49ers’ 2018 ‘Who Is?’ series: EDGE Cassius Marsh

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Russell Wilson #75 of the Seattle Seahawks is tackled by Cassius Marsh #54 of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Russell Wilson #75 of the Seattle Seahawks is tackled by Cassius Marsh #54 of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers are putting their pass-rushing faith in EDGE Cassius Marsh this upcoming season. Niner Noise’s 2018 “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

There’s one person who benefited from a weak 2018 offseason EDGE class — San Francisco 49ers EDGE Cassius Marsh.

A year ago, the Niners were tied for 26th with just 30 sacks. Free agency didn’t provide any top-tier options, and the NFL Draft was also pretty thin with options.

Instead of reaching, general manager John Lynch and Co. elected to forego outside pass-rushing options and focus more on their on-roster players heading towards the regular season.

Marsh, whom the 49ers claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots a year ago, hasn’t exactly been known as a prototypical pass-rusher. Ever since entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks back in 2014, Marsh has accumulated a mere six sacks and 48 tackles:

Cassius Marsh Defense & Fumbles Table
3 yr3 yrSEA371101003.025164
1 yr1 yrNWE91100001.01422
1 yr1 yrSFO60200002.0911

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/11/2018.

Not exactly the kind of stats a team would ideally like to have for such a crucial position. But there are reasons to believe Marsh will make some serious headway with San Francisco this upcoming season.

Let’s take a look at how it can happen.

Why Cassius Marsh Improves in 2018

Marsh reportedly hated his time with the Patriots, who frequently used him more as a coverage linebacker than a traditional pass-rusher.

Over his six games with San Francisco, Marsh accumulated two sacks. More importantly, though, Marsh managed to get a good deal of pressure in his limited time on the field. Of a total 135 pass-rush snaps in 2017, Marsh had 16 total quarterback pressures for a pass-rush productivity rating of 9.3, per Pro Football Focus — highest among all Niners edge defenders.

Those numbers are, by no means, elite. But they’re quality for a situational pass-rusher. And considering he spent three seasons in a Seahawks defense nearly identical to what San Francisco operates now, there shouldn’t be any adjustment period.

Perhaps that’s why the 49ers inked Marsh to a two-year contract extension earlier this offseason. They appear to have confidence in his abilities, and all signs point to him being excited to have finally found a set job.

Why He Regresses

Even though Marsh flashed moments of promise with the Niners last season, he’s far from an elite pass-rushing player.

Those are hard to find, of course, so it’s not as if we should hold that against him. In a rotational role, Marsh would be a solid body. But San Francisco is likely going to ask him to be the primary EDGE in obvious passing situations when the 49ers are utilizing sub packages.

This might not always play to his strengths either. According to PFF, Marsh actually graded out better against the run (69.1) than in the pass rush (46.5).

A possible explanation of this could be Marsh’s relative lack of speed. He ran a 4.89 40-yard time at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, which isn’t particularly great for the position. The best edge benders have the ability to use speed and quickness to get around outside blockers and converge on opponents’ quarterbacks.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

Marsh’s lack of speed likely points to it being easier to “wait for a runner” and react instead of initiating the action.

If this becomes commonplace for Marsh and the 49ers defense, don’t expect the team’s lowly sack totals to increase much this season.

What to Expect with the 49ers in 2018

Marsh is in an excellent position to crack the Niners’ 53-man roster in 2018. We shouldn’t have any concerns there.

The only question, though, is exactly what role he holds this year.

In base downs, Marsh likely gives up the LEO edge spot to second-year defender Solomon Thomas. But Thomas will end up bumping inside in sub packages, opening up pass-rushing opportunities for Marsh.

He has yet to cement himself as a reliable pass-rusher, which leads one to believe the Niners will use a rotation here.

This will cut down on Marsh’s snap count this upcoming season, and subsequently his sack totals, but it also keeps him fresh and should help bolster his overall pass-rush productivity.

We shouldn’t expect lofty sack totals, which is the number that ultimately counts. Projecting somewhere between six and eight sacks sounds about reasonable.

Next: Where will the 49ers supply their pass rush in 2018?

Provided Marsh can build upon the limited promise he flashed with the Niners during the second half of 2017.