The folks at Pro Football Focus are rolling out their annual "Secret Superstar" series, and they got to the San Francisco 49ers article on Tuesday. The 49ers have had a lot of roster turnover, opening the door for numerous under the radar players to step up. PFF went with a fairly obvious choice in outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, but they provided some solid insight into what he did well last year.
Lynch's primary role was in the team's sub-packages as a pass rusher. He got work fairly quickly due to Aldon Smith's suspension. Dan Skuta had the veteran edge, but Lynch was among the most productive pass rushers in the league. PFF rated him out in their "Pass Rush Productivity" stat as top ten among outside linebackers. According to PFF, Lynch finished the season with 41 total pressures. This was comprised of six sacks, eight hits and 27 hurries.
Although Lynch focused on his work as a pass rusher, he did get some opportunities to work against the run. PFF pointed out his two starts in Week 10 and 11 when Ahmad Brooks was being disciplined. Here is what they had to say about those two starts:
He went wire to wire against the Saints in Week 10 and played well, but was really a menace in Week 11 at the Giants. He bullied back back-up right tackle Charles Brown most of the day, piling up eight total pressures, including a sack. At his most dominant, Lynch rag-dolled Brown to the ground, leaving an open path to the QB for an easy sack (2Q, 1:04). He was competitive in the run-game as well, getting in on a nice run stop at the 1:17 mark of the third quarter after putting a nice swim move on the lead fullback.
Lynch heads into the 2015 season in an interesting situation. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are likely the starting outside linebackers heading into training camp. The team drafted outside linebacker Eli Harold, Smith is signed through the 2015 season, and Ahmad Brooks is a potential cap casualty at some point in the future.
Lynch is likely going to be playing primarily in the team's sub-packages again, but training camp provides a huge opportunity. I doubt Brooks is going anywhere this year, but a strong performance in training camp and the preseason could very well open the door for greater opportunities.