49ers news: Pro Football Focus ranks Niners defensive line 4th

Nick Bosa #97, Arik Armstead #91, Sheldon Day #96 and DeForest Buckner #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Nick Bosa #97, Arik Armstead #91, Sheldon Day #96 and DeForest Buckner #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

While most 49ers fans are bullish on their defensive line, Pro Football Focus is hesitant to call this unit the best entering 2020.

If you asked most San Francisco 49ers fans, they’d probably think the team’s defensive line is the best entering the upcoming 2020 campaign.

For good reason, sure. True, the Niners parted ways with Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner by trading him off to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. But that loss was mostly alleviated by the Round 1 addition of one of the most talented and promising defensive players in the 2020 NFL Draft, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

Kinlaw joins a star-studded cast, which includes pass-rushers Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. Combined with 2017 draftee, defensive end Solomon Thomas, San Francisco still has five former first-round draft picks up front.

Sounds like the best defensive line possible, right?

Well, Pro Football Focus isn’t so sure.

PFF’s Sam Monson recently ranked out each team’s defensive lines entering 2020, and the 49ers’ own wasn’t at the top of the list. They weren’t even in the top three.

Try fourth.

Monson’s explanation:

"Kinlaw was the most effective pass-rushing interior lineman in this draft, slotting in as the No. 1 player at his position on PFF’s Big Board because of it. Hitting the ground running as a rookie is tough, but Kinlaw has the talent to immediately contribute inside. Arik Armstead and Dee Ford give the 49ers depth and talent on the edge, and Armstead can kick inside and move around the line. Armstead posted an overall PFF grade just below 90.0 last season after a career year where he racked up 62 total pressures. Meanwhile, injuries limited Ford, but when he was on the field, he backed up his breakout 2018 season."

Listed above the Niners here were the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 1), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 2) and the Washington football team (No. 3).

Washington ranked ahead of San Francisco is interesting, although Monson is awfully bullish about rookie EDGE Chase Young, who arguably has a higher ceiling than his former Ohio State teammate, Bosa.

Making sense of the 49ers ranking

Without contacting Monson directly, one can assume the following factors went into the equation and ultimately kept the Niners D-line from ranking within the top three:

  1. Losing a Pro Bowler like Buckner hurts, and a rookie like Kinlaw is unproven as an NFL contributor
  2. Ford, despite his talents, was on the field for just 11 games and a little over 22 percent of defensive snaps last year due to injury, making health a factor
  3. Armstead never boasted more than three sacks before his team-leading 10-sack campaign a year ago
  4. San Francisco’s depth behind its first-round draftees is questionable, and many players are returning from season-ending injuries in 2019

It’s important to contrast data from elsewhere, too, so one should point out Football Outsiders ranked the 49ers D-line 13th in run defense despite finishing the year second against the pass. The Steelers led the league with 54 sacks, of course, while the Niners boasted 48 — tied for fifth most. Against the run, however, San Francisco allowed an average of 4.5 yards per play — tied for 10th highest along with the Miami Dolphins.

So, perhaps, the 49ers’ relative problems stopping the run could account for the slight regression in PFF’s rankings here.

Next. 5 most important training camp battles for 49ers in 2020. dark

At least the Niners still find themselves in the top five, though.