49ers roster: Hassan Ridgeway versatility is much appreciated

Hassan Ridgeway #98 of the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Chris Szagola-Pool/Getty Images)
Hassan Ridgeway #98 of the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Chris Szagola-Pool/Getty Images) /

Hassan Ridgeway shouldn’t be considered a splash free-agent signing by the 49ers, yet they’ll surely appreciate the multitude of roles he can fill.

Not long after the San Francisco 49ers watched standout nose tackle D.J. Jones depart for a lucrative deal with the Denver Broncos in NFL free agency, a key corresponding move was to ink former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway.

To be clear, this wasn’t a player-for-player exchange. The 27-year-old Ridgeway, who broke into the league with the Indianapolis Colts as a fourth-round draft pick back in 2016, isn’t solely a 1-technique nose tackle who’ll simply replace Jones.

At his biggest upside, Ridgeway should be expected to do a lot more.

Hassan Ridgeway Defense & Fumbles Table
3 yr3 yrIND34604.54118236101
3 yr3 yrPHI316105.0392415710

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/18/2022.

Ridgeway played plenty of 3-technique positions during his Eagles tenure, and last year, Philly employed hybrids of 4-3 and 3-4 base alignments, further asking the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Ridgeway to showcase that versatility.

And while the Niners already have a deep defensive line entering 2022 with some pretty established roles, they’ll certainly be able to take advantage of that flexibility.

Why Hassan Ridgeway improves with 49ers this season

Injuries have gotten in the way of Ridgeway truly cementing himself as a regular member of a D-line rotation. He missed nine games during both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, so if there’s one notable area to improve, it’ll be staying healthy.

On top of that, just because Ridgeway moved around Philadelphia’s defensive front a lot last year, it doesn’t mean his production was stellar. Pro Football Focus actually gave him a lowly 36.9 overall grade on the season, likely influenced by some noticeably shoddy work against the run.

However, Ridgeway might not be asked to be an every-down run-stuffer with San Francisco, which already has two interior linemen who’ll be tasked with doing this, Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead.

If Ridgeway is merely asked to be an interior pass-rusher in various situations, it’d likely be much more advantageous for him, especially if the 49ers are getting some quality edge-rush presence with Pro Bowler Nick Bosa.

Why Hassan Ridgeway regresses with 49ers instead

Again, injuries being a factor, a quick way for Ridgeway to tank his Niners stock value would be if he suffers the same kind of setbacks experienced during two of his three years with Philly.

Beyond that, though, Ridgeway isn’t going to be a preferred interior pass-rusher only, and he’ll have to rectify some of his run-stopping deficiencies to carve out a bigger role. While there’s always hope the tutelage of San Francisco’s excellent D-line coordinator, Kris Kocurek, can make a big difference here, the wide-9 alignment the 49ers use could make Ridgeway more susceptible to challenges defending against the run.

Read More: 5 free agents Niners should be glad they didn’t sign

If those shortcomings are exposed frequently, Ridgeway could be relegated to a back-of-the-roster player and special teams contributor only.

Predicting Hassan Ridgeway’s 2022 role with San Francisco

Getting one thing straight, the Niners inked Ridgeway to a one-year free-agent deal worth up to $1.8 million, but $1 million of that is fully guaranteed. So, he’ll be on the 53-man roster unless injuries or some other unforeseen development gets in the way.

Not merely a Jones replacement, it’s important to acknowledge the likelihood of San Francisco moving Ridgeway all around the defensive line as an immediate reserve and backup.

Case in point, PFF credited him with playing 208 snaps as a weak-side defensive tackle, 29 snaps on the strong side and 78 as a pure nose tackle. He even saw 58 snaps as a defensive end.

While Ridgeway isn’t a challenger to usurp other interior defenders like Armstead and Kinlaw on the depth chart, he’ll likely contend with other reservists vying for key roles, such as Maurice Hurst, Kevin Givens, Kerry Hyder and others.

What’ll likely make Ridgeway stand out is his ability to move around into a bunch of different spots, hopefully overcoming the run-defense questions while still offering up a modest interior pass-rushing presence.

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