Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players takes a look at second-year pro Pita Taumoepenu and what he needs to do to make the 53-man roster in 2018.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ pass rush was a major problem in 2017, as the Niners finished tied for 26th with just 30 sacks.
One of general manager John Lynch’s hopeful solutions was to grab former Utah EDGE Pita Taumoepenu in that year’s NFL Draft — selected in Round 6, No. 202 overall.
While raw, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Taumoepenu fits the bill for a prototypical edge rusher in coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense. Saleh likes his edge benders to be on the shorter side, using speed and agility above brute strength.
And while Taumoepenu was a non-factor his rookie year, the 49ers hope he can start to develop into the kind of player who registered nine sacks his senior year in college.
Despite the Niners’ clear need in the pass rush last year, Taumoepenu ended up being active just two games and not even being on the field for a single snap.
That could change in 2018, though, particularly after San Francisco elected to part ways with its best pass-rusher last year, Elvis Dumervil.
And while there’s competition remaining for an EDGE role in training camp, Taumoepenu will have to show how much he’s come along in his development.
Here’s how he’ll go about it.
Why Pita Taumoepenu Improves in 2018
Despite being a bit undersized for a true EDGE, Taumoepenu has solid speed and excellent explosiveness for the position. He ran a 4.67 40-yard time at his NFL Scouting Combine and also backed it up with an impressive 4.68 time in his three-cone drill.
The combination of both speed and agility should do him some good. Remember, Saleh’s defense doesn’t call for sheer power off the edge.
And you can get the idea of his nonstop motor from the highlight reel below:
Putting Taumoepenu into obvious pass-rush situations, where opponents stack just five blockers along the line of scrimmage, would play to his benefit. He wouldn’t have the strength to overcome multiple blockers. But an increase in one-on-one workloads should do him a lot of good.
Why He Regresses
While Taumoepenu showcased some decent counter and inside moves during his collegiate days, his overall pass-rush skill set is pretty limited.
The 49ers new he was raw when they drafted him. And there’s only the slightest of chances he’ll ever emerge into a true three-down player. Plus, with a limited sample size, it’s probably best he doesn’t get featured into any sort of run-stopping formations.
San Francisco 49ers
But the biggest knock against him will be his size. Taumoepenu’s frame likely won’t be able to add much more effective muscle, meaning his body type is about as good as it gets right now. And while his speed and agility will do him some good, above-average blockers won’t have too much difficulty preventing him from getting into the pocket.
Any of these negative traits will hurt Taumoepenu’s overall stock value this season.
Chances of Making the 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2018
The Niners added former Los Angeles Chargers EDGE Jeremiah Attaochu in free agency this offseason. Combined with on-roster EDGE Cassius Marsh, San Francisco hopes to have found its two featured pass-rushers for 2018.
With just 16 combined sacks between the two, it’s far from ideal. And that should help Taumoepenu’s chances of cracking the regular-season roster.
Teams can never have too many pass-rushers anyway.
But a lot of what Taumoepenu will have to do this season will be on special teams. An ability to provide some gunner impact there will drastically reduce the risk of him being cut after the preseason.
Right now, Taumoepenu looks to be on the strong side of the bubble. He still has to showcase some noted improvement over last year, lending credence to the idea he’s a “draft and develop” project. That’s what sixth- and seventh-round draft picks are typically for anyway.
If he succeeds, even if it’s just in a situational role, the Niners defense will be all the better because of it.