell is being asked to play the strong-side linebacker position this week in an unfamiliar scheme. Between that and the competition, there is plenty to work on.

"Striking, getting off blocks, I'm always trying to gain weight and mass in my upper body," Fackrell said. "So shedding blocks is something I want to work on. The advantage to my game is speed and an ability to play in space."

Fackrell is ranked as the draft's 24th-best prospect by NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein, and he's No. 28 on NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah's list of the draft's top 50 prospects. The Senior Bowl is rife with buzz about North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. Here are four other small-school prospects competing in Mobile that have a chance to prove themselves worthy of first-round consideration:


Draft coverage:

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: The former Ohio State standout who was banned from the Big Ten had a great senior season at EKU and reportedly has overcome his off-field struggles to re-emerge as a draft prospect. He was a thorn in the side of South offensive tackles Tuesday in pass-rush drills, and ranks No. 31 Jeremiah's top 50.

Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah: The hard-hitting safety could fit in the NFL as a weakside linebacker or a strong safety, according to Jeremiah, who ranks Killebrew No. 33 in his list of the draft's top 50 prospects. Killebrew showed good awareness in practice Tuesday and will compete for reps with some tough competition, including Duke safety Jeremy Cash and LSU's Jalen Mills.

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs' defensive tackle has been a popular target for personal interviews with NFL clubs this week, and showed why during practice on Tuesday. He has the athleticism, size (6-4, 325 pounds), and the long arms to shed blockers quickly. Butler is ranked as the No. 28 prospect in the draft by Zierlein and is 37th in Jeremiah's top-50 rankings.

Willie Beavers, OG, Western Michigan: NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt sees Beavers as a potential NFL regular. Brandt says he thinks Beavers will be the next surprise from the Mid-American Conference, following 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and 2014 No. 5 overall pick Khalil Mack (Buffalo).

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.



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