The San Francisco 49ers run defense was truly abysmal last season, setting franchise records for ineptitude. Trailing in games does not help matters, but they were taking awful performance to a whole new level.
The team is overhauling the unit in hopes of turning that around, adding some big-time contributors this offseason. They signed nose tackle Earl Mitchell in free agency, and then spent a pair of first round picks on defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, and linebacker Reuben Foster.
However, some returning players will get a chance to help turn the defense around. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently signed second-year defensive end Sterling Bailey. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent last year. On Wednesday, Pro Football Focus posted a look at his 2015 work as a college run-stopper. Among 3-4 defensive ends in college football that season, Bailey ranked No. 8 in run stop percentage.
I bring this up because the 49ers have three players appearing on that top ten list. Ronald Blair led FBS in run stop percentage in 2015, with DeForest Buckner ranked No. 6 and Solomon Thomas ranked No. 10.
The Buccaneers have added second-year DI Sterling Bailey.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 31, 2017
In his final college seasons, he posted strong run-stopping numbers. pic.twitter.com/4ICLwvwJt8
We don’t know exact specifics, but we know that Buckner and Thomas will have significant roles on the defensive line. However, Blair’s role is tough to figure at this point. He seems best suited for the strong end role in the base, and has the ability to move inside to tackle on passing downs.
The 49ers have a lot of players competing for defensive line work. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, and Earl Mitchell all seem pretty close to locks at this point (barring any trades). Behind those four, Ronald Blair, Tank Carradine, Aaron Lynch, D.J. Jones, Quinton Dial, Chris Jones, and Noble Nwachuku are all competing for a variety of roles. We could see D.J. Jones and Quinton Dial competing for backup work in the base interior, while Blair, Tank, and Lynch could be competing for a mixture of roles. Of those seven players I would think no more than four or five will make the roster.
Whomever ends up making the roster, the 49ers could be in a position to have a decent rotation along the line for the first time in a long time.