49ers depth chart: Post-NFL Draft 53-man roster prediction for 2021
49ers Defensive line (9)
EDGE Nick Bosa
DE/DT Arik Armstead
DT Javon Kinlaw
EDGE Samson Ebukam
DT Maurice Hurst
DT D.J. Jones
DT Zach Kerr
EDGE Jordan Willis
EDGE Dee Ford or Arden Key
There’s actually a strong chance the defensive line could be 10 players deep when the roster is chosen before the 2021 season, but for now, the number stands at nine for the team’s deepest, and likely best, overall unit.
2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa was expected to compete for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020 before tearing his ACL in Week 2 against the Jets. Now he could certainly be in line for the Comeback Player of the Year if he returns to disrupting opposing offenses as he did during his rookie year.
Bosa is the key to this unit jumping from solid to one of the league’s best, but the rest of the group is strong almost across the board.
Linemen Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Maurice Hurst, D.J. Jones, and Zach Kerr are a formidable group patrolling the interior of the defensive line, with Armstead kicking inside or out depending on the situation. Outside of Bosa, the outside pass rushers are solid if generally unspectacular, with Samson Ebukam and Jordan Willis looking to take advantage of the mismatches Bosa will create on the other side.
The wildest of wild cards here is Dee Ford and his health. His salary situation almost compels the 49ers to keep him on the roster even if he’s still unable to play, as 2021 will be the last season he’s owed a massive chunk of change, although there is a void year in 2022 that will see Ford make nearly $5 million no matter what happens in this season.
The Niners could technically cut Ford after June 1 and save $7 million in cap space, although the dead money over the next two seasons would add up to a shade over $9.8 million in total. But if Ford can’t play, it’s better to eat that money and hope the salary cap does indeed go back up moving forward rather than pay Ford nearly $12 million to not play and take up a much-needed roster spot.
Arden Key could be the one to benefit from Ford’s misery, having signed a one-year deal with San Francisco this offseason after the Las Vegas Raiders cut him. He hasn’t been very consistent during his short time in the league, but the hope would be that defensive line coach Kris Kocurek could tap into his potential and make him a viable rotational piece.