49ers roster: Niners need more from Samson Ebukam in 2022

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Samson Ebukam (56) Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Samson Ebukam (56) Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports /

Samson Ebukam, one of the 49ers’ bigger-ticket free-agent pickups in 2021, moderately produced last season but needs to deliver more this upcoming year.

There’s a simple reason why the San Francisco 49ers went after former Los Angeles Rams EDGE Samson Ebukam during the 2021 offseason.

He had a great history of health, never having missed a regular-season game over his four-year career up to that point, which is something the player he effectively was intending to replace, fellow EDGE Dee Ford, could not say.

Ford, at his best, is still vastly better than a fully healthy Ebukam, however, and the reality was that the latter proved to be little more than a depth pass-rusher who is good enough to play on base downs but won’t offer too much in the sack department.

His tying his so-so line of 4.5 sacks over 17 games played last season attests to that.

Samson Ebukam Defense & Fumbles Table
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Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 6/3/2022.

Depth pass-rushers are important, and Ebukam is just one example of how the Niners have continually invested in their defensive line under general manager John Lynch.

With Ford likely to be released and/or retire in the very near future because of chronic back injuries, Ebukam’s spotlight will grow brighter entering 2022.

Answering that pressure will be key for him to generate more success than he had a year ago.

Why Samson Ebukam improves with 49ers in 2022

Ebukam, who just turned 27 years old, started off slowly in his first season with San Francisco, recording just one sack over his first 12 games.

Down the stretch and into the playoffs, however, it’s almost as if he hit his stride, finishing the regular season with 3.5 sacks over five games and then tacking on two more during the 49ers’ three-game run into the playoffs.

Perhaps this speaks to him adjusting to the 49ers’ defensive scheme, made more favorable to his talents by the Niners’ moving defensive tackle Arik Armstead inside the formation and freeing up Ebukam to enjoy more one-on-one speed-rushing opportunities.

That development is likely to continue in 2022, meaning Ebukam will have the chance to pick up where he left off during the latter stages of 2021, and that trajectory could suggest possibly sniffing double-digit sacks for the first time in his career.

Why Samson Ebukam has reached his peak with 49ers already

It’s not like we’re talking about a second- or third-year player here with room to grow at the NFL level.

Ebukam has always been a decent situational pass-rusher but little more than that. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound edge defender has started more games in his career than he did with San Francisco last season (11) but maxed out at that 4.5-sack threshold.

Additionally, his 16 pressures last year were a far cry from the career-best 26 pressures he enjoyed with the Rams back in 2018.

This seems to suggest Ebukam isn’t always capable of creating opportunities for himself. They’re either generated for him (i.e. “easy” sacks) or he won’t have the sheer ability to get home to opposing quarterbacks.

As such, expecting eight or nine sacks in 2022 might be far too lofty a goal.

Samson Ebukam’s projected role, impact for 49ers in 2022

Originally signed to a two-year, $12 million deal entering 2021, Ebukam will cost the 49ers up to $8.25 million this year, according to Over the Cap, yet the Niners could save $6.5 million of that if they elect to cut him prior to Week 1.

This suggests Ebukam’s hold on a roster spot isn’t entirely safe, although he still serves as one of the better second-tier defensive options San Francisco has.

Read More: Predicting 49ers D-line depth chart after 2022 NFL Draft

With Ford all but gone, the 49ers are hoping their top pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, former USC EDGE Drake Jackson, can emerge as a key No. 2 player opposite Pro Bowl EDGE Nick Bosa in the upcoming years, which will eventually force Ebukam to the periphery.

However, given the fact Jackson is a rookie and will likely assume a less-featured situational role out of the gate, Ebukam probably winds up being a base-down player who winds up earning early pass-rushing downs until Jackson gets up to his potential.

That’s where Ebukam will have the opportunity to fend off Jackson from trying to steal away defensive snaps. Should Ebukam pick up where he left off last season and impact the stat sheet in a positive way early, he’ll remain in a starter’s role.

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