For a better look at the 49ers’ roster and their NFL Draft needs, we’re taking a daily look at position groups. Today’s offering: Defensive line.
Starters: Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones. Backups: Samson Ebukam, Dee Ford, Zach Kerr, Kevin Givens, Kentavius Street, Jordan Willis, Darrion Daniels, Alex Barrett, Daeshon Hall, Josiah Coatney.
Bosa (knee) and Ford (back) are coming off serious injuries, and although Bosa’s rehabilitation looks on track for the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 49ers must be cautious with his workload. Ford’s comeback, if there is one, will be a bonus, hence the addition in free agency of edge rusher Samson Ebukam, and this week’s visit by Raiders’ castoff Arden Key.
The 49ers need to reestablish a dominant defense through their front line, and last year showed how debilitating injuries can be to their depth, so they need to discover extra pass rushers off the edge, which also allows Armstead to shift from base end to an interior rusher.
Kinlaw is coming off a decent yet under-the-radar year as their top pick, and Jones’ return in free agency was a pleasant surprise. Again, the 49ers don’t just need depth, they need starter-caliber backups in light of their injury curse from recent seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“Everybody understands that we’re a better football team when Dee’s out there. He’s an impactful player. He’s the finisher. He’s pretty emblematic of a lot of the issues that plagued our team (in 2020). … I can’t tell you with absolute, that yeah, he’s going to be ready. We’re working hard and he is working hard to try to get there.” – General manager John Lynch on Ford, Jan. 4.
With the 49ers focused on their next franchise quarterback at No. 3 overall, at least we know they won’t be using their top pick on a defensive lineman, something they’d done in five of their past six drafts. They hit on Bosa but got only got six career sacks out of 2017 No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas, who’s signed in March with the Raiders.
This draft isn’t loaded with top-notch edge rushers so, quality options still could be available at No. 43 in the second round after teams load up on quarterbacks, wide receivers and cornerbacks.
The 49ers’ ideal defensive linemen are either versatile (see: Armstead) or lightning quick off the edge (see: Ford). Enough of their current backups can play multiple spots, so look for them to pursue a quicker edge rusher, a description that fits Azeez Ojulari (Georgia), Kwity Paye (Michigan), Jaelan Phillips (Miami), Gregory Rousseau (Miami), Jayson Oweh (Penn State) and Joseph Ossai (Texas).
None of those could still be there by the 49ers’ second-round pick. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah suggested Ronnie Perkins (Oklahoma), Joe Tryon (Washington) and Payton Turner (Houston). Others on the radar: Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh) and Carlos Basham Jr. (Wake Forest). Ojulari tore an ACL his senior year in high school, but so did Bosa.
A versatile end is also a coveted commodity the 49ers got out of Kerry Hyder Jr., who left in free agency for Seattle.
Zeandae Johnson (Cal)
Thomas Schaffer (Stanford)
PRIORITY (Scale: 1 to 10): 2
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