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.
A fifth-round pick in 2016, Ronald Blair was a highly versatile defensive line prospect from Appalachian State who fell in the draft due to poor athletic testing.
Blair appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, growing into the rotation along the defensive line. He made 16 combined tackles (5 assists) and had three sacks. The progression in his play as the season went on certainly earned him some fans amongst the Faithful, and the move to a 4-3 defense will likely help him. He has fairly prototypical traits for a strong side end in this scheme, as well as clearly possessing the ability to kick inside on passing downs and rush from the interior.
He graded at 51.0 in run defense and 50.5 in pass defense per PFF, resulting in a 46.3 overall grade which is considered poor. However, such struggles are representative of those of the entire defense and do not capture the considerable improvement in Blair’s play as his rookie season wore on. He also played considerably more snaps against the pass than against the run, with 217 pass rush snaps and 82 against the run, demonstrating his primary usage as an interior pass rusher.
Experience: 1 accrued season
Second year of rookie contract with a cap hit of $607,601. Would save $540,000 if cut after June 1.
Why he might improve in 2017
Blair’s play improved noticeably as his rookie season progressed and he increasingly found himself part of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation, especially when Arik Armstead was placed on Injured Reserve.
Though he was used more as an interior pass rusher, where he demonstrated disruptive abilities at the NFL level, his run defense also improved as the season went on. His experiences both in college and as a rookie taking on double teams should help him to translate smoothly to the strong side end position in the 49ers’ new 4-3 defense, and he can, if required, kick inside to rush the passer. Other than Solomon Thomas, Blair is arguably the best suited of the 49ers’ defensive linemen to the new defensive scheme and he is the versatility to play across the defensive line if required.
Why he might regress in 2017
Outside of an injury, it is difficult to predict Blair regressing in the new scheme unless he’s asked to take regular snaps at either LEO or at nose tackle (on non-passing downs), where he would lack the requisite athleticism or size respectively. He could still be effective at either of those spots however, particularly at LEO.
Other than this, his only other potential source of regression would be due to finding himself well down the pecking order on the defensive line rotation, particularly if Arik Armstead does not find himself as a starter. In such a scenario Blair could find himself third in the pecking order for the strong side end spot, behind Armstead and Solomon Thomas.
Odds of making the roster
These should be fairly high, and outside of sustaining an injury in camp, Blair should make the roster, at least as a backup along the defensive line. Given his apparent fit in the system, we might even see Blair work his way into a significant number of snaps.