Despite boasting three former first-round NFL Draft picks, the San Francisco 49ers defensive line didn’t grade out well in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
The San Francisco 49ers had all kinds of defensive issues in 2018, although one might have hoped its strongest and deepest unit, the defensive line, would have performed well enough over the course of the year.
According to Pro Football Focus, however, it didn’t.
PFF went through all 32 teams’ D-lines over the course of last year and ranked them out. The Niners, unfortunately, came in at No. 21.
Second-year defensive end Solomon Thomas was the main subject of PFF’s analysis, and here’s what was said about San Francisco’s top pick from the 2017 NFL Draft:
The continued mediocrity of Solomon Thomas as a pass rusher is starting to reach concerning levels in San Francisco. The former third overall pick ranked 90th out of 109 edge rushers this season in pass-rushing productivity. Nine different edge defenders from the 2017 draft class ranked higher.
In fairness to Thomas, he spent most of the past two seasons playing off the edge, which wasn’t his forte at Stanford. He experienced a bit more success on the inside late in the season, and it’s likely defensive coordinator Robert Saleh keeps him there to maximize his abilities in 2019.
That said, it’s looking more and more like Thomas will never live up to that top-five NFL Draft billing.
There are more problems with this unit than just Thomas, however, which gets frustrating when you consider he was just one of three first-round draft investments made by the Niners since 2015. Defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead each put in productive seasons, which is good. But the lack of a quality outside pass rush is telling.
The 49ers finished with 37 sacks last year, which was tied for 22nd in the league. Buckner had 12 of those, so it’s pretty obvious the Niners will look to address help off the edge this offseason.
While San Francisco’s D-line was middle of the pack in average pass yards per attempt (6.4) and in the top 10 in rush yards against (4.1), the lack of an effective pass rush ultimately led to the defense forcing a league-low seven turnovers over the course of the season.
The good news, however, is one quality pass-rusher could help turn this unit around in short order heading into 2019.