The defensive line was much maligned for its lack of pressure on the quarterback and part of that might be due in part to the transition they have undergone from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Of course the other part is some less than desirable talent to plug in to the nose tackle position. Everyone fully expects this to be answered in either free agency with a guy like Terdell Sands or through the draft with Amobi Okoye or Alan Branch. In the meantime, let's take a look back at 2006 for our less than formidable defensive line.
Bryant Young - What else needs to be said about BY? His playing time has been reduced, but in doing so, Nolan has increased his effectiveness. He was second on the team in sacks and had his highest tackle total since 1998. Whomever is added to the defense, Young will be the leader of the unit on and off the field. The defense struggled to generate a pass rush, but Young certainly stepped up in a slightly decreased role in his 13th season. 2006 Grade: B
Marques Douglas - Douglas played the right end role in the 3-4 and the right defensive tackle in the 4-3. He led the defensive line in tackles with 61, including a team-high 5.5 for a loss, and finished with 3 sacks. A guy like Douglas personified the defensive line. He got his stats, certainly not spectacular by any means, and yet it did not seem like he really got pressure on the quarterback all that often. However, the only way I see him being replaced in the starting lineup in 2007 is if the 49ers draft Adam Carriker out of Nebraska. 2006 Grade: C
Isaac Sopoaga - While Sopoaga only finished his second season with the team, it feels like he has been around a lot longer. He finished the season with 22 tackles and 2 sacks in 15 games. Looking at 2005, Sopoaga actually improved in disrupting plays as he increased his sack total and his pass deflections. In switching to the 3-4 full time, Sopoaga would be able to provide a breather for a guy like Okoye or Branch. 2006 Grade: D+
Melvin Oliver - As a rookie out of LSU, Oliver had 36 tackles, a sack and a returned touchdown. While he backed up Douglas in the 3-4, he was the starting right defensive end in the 4-3. While Oliver did not make a huge game-breaking impact, he definitely made strides in his first season. He definitely earned a role in the various packages Nolan will roll out and should be a boon to the line next year. 2006 Grade: C
Anthony Adams - Adams finished 2006 with 12 tackles, 2 sacks and a pass deflection. Considering the team used a 2nd round pick on the Penn State product, Adams would definitely qualify as a bust, which makes it less than surprising that he apparently will not be signed to a new contract. I think Sopoaga will be able to develop into a solid backup for whomever we plug into the nose tackle role in the 3-4. 2006 Grade: F (Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out).
The free agent market for defensive lineman is somewhat limited, considering Justin Smith has been franchised and Dwight Freeney is expected to join him in the coming week. Jared Allen is as talented as anyone out there but is a restricted free agent, meaning it would cost us draft picks (and he could also be franchised). Furthermore, people seem to think he'll be resigned before he can hit the market. That leaves the likes of a Vonnie Holliday and not much else. That is one reason Amobi Okoye or Alan Branch would be high at the top of the draft board for the 49ers, as well as a variety of deeper talents. Considering the dearth of defensive line talent in free agency, taking a defensive tackle in the first round makes even more sense.