SF 49ers DT Kevin Givens
Kevin Givens has been a quiet revelation for the SF 49ers this year, and his performance has raised questions not only about his present but the SF 49ers’ future at the nose tackle position.
The defensive line in the Niners defensive scheme under Robert Saleh — which could very well not be the scheme used in the future, but I’ll assume the defense will be under some variation of the general scheme — runs in theory like the one in Seattle. Though defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has added some spice in terms of having the Wide-9 for the line, in general on rushing downs the SF 49ers put out a LEO, a nose tackle, a 3-technique (defensive tackle playing over the guard near the tackle, or the 3-spot), and a 5-technique playing on the outside.
On passing downs, the player who played the 5-technique typically shifts inside to play the 3-technique or the nose while another rusher comes to play at that spot.
Niner Noise has a great breakdown of the scheme here.
That means the nose tackle on rushing downs is seldom the same player as the one on passing downs, especially not with Arik Armstead, who the Niners think plays that 5-technique position well during rushing downs. When Dee Ford played, his injury situation made him a part-time player, pass-rushing when the situation called for Armstead to be kicked inside.
All this goes to say is the nose tackle position can typically be neglected, and true to form, it has had the least amount of resources spent on it. Both Buckner, when drafted, Armstead, and Kinlaw seem, for rushing downs, to be better suited to play the 3-technique or, in Armstead’s case, outside.
In 2019, D.J. Jones seemed to dominate in that role as a nose tackle, playing tough against the run and showcasing pass-rush ability that added an additional wrinkle to the pass-rush rotation. But he got hurt late that season, and this year while still playing somewhat well, had dealt with injuries again and hasn’t reached that same level.
In his place, following the injury to Solomon Thomas, has primarily been Kevin Givens, Givens has flashed repeatedly in both the run game and in pass-rush situations, showing a burst that has been disruptive for opposing teams.
Earlier in the season, Givens ranked in the top 10 in ESPN’s win rate for both run and pass-rush, as mentioned here. Though that has cooled a bit, he has played exceedingly well in limited snaps this year.
Given Jones’ status as a free agent, the SF 49ers might easily choose to go with Givens and see what he will do in that position. Given the uncertainty at the other edge position, it is possible the Niners see the improved pass-rush capabilities of Givens on the interior as a motive to give him more snaps. Even if that’s not the case, Givens has the talent and will have the opportunity to become a force in those early downs, aided along with Kinlaw by an infusion of edge talent in the form of Bosa.
Givens has a chance to become a solid consistent cog of the line rotation at the very least.