Thomas, of course, struggled early before finally seeing time on the inside (his natural spot) down the stretch. The Niners would be wise to keep him there moving forward even if he’ll never live up to being the No. 3 overall pick from 2017.
Armstead, meanwhile, quietly put together his best season as a pro. It helped being fully healthy, too. And while 3.0 sacks don’t suggest a monster year, per se, he was a force against the run and finished as San Francisco’s second-best defender behind Buckner, according to Pro Football Focus.
Regarding those run-stopping abilities, the 49ers will have to consider if keeping Armstead on his fully guaranteed fifth-year option is worth the hefty cost. Especially when the Niners face Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson and a resurgent Seattle Seahawks ground attack each twice a year.
Overall, San Francisco allowed an average of 4.1 yards per carry this season — seventh best in the NFL. So, give credit where it’s due to this unit.
The biggest star, of course, was Buckner. He shattered his 2017 sack totals with 12.0 this season and might be the best interior defender in the NFL not named Aaron Donald.
If there is a knock against the 49ers defensive line, it’s in the pass rush. Sure, the Niners managed 175 quarterback pressures in 2018. But they only had 37 sacks on the year, which ranked 22nd.
EDGE Cassius Marsh, who occupied the premier outside pass-rushing LEO spot in Robert Saleh’s defense, had 5.5 on the season. Yet it’s pretty obvious San Francisco will be seeking a massive pass-rush upgrade during the offseason.
It’s needed. Badly.