49ers roster: Predicting who makes the 2021 cut on defensive line

DeForest Buckner #99, Sheldon Day #96 and Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
DeForest Buckner #99, Sheldon Day #96 and Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /
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San Francisco 49ers, training camp
San Francisco 49ers players warm up before afternoon drills  Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports /

Defensive line storylines 49ers will watch during training camp

There seems to be an outside chance Dee Ford is able to come back in time for training camp. For one of the Niners’ top-paid players to appear in just one game last season while seeing only 22 percent of defensive snaps the previous year, that’d be a boost and would make San Francisco’s defensive line that much more formidable.

For now, however, it remains little more than a hope.

Can Javon Kinlaw improve upon his rookie season?

Javon Kinlaw, fair or not, was asked to fill some massive shoes a year ago after being the No. 14 overall draft pick.

Disruptive enough against the run to suggest potential, Kinlaw’s 1.5 sacks still suggest he’s nowhere near his level of expectation yet. The 49ers have spent much of the offseason working on Kinlaw’s technique with the hopes of translating his raw power and abilities into a fine-tuned defensive weapon.

Read More: 3 areas where Javon Kinlaw must improve in 2021

Yet the hope still remains for Kinlaw to be a true pocket-wrecking force.

49ers will want more out of Arik Armstead

The player Kinlaw replaced, Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, was seen as someone the Niners should have extended instead of Arik Armstead, but there’s little use in debating that now.

A year after Armstead recorded a team-high 10 sacks, San Francisco extended him only to see Armstead’s sack totals drop to 3.5 in 2020.

Much of this was due to Armstead playing almost exclusively outside in the wake of injuries to Ford and Nick Bosa, so the hope will be for an uptick in production from Armstead with him moving inside on pass-rushing downs.

D.J. Jones versus Zach Kerr versus Kevin Givens

While 1-technique nose tackles are often underrated and overlooked, the 49ers have a trio of starting-caliber options here in D.J. Jones, Zach Kerr and Kevin Givens.

Givens received some praise from first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans during organized team activities, so that’s a plus. But Givens could just as easily be pushed off the roster by Kerr, whose speed and pass-rushing prowess are notable, too.

The battle to back up Jones will be unheralded yet important.

Where will 49ers get supplementary sacks from?

It’s almost guaranteed the Niners’ 2021 sack leader will be Bosa. After him, however, it’s a pretty open-ended question.

Perhaps Armstead reverts back to threatening double-digit sacks again, yet San Francisco made Samson Ebukam a pretty high-profile free-agent signing this offseason.

While Ebukam’s record of health is excellent, never having missed a game over his four-year career, he’s never had more than 4.5 sacks in a single season.

Maybe that changes with the context and new situation with the 49ers, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be much more than a situational pass-rusher just yet.