Niner Noise continues its annual “Who Is?” assessment on 2017 San Francisco 49ers players. In this installment, we take a look at veteran defensive tackle Quinton Dial.
Ever since he was taken by the San Francisco 49ers in Round 5 of the 2013 NFL Draft, defensive tackle Quinton Dial has quietly been one of the unsung heroes of the Niners defense.
Dial, just 26 years old, finally started to have an impact his second season. And by 2015, he was a regular starter and has held down defensive line duties ever since.
In 2016, Pro Football Focus gave Dial a 68.2 overall grade — not particularly great but second best among San Francisco interior defenders behind second-year pro DeForest Buckner (77.2).
San Francisco 49ers
Injuries also held Dial to just 14 games last season, but he still managed to register 24 tackles on the year.
The scenery and supporting cast has changed this year though. Even though Dial can play both the nose and defensive tackle positions, general manager John Lynch has already made moves that may keep Dial down on the depth chart.
Free-agent nose tackle Earl Mitchell likely starts in 2017. And other D-linemen like Buckner, Arik Armstead and rookie Solomon Thomas round out the starting cast in a base front.
Even the depth could push Dial down a bit further. Defensive tackle Ronald Blair flashed some moments last season, and don’t be surprised if rookie D.J. Jones emerges as the primary nose backup.
So how will Dial figure into San Francisco’s plans this year?
Why He’ll Improve
Even though he may not be a starter this year, Dial is still hitting the prime of his career.
And even though the previous regime under former general manager Trent Baalke may make Niners fans cringe, this group saw enough of Dial to reward him with a contract extension expiring after 2019.
An upgraded defensive line could also play to Dial’s benefit. This unit was shorthanded last year, forcing Dial into a regular starter’s role. Tack on the fact Dial may work better in a defensive end role than at nose, and we may see him perform a bit better against the run as well.
Dial has the ability to work within either a 3-4 or 4-3 base scheme. While there may not be a notable change, Dial’s abilities may translate better over to the Niners’ new 4-3 defense.
Why He’ll Regress
Dial has been a reliable, if not overly stellar, member of a bad 49ers defense the last two seasons. He’s shown an ability to be serviceable, although that may not be enough for Lynch and Co. to work him into a long-term plan.
Sure, Dial’s contract terms likely mean he’ll stick on San Francisco’s roster for the foreseeable future. But it wouldn’t be a shock to see him lose playing time to some younger, more promising members of the 49ers defense.
The entirety of San Francisco’s defense was bad against the run last year. But this isn’t one of Dial’s strengths, even on a revamped defense.
Teams may test the 49ers’ run defense early this season. And if Dial isn’t equal to the challenge — especially shedding blocks and getting to the outside — his depth-chart stock may fall.
What to Expect in 2017
Dial won’t be going anywhere after training camp. San Francisco has its starters in place, most likely, and the team has added depth.
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But guys like Blair and Jones are still developing, and Dial has the edge when it comes to experience and being a regularly reliable player.
In all likelihood, Dial is a rotational player and first man off the bench in the event of injury. His versatility makes him a useful commodity to back up any of the four D-line spots and even serve as a regular player in nickel formations.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Dial’s numbers increase too, especially his PFF grades. With the Niners upgrading the defense, the former Alabama product should have plenty of help in 2017.