Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
The San Francisco 49ers struck gold in 2014 with the selection of outside linebacker Aaron Lynch in the 2014 NFL Draft. The rookie took advantage of opportunities that arose with Aldon Smith's suspension and Ahmad Brooks's team discipline to emerge as a strong pass rushing threat. Lynch's emergence is important for long-term stability at outside linebacker, and the team looked to further that in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The 49ers invested their third round pick on Virginia pass rusher Eli Harold. While Lynch looks like a long-term option, contract issues mean the team needs additional depth moving forward. Aldon Smith is on the final year of his contract, and Ahmad Brooks is reaching a point where it will eventually make sense to release him for cap relief. And even beyond the financial reasons, having additional pass rushing depth is always a good thing.
Harold was projected by many to go in the first or second round. He enters the NFL as a strong pass rusher, using speed and hands to work his way past the offensive line. David Neumann broke down Harold's film, and it is very clear he has the tools to be a very good pass rusher. He has to work on his complementary moves, but he showed enough of them to think he has a decent starting point from which to work.
His negatives come primarily against the run. He lacked a certain measure of strength that kept him from disengaging from blockers. It hurt him in run defense, and is something he will need to work on if he wants to become a more well-rounded linebacker. Here are a few additional scouting reports
What to expect in 2015:
As Neumann pointed out in his film breakdown, Harold should be able to get on the field early on as part of a pass rushing rotation. He brings a different look than Lynch and Smith, which would seemingly help the 49ers defense keep opposing offenses further off balance. I don't know what percentage of snaps we can expect, but there will be some kind of rotation.
Brooks could still end up a cap casualty, but I think he sticks around. Assuming that is the case, he would likely be the starting outside linebacker opposite Smith in the base defense. Lynch could work his way into the mix there a bit, and it would not surprise me if he slowly works his way into more of a base starting role as the season rolls along. It will be interesting to see how quickly (if at all), Lynch gets some base 3-4 snaps.
The question then is how they rotate in Lynch and Harold. Brooks would be the first guy off the field, while Smith is obviously going to get a bulk of pass rushing snaps in the nickel. The upside to having both Lynch and Harold available is they can rest Smith here and there. I would not expect a ton of it, but it is a nice luxury to have.
Odds of making the roster:
Harold is a lock to make the roster. As mentioned above, it is more about how much playing time he gets as a rookie. The 49ers also have Corey Lemonier in the training camp mix, but after his fall down the depth chart last year, I would be a little bit surprised if he made the roster. If he can show something on defense and further develop as a special teams player, he could earn a spot more on the latter. Really, Lemonier is competing with the other special teamers, as opposed to with Harold and Lynch, for now.