Heading into the offseason the 49ers have many questions surrounding what used to be considered one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Justin Smith's status is still unknown. How will they replace Ray McDonald? Is there a reliable nose tackle on the roster? There seems to be no doubt they'll look to add depth this offseason be it through free agency or the draft. The good news is this year's draft class appears to be pretty deep along the defensive line.
As it stands today, the 49ers defensive line looks like this: Tank Carradine, Glen Dorsey , Quinton Dial, Mike Purcell, Kaleb Ramsey, Justin Smith, and Ian Williams. The 9ers still own the right to TJE if they want to bring him back and Lawrence Okoye and Garrsion Smith were signed to futures contracts.
Here's a look at my top 11 defensive linemen in the upcoming NFL Draft:
NOTE: There's been some scuttlebutt that the 49ers intend to "switch" to a 4-3 this season. But, I think when it's all said and done the 49ers defensive scheme will look much like it has over the last few years. Predominately nickel, with a base of 3-4 with many 4-3 (over/under) concepts. However, given the uncertainty I've included the positions each DL profiles at best. Edge players like 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 ends will be ranked separately.
(0T = Nose Tackle; 3T = DT in 4-3/Nickel; 5T = DE in 3-4)
1. Leonard Williams - 6-5, 298, Jr., USC (Profiles anywhere along the DL)
2. Jordan Phillips - 6-6, 334lbs, rJr., Oklahoma (Profiles at: 0T , 3T or 5T)
3. Eddie Goldman - 6-3, 320lbs, Jr., Florida State (Profiles at: 3T)
4. Arik Armstead - 6-8, 296lbs, Jr., Oregon (Profiles at 5T)
5. Malcom Brown - 6-4 320lbs, Jr., Texas (Profiles at: 0T or 3T)
6. Danny Shelton - 6-1, 343lbs, Sr., Washington (Profiles at 0T or 3T)
7. Carl Davis - 6-5, 321lbs, rSr. Iowa (Profiles at 0T or 5T)
8. Mario Edwards, Jr. 6-3, 294lbs, Jr., Florida State (Profiles at 5T)
9. Michael Bennett - 6-2, 288lbs, Sr., Ohio State (Profiles at 3T or 5T)
10. Xavier Cooper 6-4, 298lbs, rJR, Washington State (Profiles at 3T)
Just missed: DT Gabe Wright, Auburn; DE Anthony Chickillo, Miami; DE Preston Smith Mississippi State; DE Henry Anderson, Stanford
Leonard Williams is one of the top overall players in this year's class. He won't be an option for the 49ers barring some sort of crazy trade.
If you haven't heard the name Jordan Phillips yet, get ready to hear it a ton over the next few weeks. At 6-6, 334lbs Phillips appears to be quite the athlete. He's powerful and the point of attack and extremely active along the line of scrimmage. Phillips' combination of size, athleticism, and versatility will make him a top 15 pick.
Arik Armstead is another huge, athletic freak likely to be vaulting up draft boards this offseason. The 6-8, 296lbs giant is still pretty raw and almost appears to be still learning to use his size and length. Despite potentially being a bit of project, guys with his size, length, athleticism and natural ability don't come along too often. I'd be on board if the 49ers drafted him at 15.
I'm not as high on Danny Shelton as some. I still think he's a first rounder and solid prospect. I'm concerned about a tendency to disappear at times.
Mario Edwards Jr. is an interesting prospect. He was used as an edge player a lot at Florida State and just seemed out of position at times. While he's great at establishing an edge but struggled to generate a consistent pass rush. I think he's best suited as a 5T DE where he can concentrate his skills on stopping the run and use his underrated athleticism to pressure the pocket up the middle.
Despite my recent mock draft projection of Dorial Green-Beckham, I think there's a good chance the 49ers draft a defensive lineman in the first round. DL seems to have been a solid option the last few years and the team has surprised us. No matter when the 49ers decide to add depth to the line, new head coach Jim Tomsula appears to have plenty of talent to choose from.