Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 continues with a look at edge rusher Aaron Lynch and what he’ll face this season.
For the second time in as many years, San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Aaron Lynch showed up to camp overweight.
The story, of course, first reported by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s Grant Cohn.
Lynch, who had such a productive rookie year, after being taken by the Niners in Round 5 back in 2014, saw a dramatic drop-off last season:
Lynch’s 2016 campaign was marred by a four-game suspension and injury, so we have to take that into account. But showing up roughly 20 pounds overweight to the opening phases of camp isn’t exactly the best way to impress San Francisco’s new regime.
Still, the Niners aren’t exactly in a position to be picky with their pass rush.
The 24-year-old Lynch remains one of the primary candidates to assume the LEO role in San Francisco’s 4-3 defense. Yes, the 49ers added veteran pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil recently. And moving defensive end Arik Armstead over to this position creates some competition.
But Lynch, if he gets the weight down, might still be the most promising out of the group.
What should we expect out of him this season?
Why He’ll Improve
In spite of the weight concerns, Lynch still seems to have the trust of San Francisco’s brass, especially head coach Aaron Lynch.
Let’s assume, for a moment, Lynch is able to get the weight under control and is down to the 250- or 260-pound range.
Switching to a 4-3 and letting Lynch rush off the edge looks like the perfect fit. And he shouldn’t have too much an issue adapting to nickel packages either, as this play (h/t Dylan DeSimone) shows:
Remaining potential aside, there’s also another real reason why Lynch should see a major bounce back in 2016.
The Niners have invested heavily in their defensive line over the past three years. With standout linemen DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas on his left flank, Lynch should be able to exploit wider gaps and fewer blockers this upcoming season.
This could mean a drastic increase in production and, possibly, reaching double-digit sacks in what looks to be an up-and-coming 49ers defense.
Why He’ll Regress
While it’s nice to assume Lynch will handle his weight concerns, it still remains the proverbial “elephant in the room.”
It was a problem back in 2016 as well. And Lynch never found his footing after serving a four-game suspension to start the year, due to a failed drug test. Combined with an ankle injury late in the year, Lynch was only able to register 1.5 sacks — a career low.
Another problem to look at is Lynch’s struggles against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, Lynch registered a lowly 44.4 run-defense grade in 2016, which was the lowest among all San Francisco edge defenders.
This might not be as big a problem as it seems, since the 49ers may elect to feature Lynch solely in pass-defense formations. And being in better shape should help too.
But Dumervil’s pickup is a pretty good indication the Niners aren’t totally convinced Lynch can get back on the right track.
What to Expect in 2017
Lynch hits a contract year this season, so that should provide some extra motivation. But the mere $49,500 in dead money, if he’s cut, means San Francisco won’t have any second thoughts about letting him go if it’s warranted.
Still, the 49ers pass rush was one of a number of areas not wholly addressed before the Dumervil signing.
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And teams can never have too many pass-rushers.
Lynch’s job this season looks safe, although it seems as if he’s relegated to the strong bubble and not quite a lock to make the 53-man roster after the preseason.
If Lynch is able to lose the weight, we should expect a solid increase in production from the still-young EDGE.
This would be the best-case scenario for San Francisco too. The Niners would love to have a better-than-average pass-rusher, who is still young, in a position to make an impact for the defense over the next few seasons.
Lynch could still be that guy, although he’s reached a point where he has to prove it.