Amidst the euphoria of a revamped 49ers defense, one player appeared to be overlooked: Ray McDonald. Prior to this season, McDonald had 2 total sacks and was known just as much for the injury issues with which he had dealt. He was expected to be on the PUP list, meaning inactive to start the season, but he was able to get off the PUP list in time to play week 1.
I mention him now because he has quickly become an impact player for this aggressive 49ers defense. He's sort of been the anti-Mark Roman (at least the 2006-2008 Roman) in that he seems to make an important play every week. Week 1 and week 2 he contributed a pair of sacks. Week 3 he absolutely busted through the offensive line to easily bat down a field goal attempt. Nate Clements subsequently picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown. Maybe the 49ers didn't win, but that play definitely had the momentum in their favor.
I bring this up now after reading Mike Sando's latest NFC West Stock Watch. In it he has McDonald in the rising category, which should come as no surprise. As Sando points out, chronic knee problems have dogged McDonald dating back to college. Now, the former 3rd round pick might very well be on his way to becoming a dominant force for this defense.
As I've mentioned many times before, I entered this season viewing McDonald as basically a pass rush specialist. I don't think he's a guy the 49ers can expect to play every single down. That's due in part to his injury history, but also the fact that the simple pass rush role seems to suit him better. Line up and try to blow past your opponent on the way to destroying the QB. Thus far this season he's executed that role rather well, and turned into a defensive impact player in the process.
Is this something he can maintain? Has he found his niche in the 49ers defense?