Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
The San Francisco 49ers have had a strong pair of defensive tackles on the edge of their 3-4 when they roll out Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. The problem prior to 2013 was that the team did not have enough backup options to remove Smith and McDonald for any sort of serious rest. In 2011 and 2012, Smith and McDonald were among the league leaders in total snaps played. Even without factoring in their deep playoff runs, the two players were out there quite a bit.
In 2013, the 49ers finally appeared to find some decent rotational options. Formerly undrafted free agents Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie worked their way into the rotation and actually managed to get Smith and McDonald some reasonable rest. Dobbs finished the season with 302 defensive snaps, while TJE finished with 378 defensive snaps. For comparison's sake, in 2012, Ricky Jean-Francois, the team's primary backup defensive lineman, finished the season with 287 snaps, and that included starting in place of Justin Smith the final two games (and one half of the Patriots game). RJF's played in 27 percent of defensive snaps as basically the only backup defensive lineman, while Dobbs finished with around 28 percent of defensive snaps, and TJE finished around 35 percent of defensive snaps.
Dobbs entered 2013 with more experience than Jerod-Eddie, but TJE seemed to climb past him on the depth chart. Dobbs did not finish too far behind TJE in snaps, but TJE was usually the first guy off the bench. It was an interesting change, as Dobbs had shown some great things his previous two preseasons. Dobbs ended up being a capable backup this past season. He was not flashy, but it did seem like when he and TJE rotated into games where it wasn't a wholesale removal of starters, he was perfectly capable. For a backup, anything more is a bonus.
Dobbs entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, having completed his 3-year rookie deal. The 49ers tendered Dobbs at the lowest available level, but that still resulted in a $1.431 million tender. He was free to try and get a deal elsehwere, but I don't recall any rumors about other teams being interested. I was a little surprised the 49ers elected to tender him. I suppose they could have felt he would have signed elsewhere, but that seemed like a sizable chunk of change. Of course, if the team does not think Tank Carradine or Quinton Dial are progressing enough, it makes sense to keep a stable backup option around.
Why he will improve in 2014:
He has three years under his belt, and it is possible he can make some kind of leap this year. He didn't exactly wow in the regular season, but he has looked good in preseason play. Sure it might never fully convert to regular season performance, but players make that leap in year three or four plenty of times. My guess is this will not be the case, but it will at least make for an interesting preseason. I suspect he gets plenty of opportunities in the preseason. I don't expect Justin Smith and Ray McDonald to play a whole lot this preseason. That potentially opens the door for extensive preseason opportunities against first and second team offensive units.
Why he will regress in 2014:
See above, just in reverse. He has impressed in the preseason, but it has not fully translated to the regular season. He is a very capable backup, and that's nothing to hang your head over. But given that the 49ers depth is only improving along the line with the return of Tank Carradine, and potentially a full season of Quinton Dial, and his opportunities might start to slip. I don't know that he'll necessarily "regress", but his opportunities very well could.
Odds of making the roster:
This is a tough one to figure for me. The 49ers are deeper along the defensive line, but Dobbs gets a lot of special teams work. If Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial and Tony Jerod-Eddie provide more than enough backup along the line, I could see Dobbs getting cut (or potentially traded for a late pick). His $1.431 million tender is not fully guaranteed, and the 49ers could always use more cap space. The cap/DL numbers game could be his undoing in San Francisco. If Dobbs is not traded, his roster chances are somewhere in the 30-40 percent range, give or take. Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial could make it too difficult for him to stick around.