The San Francisco 49ers are making changes to their defense in 2017, switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 hybrid we see in Seattle to a certain extent. They will still spend a lot of their time in the nickel, but this could result in some shifting around of responsibilities.
The 49ers lacked many strengths last season, but the defensive line offered some positives in an otherwise dismal year. The team lost Ian Williams before the season even got going, but they got strong work from rookie DeForest Buckner. Losing Williams was a disappointment, but losing Arik Armstead was an even bigger disappointment. The second year defensive tackle injured his shoulder in training camp, and never got on track before spending the bulk of the year on injured reserve.
This offseason, Armstead and Buckner will likely be counted on to play big roles on the defensive line. But there will be a need for more depth as they move to more of a 4-3 Under. We’ll see at least one outside linebacker get moved down to a hand in the ground, but the team could look for further interior depth. Quinton Dial will be back in 2017, but the team could lose veteran defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. He has quietly been one of the team’s better free agent signings in recent years, and if he does walk, his presence will be missed.
There is no word on what Ian Williams has planned next. And even if he does return to the 49ers after finally recovering from his ankle injury, any contributions would be a bonus. That means the team could decide to invest in the line in other ways. We have seen some mock drafts suggest Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen with the No. 2 pick. However, we have a new suggestion.
NFL Media analyst Elliott Harrison broke down some potential free agency fits for some notable players. Among the players he looked at was Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe. He is listed as a nose tackle, but he played in most of the Chiefs defensive alignments, finishing the season playing 73.4 percent of defensive snaps.
Harrison suggested the 49ers, Titans, and Bengals as potential fits. He sees the Titans as a team willing to spend money, and the Bengals as a team in need of a replacement for a long-time veteran. For the 49ers, he sees the need to potentially replace Glenn Dorsey, and move Poe in alongside the two Oregon products.
The 49ers, Titans, and Bengals all have considerable cap space at their disposal, which means we could see a modest bidding war. Poe had back surgery in 2015, but has only missed two games over his five-year career. Interior defensive linemen that are best at stopping the run don’t get crazy money. However, coming off a solid 2016 season, and entering a market with a lot of cash available, he could do well for himself.