The San Francisco 49ers defense has struggled to find its identity through the first eight weeks of the season, but there are some talented players shining through. The most notable is probably outside linebacker Aaron Lynch. The second year pass rusher has five sacks on the season, but that number does not tell the whole story.
SI writer Doug Farrar put together a midseason review of the most underrated players through the first half of the season. Farrar points to his 37 "disruptions" as the lone bright spot on the 49ers defense. I think arguments can be made about some other bright spots, but Lynch is the guy who stands out. Pro Football Focus credits him with five sacks, seven QB hits, and 24 QB hurries, which would add up to 36 "disruptions". They also rank him No. 5 among 31 3-4 OLBs in their pass rush productivity stat, according to PFF's Jeff Deeney.
The 49ers pass rush has been less than stellar overall, but I think a lot of that has to do with the defensive line not getting a lot of push. The 3-4 pass rush is frequently about the defensive linemen opening the door for outside linebackers, and the 49ers defensive line has been less than stellar. Nonetheless, Lynch is making things happen when he can.
The 49ers will face plenty of questions heading into the offseason, and the future of the pass rush is part of that. Pro Football grades Ahmad Brooks negatively in the pass rush, but rank him tenth among the 31 3-4 OLBs in their pass rush productivity stat. Brooks will turn 32 prior to the 2016 season, and is signed through the 2017 season. He is due to have a $9,698,750 cap hit next year. If the 49ers elect to cut him before June 1, they save $6,501,250 in cap space. If they cut him after June 1, they would save $7.35 million in cap space.
Odds seem pretty decent the 49ers release him as part of a broader roster overhaul, but with so many other roster questions, they might also decide to let it ride for one more season, or try and trade him. Eli Harold has had some moments as a rookie, but is dealing with plenty of growing pains. He'll get his share of opportunities heading into next season, but with Corey Lemonier doing nothing of note outside of special teams, I have to think the 49ers consider making an addition or two to the pass rush this offseason.