49ers ideal starting defensive line for 2020 season

Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have the strongest defensive line in the NFL, when healthy.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the most powerful unit on the San Francisco 49ers outfit is the defensive line.

Strengthened with the investments of several first-round NFL Draft picks and backed up by impressive depth that could be competing for starting roles elsewhere, the defensive identity of San Francisco rests on the front four being able to fight its way to the quarterback without needing to rely on blitzing.

In 2019, it served the 49ers very well. The defense was an integral reason the team made it to the Super Bowl, and they’ve done a good job to keep the defensive line as strong in 2020.

The biggest change, of course, is defensive tackle DeForest Buckner being traded to the Indianapolis Colts due to salary cap considerations. Buckner was the heart of the 49ers defense and is not easily replaced.

But the 49ers will try anyway and made another investment on the first night of the draft to bolster the defensive trenches.

So let’s look at the ideal starting four for San Francisco.

EDGE: Nick Bosa

EDGE Nick Bosa was an absolute monster for the 49ers in his rookie season, and it’s scary to think he wasn’t at full health to begin the year.

Bosa played at a consistently high level throughout the season, and it was the insanely talented rookie who was receiving double teams in the best defensive line in football.

He didn’t shy away from the playoff pressure either, with four sacks and a forced fumble in three games.

With Buckner traded, this defensive line is now centered around Bosa and his ability to terrorize opposing blockers. With more experience and better health, Bosa should be able to improve on his numbers despite the attention he’ll receive from opponents.

Defensive Tackle: Arik Armstead

He’s proven to be a bit of a late bloomer, but defensive tackle Arik Armstead was arguably the most improved player for the 49ers in 2019, and definitely benefited from the talent around him to record his best year ever.

Armstead’s interior pressure in tandem with Buckner was almost unappreciated given the attention given to Bosa. Interior pressure disrupts plays quicker than pressure from the ends of the line, and they were able to disrupt quarterbacks very efficiently.

Armstead will have a new partner in crime this season, so the pressure is on him to step up and be the leader in the interior.

Defensive Tackle: Javon Kinlaw

The new rookie of the group, Javon Kinlaw, should slot in immediately at defensive tackle and benefit from the attention around him to make some big plays this season.

Kinlaw is shorter and heavier than Buckner is, so Kinlaw won’t be exactly the same kind of defensive tackle that we’re accustomed to seeing. However he should find it easier to stuff the run, and he still possesses a similar pass-rushing talent to Buckner.

In short, Kinlaw at his peak could even be an upgrade over Buckner in time.

For now, however, he’s still a rookie and the expectations should reflect that. It’ll be exciting to see him on the field for 2020.

EDGE: Dee Ford

The biggest question mark of the group, EDGE Dee Ford has undoubted talent but his durability is a big concern for the 49ers.

Ford underwent a cleanout on his knee for the offseason, so it’s hopeful that he will remain healthier than he did in 2019.

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When healthy, Ford is a big asset. He played very limited snaps in 2019 and still recorded 6.5 sacks for San Francisco. He could easily get to double digits if he has a relatively healthy season.

Ford completes the set. If the 49ers have this lineup for most or all of their games, they’ll be well on the way back to the Super Bowl.