Editor's note: The video above is former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis announcing his retirement in March, 2015
Super Bowl 50 featured four special interior defenders in Brandon Marshall, Danny Trevathan, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, which only highlights the importance of the inside linebacker position.
In this upcoming draft, teams will be looking for that next star - a nucleus for the middle of their defense.
Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is a player with that potential, and he drew a lofty comparison two weeks before the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
"He kind of reminds me of a young Patrick Willis in terms of his ability to play in the middle of a 3-4 defense," NFL Network's Bucky Brooks said on NFL HQ.
Smith was the heart of the Fighting Irish defense for three seasons, and in his final year his squad finished 10-3 under Brian Kelly.
The roaming linebacker in 2015 registered 115 total tackles, nine tackles for loss and a sack. Smith also added five pass deflections, a forced fumble and two recoveries.
"(He'll) make plays, communicate all the calls, and do all the things you look for from that position," Brooks added. "A natural leader. He's a guy that I think is going to be a star. If not for the injury, I think we're talking about a top-five talent."
Smith tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl in what was his final NCAA game.
"Smith is an all-time athlete, a guy you absolutely love. He's a thumper in the middle, he can run from sideline to sideline. He's very violent in his play, a guy that I believe is a three-down linebacker, very versatile."
[RELATED: 49ers' 2015-16 NFL Scouting Tracker]
The two are comparable as far as a presence in the middle. In terms of size, Smith (6'3, 229 lbs) lists taller than Willis (6'1, 242), but not as heavy.
Willis, a two-time first-team All-American at Ole Miss, was also the Dick Butkus Award Winner - an award Smith took home for his efforts this season. Recent winners include UCLA's Erick Kendricks (2014), Alabama's C.J. Mosley (2013), Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (2012), Boston College's Luke Kuechly (2011) and Texas A&M's Von Miller (2010).
Of course Willis, after being selected No. 11 overall in 2007, went on to have an illustrious career with the San Francisco 49ers. He made seven Pro Bowl visits and on five occasions was named a first-team All-Pro, as he manned one of the league's most-feared defenses.
Willis, 30, retired from professional football in March after eight NFL seasons.