No. 1: First Round Defensive Line (Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas)
The 49ers drafted defensive end Arik Armstead in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Then San Francisco drafted defensive end DeForest Buckner in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
The 49ers drafted defensive end Solomon Thomas in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Three straight first rounders spent on the defensive line — and still the pass rush is widely considered the 49ers’ biggest weakness.
Out of the three, only Buckner has stood out as a dominant player, and even he is being slept on by the media.
49ers.com’s Joe Fann summed it up pretty well in this tweet:
However, in order for Buckner to truly get that national recognition, the 49ers front four as a whole will need to get better as a unit.
And believe me, they will.
Armstead has never truly been healthy so far in his professional career and has still racked up 77 total quarterback pressures through the 30 games played in his career. Keep in mind that, in the first 16 games, he was only on the field as a rotational pass-rusher and did not get many reps. His eight games in 2016 were played through a shoulder injury.
Many fans are calling for Armstead to be traded. What do I say? Just give him a break. I was not initially happy with the pick when he was drafted, but he has just been unlucky with the 49ers so far.
Thomas is another name I see who fans are labeling “bust,” which is insane because, first of all, defensive linemen rarely do well their first year and take time to develop. Also, Thomas’ size at the beginning of the 2017 season pales in comparison to his size by the end of his rookie year. I went to two 49ers games in 2017 — the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, where Thomas admittedly did not look like a force in his first career game, and Week 16 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Thomas looked huge (in comparison to Week 1) and constantly gave the Jacksonville offensive line fits.
In short, Thomas will be more than fine and a very possible candidate to break out if he keeps on improving, which really applies to the front four as a whole.
And if the front four does indeed break out, the 49ers will be legitimate contenders. And I don’t say that lightly.