After the 49ers recent preseason defensive dominance a lot has been made of their depth. A few have ventured so far as to say that the 49ers backups are better than some of the other 31 defenses out there. Since I have 30 minutes left of work and not much else today I thought I'd explore this a bit.
Defensive Line: Dobbs, Jerod-Eddie, and Dorsey have all preformed well this preseason but over 16 games I don't know how they would hold up. Glenn Dorsey is a solid player and would probably be a starter on most teams. Dobbs and Jerod-Eddie could perform well but we haven't seen them go up against other team's starters much. In the end I would have to say this is probably a very weak defensive line, but possibly an upgrade over a few really really bad defensive fronts. I'm looking at you Oakland. On the other hand, lets remember that the Niners are waiting on a couple of draft picks to get healthy. I can't predict how Tank and Dial will preform but Tank was a beast at Florida St. and a lot of people were really high on him last draft. Luckily none of those people run any of the other 31 team's drafts.
NFI and potential stud: Carradine
Linebackers: This group is without a doubt the strongest of the backups, and they have been lights out this preseason. Wilhoite is looking like he is one of the better middle linebackers in the league and I'll go as far as to say that he is a top 15 player at his position. Moody has performed well but he is learning a new position and while he has shown promise I doubt that he'd be an upgrade for most teams out there. The Lemonier, Johnson, Skuta trio on the outside reminds me a bit of the Brooks, Parys, Smith trio from 2011. None of them are as good as the 2011 squad but they aren't that much worse either. You have you your run stuffer in Skuta, do everything well nothing great guy in Johnson, and pass rush beast in Lemonier. All in all this probably isn't an upper echelon group this year (next year maybe) but they'd be far from the worst in the league.
Pass Rushing OLB: Lemonier
Corners: Corners have been considered a weakness for the Niners for the past few years, but I think it is just the weakest part of a very strong defense. The way I see it the Niners lack a top tier corner (depending on how you feel about Brown) but have a bunch of guys who are very quality numbers twos. Asomugha, Cox, and Brock were all fighting for the number three spot but I think that other than Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis, the Jets, and Chicago each of those guys would be in a battle for the number 2 even number 1 spots on a lot of teams. Atlanta and Washington come to mind as teams who would probably end up starting anyone and maybe all three of these guys.
Nickle CB: Cox
Safeties: Overall this is the area of the defense with the least quality depth. Dahl is an OK backup but a bad starter; just ask St. Louis. Spillman shows flashes but never seems to threaten the depth chart much. I really liked Robinson coming out of college but his height holds him back and he hasn't shown much in his limited time. Thomas has always been intriguing but again his inability to move up the depth chart doesn't inspire much confidence. Out of the four I don't even know who the starters would be. I'd guess probably Spillman and Dahl because they were the two competing with Reid, but I don't think a lot of teams would be clamoring to get any of these guys into their starting lineups. Of course at the end of this season we might look at the utter mess that has transpired in the New England secondary and think to ourselves "Damn! … They could have really used Dahl this year."
Conclusion: The thing this defense would be sorely lacking would be one or two true play makers. Lemonier and maybe Asomugha are the only two who might provide a bit of game changing ability and even that is very very debatable. On the other hand, other than safety you don't have any really bad players. The cornerback and linebacking corps actually look quite strong. The defense line wouldn't scare too many offensive lines but they wouldn't be a bunch of pushovers either. Once Tank is activated and starts making offensive linemen cry, their nickle defense looks pretty good too. Come to think of it going Dobbs, Dorsey, Carradine, and Lemonier in a four man front could be quite effective maybe even top 10. The safeties are the biggest question marks and probably would hold the whole group back a bit. If you had slightly better safeties then you'd probably have the beginning of a very nice bend but don't break group of players.
The question was would this group preform better than any of the other 31 defenses out there. I'm going to say that this defense would be right in the mix with the likes of Oakland, New Orleans, and Washington for one of the bottom 3 spots in the league. They would probably preform pretty well against the run in base sets and could cover fairly well on the outside. I just think the lack of quality safeties leads to a lot of big plays. However, if you look at just the players I think you have 8 or 9 guys who could challenge for and probably win a starting role on a lot of teams.
Looking forward to thoughts, criticisms, and of course the inevitable troll.