49ers roster: Kemoko Turay can have Arden Key-like season

Kemoko Turay #57 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Kemoko Turay #57 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have had success with castoff pass-rushers in recent years, and Kemoko Turay might be next in line to break out in 2022 if he stays healthy.

The San Francisco 49ers are entering their fourth year of trying to find a top-quality pass-rusher to pair with Pro Bowl EDGE Nick Bosa.

After spending a second-round NFL Draft pick on former USC EDGE Drake Jackson last spring, the Niners hope the rookie can eventually turn into this. But with some rawness to his game, Jackson probably doesn’t emerge as an immediate-impact player right away.

Instead, one of San Francisco’s somewhat low-profile free-agent adds from the offseason might have to fill that role, EDGE Kemoko Turay.

Turay, who entered the league back in 2018 as a second-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts out of Rutgers, has shown flashes of being a quality pass-rusher but has also been dogged with injuries, suffering a broken ankle after four games his sophomore season that also cut into his 2020 campaign, too.

Kemoko Turay Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/23/2022.

In 2021, things finally started to come together for Turay after appearing in 13 games and registering 5.5 sacks.

Nevertheless, after signing a one-year deal with the 49ers heading into 2022, they’re hoping he can be next in line among the castoff pass-rushers signed to be the No. 2 option behind Bosa.

The Niners have had some unexplainable success getting the most out of relatively forgotten commodities here. Back in 2020, when Bosa suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 2, it opened up the door for defensive end Kerry Hyder to have a team-high and career-best 8.5 sacks. Last year, San Francisco inked former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Arden Key to a one-year deal, and Key turned in 6.5 sacks in a career-best performance, too.

Both of those players helped alleviate regular injury-related losses of veteran pass-rusher Dee Ford, who figures not to be part of the 49ers’ plans going forward.

While Hyder is back after a one-year stint with the Seattle Seahawks, Key turned his solid 2021 campaign into a new deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But, that prompts the question: Is Turay poised to be the next Key-like player for the Niners?

Why Kemoko Turay provides a quality impact for 49ers this season

Athleticism has always been part of Turay’s game, and it shouldn’t be forgotten he recorded a 4.65 40-yard time back at his 2018 NFL Combine workouts.

That speed figures to be vital in San Francisco’s wide-9 defensive alignment, which bumps edge rushers further outside the tackle box so they can use speed and agility to have a clearer line to opposing quarterbacks.

Provided Turay can stay healthy, one figures he can use this asset to his benefit, perhaps capitalizing on his solid 16.0 pass-rush win rate, according to Pro Football Focus last year.

Plus, Turay isn’t going to be asked to do too much, not with Bosa commanding the bulk of attention on the outside, meaning there should be plenty of favorable one-on-one matchups in the former’s favor.

Why Kemoko Turay doesn’t have an Arden Key-like season

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek got the most out of Key after they started moving him inside over the latter half of 2021, yet that’s not entirely Turay’s game.

Almost strictly an edge rusher, Turay might have set a career-high in sacks last season with 5.5, but his pressures (12) and quarterback hits (eight) were both down from what he managed to record back during his rookie season.

On one hand, it’s good to see him converting those pressures into sacks, at least based on the most recent trend, but it also suggests he’s not quite creating opportunities as he did earlier in his career.

And if injuries dog the 27 year old, it’s easy to assume he becomes a forgotten commodity.

Projecting Kemoko Turay’s impact, role with 49ers in 2022

Turay isn’t particularly known for his run-stopping abilities, meaning the 49ers are likely to use him as a situational pass-rusher only.

With $1 million guaranteed on his one-year deal, Turay is all but a guaranteed bet to make the 53-man roster this season, as long as he stays healthy, so the bigger question is what kind of role the Niners will place him in.

Read More: Predicting 49ers’ 2022 defensive starting lineup

San Francisco likely starts either Samson Ebukam or perhaps Charles Omenihu at defensive end opposite Bosa to open up the year, the long-term hope being Jackson turning into the go-to option.

However, much like how the 49ers rotated players like Hyder and Key into the rotation over the last two years, respectively, Turay figures to get plenty of chances.

Perhaps into a range where he sees about 30 percent of the Niners’ defensive snaps, suggesting a lot of third-down usage in obvious pass-rush situations.

If Turay can stay healthy, he could easily thrive under Kocurek and be the latest in what’s turning into a long line of once-forgotten pass-rushers who ended up producing in San Francisco.

That’s the hope at least.

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