49ers free agency: What to expect from Samson Ebukam

Samson Ebukam #50 of the Los Angeles Rams (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Samson Ebukam #50 of the Los Angeles Rams (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The 49ers brought in former Rams EDGE Samson Ebukam on the initial wave of NFL free agency, giving him a key role on the defense in 2021.

The 2021 NFL free agency pass-rushing class was awfully deep, which had a double-edge effect on both players and teams.

While a saturated market could be tough for some EDGEs, it also meant the handful of teams with plenty of cap space could go after their guys with relative ease.

The San Francisco 49ers, while nowhere near as bad as some other teams in terms of cap space, were still limited with what they could do on the free-agent market. And as things turned out on the opening day of free agency negotiations, they went with a bargain option by signing former Los Angeles Rams EDGE Samson Ebukam to a two-year deal.

The acquisition followed news the Niners were restructuring fellow EDGE Dee Ford‘s massive contract, turning the remainder of his contract into a two-year deal worth $24 million. With Ford missing almost all of 2020 with a back injury and having no concrete timetable for his return, the need to grab another supplementary pass-rusher was high on general manager John Lynch’s list.

Ford has appeared in 12 regular-season games the last two years. Ebukam, Los Angeles’ fourth-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, hasn’t missed a game since going pro.

And while Ebukam’s career sack totals don’t necessarily jump off the charts, he’s been productive in a support role:

Samson Ebukam Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 3/15/2021.

What Samson Ebukam brings to 49ers

At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Ebukam is a little leaner and a lot faster than another pending free agent San Francisco could lose this offseason, defensive end Kerry Hyder, who led the 49ers last year with 8.5 sacks.

Hyder could still return. But he’s a supplemental pass-rusher at best. One would have to figure Ebukam’s primary strength would center on his ability to stay healthy, something Ford doesn’t have to his credit, and to provide more speed in the pass rush, which is what Hyder mostly lacked last season.

Ebukam ran a 4.45 40-yard time at his NFL Combine workouts, whereas Hyder ran the same at 5.10 seconds.

On top of that, Ebukam’s pass-rush productivity rating in 2020 was a solid 6.5, per Pro Football Focus. Despite having nearly double the sacks last year, Hyder’s pass-rush rating was 7.7. While Hyder might have been higher in this department, it’s clear the Niners are banking on Ebukam to see a jump in light of the support he’ll see alongside EDGE Nick Bosa, defensive end Arik Armstead and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

Or San Francisco is simply acknowledging Hyder’s career-best year in 2020 was more of an anomaly than anything else.

How 49ers will use Samson Ebukam

Ebukam’s deal is worth up to $13.5 million including incentives, so it’s pretty clear the 49ers aren’t intending for him to be an every-down player.

Defending against the run wasn’t Ebukam’s strong suit, as he finished 2020 with a 50.1 run-stopping grade, per PFF. In his previous three years, however, Ebukam had a plus-70 grade in that department.

Still, it’s likely Ebukam holds a spot on the Niners depth chart as a situational pass-rusher.

And those are important.

San Francisco already parted ways with defensive end Ronald Blair, who occupied that key tertiary pass-rushing role in 2018 and for much of 2019 before suffering a season-ending ACL tear that ultimately held him out of last season, too. Banking on Ford’s healthy return still seems like a long shot, and it’s yet to be determined if Hyder comes back.

Either way, Ebukam probably finds himself in a role not unlike what he saw with the Rams, appearing between 40 and 50 percent of defensive snaps, mostly in pass-rushing situations.

Anything above that, particularly if Ebukam produces, would be a mere bonus. And considering his health and youth, there’s still a solid chance he winds up improving within San Francisco’s context.

Hopefully towards being considered a free-agent steal by the time his two-year deal is up.

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