It’s no secret that the San Francisco 49ers have used first-round NFL Draft picks on interior defensive linemen in three of the last four years. Should they do it again?
Three months ago, the San Francisco 49ers were on their way to the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and fans were ready to embrace the arrival of Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, the bona fide No. 1 overall prospect in the upcoming draft class.
One month ago, the NFL regular season ended, and the Niners ended up landing the second pick in the draft. Josh Allen, a stud Kentucky pass-rusher who drastically improved his draft stock in his senior season, was looking like a good consolation prize. He was a guy who could rush the passer from the edge with his blazing speed off the line. This projection made sense because it filled a need.
However, now more and more mock drafts have been posted by draft analysts, and a lot of them are starting to mock Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to the 49ers at No. 2.
And if you look at the tape, you can see why.
Williams is a generational talent at his position, who can use his power and vast array of moves in his arsenal to not only stuff the run efficiently, but rush the passer from the inside.
Yes, the pass rush is Williams’ specialty, which is pretty rare from those big guys playing on the inside. But he is damned good at it, and just about everything else in his game is very refined. Williams is pro-ready, and may even be a better prospect than Bosa himself. The sole reason why Bosa has such a big “lead” over all the other prospects is that he plays on the edge, a position so valuable in the league these days.
But I’m not here to talk about Bosa — he is close to being completely out of the question for the 49ers, as the Arizona Cardinals, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft, could most likely be taking him. I’m here to talk about whether to take Allen or Williams, and what to do in free agency to complement either one.
I’ve already raved about Williams, so let’s talk about how Allen compares in terms of talent. Again, Allen’s speed as an edge rusher is by far his biggest strength. He has good bend to complement his speed, but does not excel in defending against the run. Also, a good chunk of the plays he makes are due to missed assignments by opposing offensive lines.
So, if the 49ers were to pick Allen at No. 2, they would be reaching for talent and picking based on need. I would not be mad at all if San Francisco took Allen with their first-round pick, but Williams would be the ideal pick for me.
But if the Niners take Williams, they will still have a glaring need at the edge position. There’s a couple moves general manager John Lynch could make to combat this issue.
The most ideal thing for the 49ers to do is to heavily invest in a stud edge rusher in free agency to fill the need. Rams defensive end Dante Fowler immediately comes to mind, as he has been an impressive player last season for the Los Angeles Rams and a key factor in their road to a Super Bowl appearance. He is only 25 years old and could become a cornerstone player for the franchise for years to come.
Other options to fill the edge position are players such as Frank Clark, Dee Ford, Shaquil Barrett and Anthony Barr, who are all exceptional at rushing the passer and will immediately satisfy the team’s needs.
What the 49ers could also do would be to take an edge rusher with their second-round pick. Some draft analysts are suspecting that edge defender Montez Sweat, who shined in the Senior Bowl last month, will fall to the second round. If he does indeed fall into their laps in the second round, Sweat’s high upside should serve the 49ers well.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is taking on double teams every single game because he is, by far, the biggest threat on the interior. What would opposing teams do if the 49ers add Williams to their defensive line? With a competent pass-rusher added from free agency or a later round in the draft, to go along with this monstrous defensive line, San Francisco’s front seven will be unstoppable.
This is Lynch’s most important offseason yet. He knows that he has to make the right moves. Drafting Williams and adding a pass-rusher or two in free agency is the rightest move he could possibly make.