49ers’ 2019 ‘Who is?’ series: Defensive end Ronald Blair

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 28: Defensive end Ronald Blair #98 of the San Francisco 49ers tackles quarterback Josh Rosen #3 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 28: Defensive end Ronald Blair #98 of the San Francisco 49ers tackles quarterback Josh Rosen #3 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

While the San Francisco 49ers defensive line received much-needed reinforcements entering 2019, Ronald Blair is a player few are talking about, but they should. He’s the focal point of Niner Noise’s latest “Who Is?” installment.

When thinking about the San Francisco 49ers defensive line in 2019, the majority of focus is going to center on the new additions, EDGE Dee Ford via a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs, and Ohio State EDGE Nick Bosa, who was the Niners’ top pick from this year’s NFL Draft.

Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner should get a lot of attention, and there’s going to be discussion whether or not defensive end Solomon Thomas will ever live up to his lofty draft billing from 2017.

One player who isn’t receiving a lot of offseason publicity, though, is fourth-year defensive end Ronald Blair — one of the handful of current San Francisco players to survive the purge of player removals in the wake of former general manager Trent Baalke’s departure in early 2017.

Blair has quietly put together a solid career as one of the 49ers’ top defensive-front backups:

Ronald Blair Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/10/2019.

A year ago, Blair was tied for second on the team in sacks (5.5) with EDGE Cassius Marsh, who is no longer with San Francisco.

But chew on this: Blair reached that sack total on just 313 pass-rushing snaps — a pass rush-productivity grade of 6.2, according to Pro Football Focus, which was just three tenths of a point behind Buckner’s mark on 507 pass rushes.

Not bad at all.

With a focus on keeping San Francisco’s defensive line fresh in 2019, what kind of role should Blair be expected to perform this upcoming season?

Let’s take a deeper look.

Why Ronald Blair Improves in 2019

Blair just turned 26 years old earlier this year, so it’s safe to say his best years are still ahead of him.

The 49ers didn’t hesitate to line Blair up all over the defensive front last season. Nearly 200 of his pass rushes came from the right side of the defense, while 112 were on the left. That versatility should serve him well as a primary backup this season.

Furthermore, Blair should be the beneficiary of those added defensive linemen this offseason. Even with a rotation, some combination of Ford, Buckner and Bosa is going to be present on the field, meaning Blair is going to get his fair shots at one-on-one matchups. Plus, the addition of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek should serve to vary Blair’s pass-rushing moves.

Oh, and it helps Blair is in a contract year, too. That should be motivation.

Why Ronald Blair Regresses in 2019

The 49ers brought in a number of defensive linemen for a reason this offseason, and those are going to push Blair’s total snaps down quite a lot. In total, he was on the field for just under 50 percent of defensive snaps last season, and most of those came in the later months.

If the Niners are much more competitive in 2019, there’s a good chance Blair won’t see a ton of the field.

Furthermore, Blair is nowhere near as explosive as the other noteworthy additions San Francisco made. Those players — even Armstead and Thomas — are likely to see a lot more playing time than Blair, which could relegate him to being little more than just a situational pass-rusher and role player.

Projected Role with the 49ers

Blair is pretty safe on the roster, barring some incredible training camp performances by some of the deeper cast members of San Francisco’s D-line this summer.

Barring a key injury or two to other players up front, Blair is likely to be penciled in as a rotational edge rusher, capable of backing up either the strong- or weak-side pass-rushing roles behind both Ford and Bosa. The ability to stay on the inside makes him even more serviceable, albeit in a reserve capacity.

It’s possible Kocurek and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh design some specific packages and plays, where Blair is the prime beneficiary of teams looking to double either Ford, Buckner or Bosa. This is likely where Blair earns his sack production, as he still doesn’t quite have the sheer physicality to take on multiple blockers.

That said, if he can take advantage of the situation at hand, it wouldn’t be overly shocking to see Blair surpass his career-high sack totals from a year ago.

Next. 3 breakout candidates for 49ers after the 2019 NFL Draft. dark

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