49ers news: Pass-rush depth will be tested after Jordan Willis suspension

Defensive end Jordan Willis #78 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Defensive end Jordan Willis #78 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are going to be without one of their depth pass-rushers, Jordan Willis, for the first six games of 2021 after the NFL handed down a suspension.

The San Francisco 49ers‘ pass-rushing depth just took a little bit of a hit on Thursday when the team announced reserve defensive end Jordan Willis would be suspended six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Willis, 26 years old, was acquired via a trade with the New York Jets last offseason and arguably put together his best stretch as a pro following the transaction, recording 2.5 sacks with the Niners over seven games and just 18 percent of the defense’s snaps.

He had never recorded more than one sack in a single year since being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in Round 3 of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Kansas State.

After his small-but-noticeable resurgence, San Francisco re-signed Willis to a one-year deal during the offseason after he showcased some modest potential as a backup. And while the 49ers weren’t exactly expecting Willis to hold a major role this season, the pass-rushing depth is certainly going to be questionable moving forward.

Jordan Willis absence will test 49ers’ pass-rushing depth

The Niners are expecting EDGE Nick Bosa back from his 2020 ACL tear, and there’s an outside hope fellow EDGE Dee Ford returns in time for training camp after suffering a season-ending back injury last year.

Additionally, San Francisco signed former Los Angeles Rams EDGE Samson Ebukam during the offseason to help guard against Ford’s likely absence.

Yet there was a chance Willis would end up as the No. 3 pass-rusher on the depth chart, which is noticeably thin and inexperienced below him.

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Pass-rushers Arden Key, Daeshon Hall and Alex Barrett are effectively the only other supplementary pass-rushers available on the offseason roster. Of them, perhaps only Key, another low-profile offseason pickup, could stand to pick up the load after flaming out with the Las Vegas Raiders.

It’s not the idea scenario by any means. Willis, despite never turning into a prolific pass-rusher, could have assumed a quality reserve role as a rotational player, and now that void will have to be filled either by someone currently on the roster or by the dwindling free-agent wire.

The 49ers have their bye in Week 6, when Willis could have normally returned, meaning he’ll be absent during the Niners’ post-bye week game against the Indianapolis Colts and will be eligible to return in Week 8 against the Chicago Bears.

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