Since the season ended, I was never happy when I saw a mock draft with the 49ers taking a DE/OLB pass-rusher at #30. 'Why would they do this?' I'd say to myself -- with Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and Cory Lemonier all on the roster.
But I've been mulling it over, and I now feel like its a *great* idea and fits with what the 49ers emphasize on defense. Here is my rationale:
1. Pass rusher is the most important defensive position - the biggest factor impacting scoring in the NFL is QB performance, and the biggest factor inhibiting QB performance is pass protection and time to throw; with today's complicated routes, even elite defensive backs cannot shut down a receiver forever -- they WILL get open. there are also a lot of exotic subpackages these days, and with more pass rushers, we have more options.
2. Pass rushers are expensive - the most important position on defense is expensive. the top 3 3-4 OLB contracts average over $11m per season, top 5 average over $10m per season. Shoot, Ahmad Brooks will make $8.5m/season in 2015 and 2016 -- are we going to continue paying that? What about Aldon's next contract? 4-3 DEs make about 15% to 20% more. A team simply cannot afford to keep elite pass rushers around forever on their team (see Mario, Peppers, etc.). You need to replenish and replace.
3. Pass rushers get tired - among all positions, the edge rusher probably gives out more on a single play than any other; its 3-5 seconds of "all-out"...and they get tired. We've seen it in games - long passing drives result in a tired Aldon and a tired Ahmad, they've got nothing left in the tank. With more depth, you can keep all your pass-rushers fresh: ahmad, aldon, Lemonier, and a rookie, all rotating in and out. they'll never be tired. pass rushers don't play every down because of this.
4. pass rushers get injured - Being the most important position on defense, any injury to a top pass rusher can result in a significantly degraded defense. However, added depth and field experience can mitigate this risk. In addition, the impact of your best player getting injured in a 'platoon' setup is mitigated as well -- you just slice the pie a little bit differently.
For all these reasons, I have no issue with us taking a pass rusher at #30, trading up a little bit, or trading back a little bit. In that range, the following players will be available. note: anthony barr is highly unlikely to fall into the 20s, but I've seen some mocks where it is happening...you never know. Of these, I really like Dee Ford as a pure pass rusher at #30. Kony Ealy looks very similar to Aldon Smith, and Marcus Smith holds a lot of potential as well. If Shazier fell to #30, I wouldn't think twice about drafting him.
* Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA, 6-5, 255
* Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State, 6-1, 237
* Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn, 6-2, 252
* Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State, 6-3, 251
* Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, 6-4, 273
* Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville, 6-3, 251