Which 49ers player will have most sacks behind Nick Bosa?

Nick Bosa #97 and Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers close in on Kyle Allen #7 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Nick Bosa #97 and Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers close in on Kyle Allen #7 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have a prolific pass-rusher in Nick Bosa, but who’ll end up providing the defense with those necessary second-tier sacks in 2021?

Good NFL defenses have a solid pass-rusher who’s a likely perennial Pro Bowler. Elite NFL defenses boast at least two of these kinds of players.

Case in point, just look at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thrived en route to their Super Bowl win last season with EDGEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett.

This isn’t about the Bucs, though, rather about what the San Francisco 49ers can hope to generate in the sack department behind their presumed 2021 sack leader, EDGE Nick Bosa.

Bosa wasn’t even the Niners’ leading sack specialist during his Defensive Rookie of the Year season in 2019. That accolade went to defensive end Arik Armstead with 10. Those two, paired with EDGE Dee Ford and Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, combined to make San Francisco’s own defensive line one of the best in the league that year with 48 sacks.

Yet things are different in 2021. Bosa is coming off an ACL tear, Buckner is no longer in the picture, Armstead is looking to bounce back from a 3.5-sack campaign, Ford’s injury status remains doubtful and Samson Ebukam is now the player many hope can provide that quality No. 2 thump off the edge.

So, while it’s safe to assume Bosa will be the team leader in sacks in 2021, who’ll be the complementary piece to him?

Will Arik Armstead or Samson Ebukam be 49ers’ No. 2 sack specialist in 2021?

Fans were understandably frustrated with Armstead after he, not Buckner, was chosen to receive a hefty extension entering 2020.

Coming off a career-high 10 sacks, it made some sense for the 49ers to retain Armstead. Yet dropping down towards his per-usual three-sack-per-season average in 2021 didn’t earn him too many fans.

But it’s important to note Armstead spent more time in 2021 on the edge instead of playing inside where the bulk of his 2019 sacks came from, largely due to the near season-long absences of players like Bosa and Ford.

Lacking speed off the edge, Armstead’s pass-rush productivity rate, per Pro Football Focus, dropped from a near-elite 8.0 in 2019 to an average 5.1 last year.

Bosa partially helps alleviate the need for Armstead to play almost exclusively on the edge, but the key X-factor could end up being Ebukam.

Why Samson Ebukam be 49ers’ No. 2 sack artist?

Ebukam has one key advantage over Ford: health.

Over his four-year career, all of it up to now with the Los Angeles Rams, Ebukam has never missed a game. The only thing, however, is he was primarily a situational pass-rusher and has never mustered more than 4.5 sacks in a single season.

Yet Ebukam’s 2020 pass-rush productivity rate was a notable 6.5, higher than Armstead’s and potentially indicating he could benefit a bit more from a deeper cast of defensive linemen, including Bosa.

Read More: 49ers free agency moves for D-line emphasize speed

On top of that, Ebukam is far more a speed rusher than Armstead. A sub-4.50 40-yard time during his 2017 NFL Scouting Combine workouts is impressive for wide receivers and running backs, let alone defensive linemen. And considering the 49ers once envisioned Ford to be a speed rusher when they acquired him back in 2019, it now makes sense they’re hoping Ebukam can be that guy.

Armstead should get his opportunities again, and it wouldn’t be overly shocking to see him flirt with double-digit sacks once more.

Yet Armstead is likely to do a lot more of the dirty work, while Ebukam will have far more chances in one-on-one situations, perhaps to the point where he, not Armstead, winds up being the Niners’ No. 2 sack specialist behind Bosa this season.

Predicting 49ers' offensive, defensive starting lineups in 2021. dark. Next