Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers list of needs is long. That list begins with finding an edge rusher, the last component they need to fill on their defensive line.
When examining this San Francisco 49ers roster, one finds that there are upgrades needed at various positions.
San Francisco did pick up Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin in free agency, but these 49ers wide receivers still don’t instill that much threat.
The quarterback issue has yet to be truly resolved, as newly acquired Brian Hoyer is viewed by many as a stop-gap option, not a long-term solution.
San Francisco 49ers
One issue that didn’t receive any attention in the offseason was the edge-rusher position, where the Niners lack a certified and trustworthy choice.
There’s Aaron Lynch, who has shown glimpses of playmaking ability, but ultimately has yet to establish consistency on the field. Injuries, combined with off-field issues, have stunted part of his development. He’s still young, just 24 years old, so there’s that working in his favor.
As well as Lynch, there’s Tank Carradine. Formerly a second-round pick, the Florida State product has failed to live up to expectations during his time in San Francisco.
He’s started just one game in three seasons and has recorded a grand total of 40 tackles. While Carradine has reportedly slimmed down his weight, and the edge-rushing spot would be reminiscent of how he was used in college, there is little reason to think the 28-year-old former collegiate star will make any significant jump.
This is a position San Francisco needs to nail down. Dubbed as “LEO,” the right defensive end spot is where the 49ers will line up their best pass-rusher. In their anticipated new 4-3 scheme, implemented by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, the Niners defensive line will look like this:
- Left Defensive End | Left Defensive Tackle | Right Defensive Tackle | Right Defensive End
Arik Armstead is slotted for left defensive end, DeForest Buckner at left defensive tackle, free-agent signing Earl Mitchell at right defensive tackle and currently Lynch at right defensive end.
The 49ers already have three of the four positions solidified. Armstead is a fine option, while Buckner is showing promise and upside that is tantalizing. Mitchell is a veteran and has proven himself to be a competent player.
One more piece, and the Niners could have an impact defensive line in their hands.
And’s that an objective that needs to be at the top of the San Francisco front office’s priorities.
One of the biggest reasons why the 49ers were so dominant during the Jim Harbaugh era was their front seven.
Fueled by the likes of Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald on the D-line, the San Francisco defense was a force to be reckoned with. It was the catalyst for those great teams, as the line of scrimmage was consistently dominated by the Niners.
If San Francisco yearns to get back to that, it begins there.
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Sitting at No. 2 in the NFL Draft, finding an edge rusher is tricky for San Francisco. There’s the seemingly consensus-overall top player in EDGE Myles Garrett, but the Cleveland Browns are right ahead at No. 1 and have every reason to select him.
There’s been chatter about Solomon Thomas going to the 49ers at No. 2. But he was never a true edge rusher in college and presents overlap with Armstead and Buckner.
After that, any other player at No. 2 might be considered a reach. Here are the other edge rushers the Niners may be looking at:
- Rounds 1-2: Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt
- Later rounds: Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, Alabama’s Ryan Anderson, Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers, Eastern Washington’s Samson Ebukam
San Francisco has a long way to go before it can return to be a consistent competitor. But this roster isn’t as far as way from competing as most think. The defensive unit is a few upgrades away from being an entirely capable unit.