49ers roster: Breaking down defensive line before 2022 NFL Draft

Nick Bosa #97, Jordan Willis #94, Samson Ebukam #56, Arik Armstead #91 and Arden Key #98 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Nick Bosa #97, Jordan Willis #94, Samson Ebukam #56, Arik Armstead #91 and Arden Key #98 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have invested a lot in their defensive line in recent offseasons, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they did so again in the 2022 NFL Draft.

If there’s one trend we know about San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch when it comes to the NFL Draft, it’s his tendency to use early picks in the trenches.

From the 2017 first-round selection of defensive end Solomon Thomas to the 2020 Round 1 addition of defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, Lynch and the Niners haven’t been shy when it comes to investing high-profile draft picks to reinforce this group.

And they may do so again when the 2022 NFL Draft rolls around.

To understand why, we first have to take a look at the current makeup of San Francisco’s defensive line.

The 49ers lost a core piece of this group to free agency this offseason, as nose tackle D.J. Jones departed for a lucrative deal with the Denver Broncos, yet the Niners can hope to mitigate his loss with Kinlaw’s healthy return from season-ending knee surgery a year ago.

After a procedural release/re-sign deal with veteran defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, San Francisco now has 14 defensive linemen on its offseason roster ahead of April’s draft.

Defensive linemen currently on 49ers roster

While there may be only a handful of blue-chip D-linemen currently under contract with the 49ers, it’s nevertheless a deep group:

  • Arik Armstead
  • Alex Barrett
  • Nick Bosa
  • Samson Ebukam
  • Dee Ford
  • Kevin Givens
  • Maurice Hurst
  • Kerry Hyder
  • Javon Kinlaw
  • Charles Omenihu
  • Hassan Ridgeway
  • Chris Slayton
  • Kemoko Turay
  • Jordan Willis

The Niners also brought in Ridgeway to help make up for Jones’ departure, but Ridgeway is more of a rotational player and not so much a pure 1-technique player who’ll fully replace Jones.

Additionally, San Francisco hopes bringing back Hyder, who led the team with 8.5 sacks in 2020 before a one-year stint with the Seattle Seahawks, will help make up for the free-agent loss of defensive end Arden Key, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after posting 6.5 sacks with the 49ers last season.

Will 49ers use NFL Draft to help reinforce the pass rush?

The Niners recorded 48 sacks last season, tied for fifth most in the league. Bosa, making his second Pro Bowl, recorded 15.5 of those with Key finishing second with his 6.5.

A notable element to the pass-rush solution is the likelihood Ford, who tried working his way back from a serious back injury a year ago, has played his last down in a San Francisco uniform as Lynch has modestly suggested.

Right now, it doesn’t appear as if the 49ers will have that elite-level one-two punch in the pass-rush department envisioned when Ford lined up next to Bosa back in 2019.

And, no, Hyder shouldn’t be considered the answer.

The Niners aren’t selecting until late in Round 2 in this year’s draft, No. 61 overall, yet the 2022 class of outside pass-rushers is awfully deep, and there should be plenty of options available at that spot. Even later.

Some names to watch include:

  • George Karlaftis, Purdue
  • Boye Mafe, Minnesota
  • Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
  • Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
  • Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
  • Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
  • Drake Jackson, USC

None should be viewed as the surefire prospects like Bosa was when he entered the league back in 2019, but there are some complementary pieces who could provide that second-tier thump San Francisco is likely to seek.

And if it doesn’t look to do so at No. 61 overall, the team could surely consider it again with two picks towards the end of Round 3, too.

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