Take out third-year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and this unit would easily receive a D-grade.
Buckner picked up half a sack in Week 4, bringing his season total to four — already one higher than the number he had for the entirety of 2017. If he doesn’t receive Pro Bowl accolades after this season, the league might as well get rid of the selection process altogether.
His linemate, Arik Armstead, has been relatively effective this season, registering 12 quarterback hurries, which is second only to Buckner’s 17.
But therein lies the problem — San Francisco can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks but can’t quite get home.
There’s zero outside pass rush for the Niners. EDGE Cassius Marsh, who was tasked to be the pass-rushing LEO this season, has yet to record a sack. And second-year defensive end Solomon Thomas has yet to come close to living up to being selected No. 3 overall in the NFL Draft.
Buckner. Armstead, to a much lesser extent.
Less heralded than these two, it’s been good to see backup defensive linemen Sheldon Day and Ronald Blair being effective in rotational roles. San Francisco has zero questions with depth along its defensive line.
What Needs Improvement
At this point, it might be time to accept Thomas is going to be little more than just an OK player. Armstead reached that point — someone capable of a flash play or two — but not necessarily a cornerstone piece.
So the Niners hit on just one of their three first-round draft choices for the D-line. Outside of Buckner, there’s almost zero reliable pass rush. And it’s killing the rest of the defense.