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2009 Roster Projections: Defensive Line

When I was first thinking of a post for this morning I was considering rolling out my first 49ers 53-man roster projection of the offseason. However, I came up with a better idea that would provide me many more future posts. We know there are certain locks for the roster, we're pretty sure of the guys with virtually no chance, and then there are the bubble folks. I go with "virtually no chance" rather than just "no chance" because obviously anything can happen along the way.

So, I thought we'd take a look position by position at the locks, bubble watch and no chance guys. This will be for the 53-man roster, but I'll probably make some mentions of the practice squad as well. I won't go into a ton of details on each player, but rather give my thoughts more on the bubble guys, with some kind of poll to go along with it. Also, I realize the roster can change, but we're just taking it as it stands on this particular day.

We start with the defensive line. In the 3-4, the defensive line is primarily in place to occupy bodies and open holes for the linebackers to make plays. The 49ers have some solid options along the line, and will be hoping for some more consistency from anybody not named Justin Smith.

Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Kentwan Balmer, Aubrayo Franklin, Demetric Evans

Virtually No Chance
Khalif Mitchell, Pannel Egboh

Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois

I'd imagine the one that will draw the most contention is Ray McDonald. I'm pretty sure he'll make the 53-man, but his reconstructive knee surgery moves him temporarily to the bubble watch. One thing that does have me curious is the potential roster battle between McDonald and Ricky Jean-Francois. Last season, I believe the 49ers carried 6 defensive linemen most of the season. By my count here, we have 5 locks. If RJF has a solid camp, do they cut McDonald loose? I like McDonald's pass rushing skills, but does RJF have more overall upside potentially?

Looking at the "virtually no chance guys," I'm intrigued by both rookies. Egboh is a a little light for DE work, but too big for OLB work. So, he'll either have to bulk up or drop a few. As for Mitchell, I'm really intrigued by a defensive lineman who's 6-5, 318 lbs. That's a monster of a man. I'd say one of these two ends up on the practice squad, but I'll hold off predictions until we know what position Egboh will be playing.

How do you see the defensive line spots playing out?