Pro Football Focus spent the last week ranking teams 1-32 on a variety of positional units, and we reach the end of it with their look at defensive fronts. PFF ranked all 32 teams based on a combination of their defensive line, outside linebackers, and inside linebackers. Given the differences in 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, it makes sense to go with the seven man front teams usually present in their base defense. Teams often use nickel and dime packages more than their base defense, but the basic seven-man front is a good starting point.
The San Francisco 49ers again rank poorly in these PFF rankings. Their defensive front ranks No. 23, which is dead last in the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks are No. 2, the Los Angeles Rams are No. 4, and the Arizona Cardinals are No. 15. Here’s what they had to say about the 49ers front seven:
Key stat: The 49ers allowed 5.13 yards per carry in sub packages last season, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL.
Led by Ian Williams, the 49ers’ base run defense is in safe hands, but they allowed nearly 2 yards per carry more in sub-packages than base, the biggest drop-off in the league last year. While the addition of Buckner to pair with former Oregon teammate Arik Armstead adds to their interior pass-rush, the 49ers’ sub-package run-D has to raise its game in 2016, Williams is the key to the 49ers’ run defense, and teams can remove him from the equation without blocking him, simply by forcing San Francisco into their nickel and dime defenses. Another year removed from a devastating knee injury, San Francisco will hope that NaVorro Bowman can be close to his old self in coverage after he allowed the most yards and broke up the fewest passes in a single season since he entered the starting lineup last year.
In assessing the 49ers, PFF’s analysis is a little bit lacking. They talk about Ian Williams, but ignore his injury. Furthermore, they suggest the 49ers struggles in stopping the run in sub packages means that’s how they can get Williams out of the picture. Of course, Williams was starting to get work in their sub-packages last season, so even if he was 100 percent healthy, that would be something to factor in.
The addition of DeForest Buckner is going to be a huge key for this group. Whether he’s only in the sub-package, or he gets into the starting lineup, Buckner’s overall game should be able to boost the 49ers run defense in their sub packages. Additionally, PFF did not include fifth round pick Ronald Blair among their “other names to know.” I’m not surprised by this, but as David Neumann discussed earlier this offseason, Blair could be the 49ers day three pick that makes the biggest early impact.