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 you get the idea.
The San Francisco 49ers do not have a lot of depth on the roster, but one position group that is among the deeper units is defensive line. The team has invested a first round pick in the line the last two years, selecting Arik Armstead in 2015, and DeForest Buckner in 2016. They extended Quinton Dial this offseason, and while Ian Williams’s ankle injury is a big question, he is a talented defensive tackle. Mike Purcell has emerged as a decent nose tackle option, and Glenn Dorsey appears to be on the mend from his torn ACL.
The team added to that depth in undrafted free agency, signing Alabama nose tackle Darren Lake. There are numerous players in front of Lake on the depth chart, but the injuries to Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey open the door for the Alabama product to potentially land a roster spot. At the very least, he seems like a strong candidate for a practice squad roster spot.
The 49ers gave Lake $7,000 in guaranteed money, with $3,000 as a base salary guarantee, and $4,000 as a signing bonus. Lake was far down the radar at Alabama because he was playing a traditional nose tackle role, and was buried behind Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson. Those two both went in the second round, off a 2015 season that saw Alabama win a national title thanks in part to a ridiculous defensive line.
Our friends at Roll Bama Roll put together a thorough look at Lake’s time at Alabama. This was prior to not being invited to the Combine:
Lake's measurables (outside of his size) aren't breath-taking, as he was clocked at 5.29 in the 40. A Combine invite and a solid pro day could boost his stock considerably, as any team that runs a 3-4 defense could appreciate his sheer girth and power. After all, in a 3-4, the role of the nose is to absorb blocks and hold the point as an immovable object. If nothing else, Lake proved himself quite capable in that role, and if not for Robinson and Reed, he likely would have had a much larger role in Alabama's 2014-2015 defense.
Though Lake didn't have the stats or the flashy performances that made his fellow defensive line teammates household names in the state of Alabama, he was a solid, steady situational player who helped provide Alabama's front seven with historically-great quality depth.
Here’s what the 49ers PR department put together after they announced the UDFA signings:
Appeared in 42 games and recorded 26 tackles and 1 TFL during his four-year career with the Crimson Tide. As a senior, appeared in 13 games and registered 3 tackles. In 2014, saw action in 8 games and was credited with 5 tackles. As a sophomore, appeared in 13 games and recorded 15 tackles. In 2012, recorded 3 tackles and 1 TFL as a freshman. Attended Sumter County (York, AL) HS, where he was named first-team Alabama Sports Writers Associated 4A all-state as a senior. Born 12/28/92 in York, AL.
Signed three-year rookie contract as undrafted free agent. If he makes the roster, his rookie year will feature a base salary of $450,000 and a cap hit of $451,333. If he is released, the 49ers will have $4,000 in dead money.
What to expect in 2016
Lake is likely destined for the practice squad, but if he did make the roster, he would fit in as a run-stuffing nose tackle. It would be similar to Ian Williams’ role prior to last season. Last year, Williams saw more work outside of the base defense, in a broader defensive tackle role. Prior to that, he was a traditional nose tackle. Lake played that role at Alabama, but saw his playing time decrease in 2015 because the team moved to a more athletic defensive front. The increase in spread offenses provided fewer opportunities for a more traditional run-stopping defense. There were still opportunities for such a role, but it was less than Lake had previously had. If he earned a spot on the 49ers roster, he likely would be inactive most of the time, but if active, he would play in that more traditional nose tackle role.
Odds of making the roster
His roster chances likely depend on a couple things. Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey are both recovering from injuries, and their statuses for Week 1 are in doubt. If both end up opening the season on the PUP list, Lake’s chances increase rather dramatically. If one is on the PUP list and one is off, the chances increase, but not nearly as much. If both are on the 53-man roster, his chances are incredibly slim.
Lake could be competing with Mike Purcell for a roster spot. Purcell did some solid work filling in at nose tackle, but his ceiling still seems relatively limited. That's not to say Lake’s is much higher, but I think that particular roster spot remains fairly fluid. The 49ers will likely spend more time in their nickel defense than base defense, so both players are going to have fairly limited opportunities. They will likely get some nickel chances in the preseason, but once the regular season gets here, one or both would be some depth, but unlikely to get much time in sub-packages.