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49ers roster breakdowns, 90-in-90: Pita Taumoepenu

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today we move on to defensive end/outside linebacker Pita Taumoepenu.

NCAA Football: California at Utah
 Utah Utes defensive end Pita Taumoepenu reacts after sacking California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

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 sixth round pick out of Utah for the 49ers, Pita Taumoepenu was the specialist pass rusher that the 49ers needed to grab in the draft this season.

Despite missing his first month of possible play as a freshman at Utah due to paperwork issues, Taumoepenu left college with the fifth most sacks overall by a Utes player (21.5), including two in his final game, coincidentally played at Levi’s Stadium (courtesy of the 49ers running the Foster Farms Bowl). Fellow 49ers’ rookie Joe Williams also signed off his career for the Utes at Levi’s. Both players have good memories already at the stadium, where they won their Bowl game against Indiana.

Overall, Taumoepenu appeared in 46 games at Utah, starting 7 of them. His sack totals increased each year, with one as a freshman, 5.5 as a sophomore, 6 as a junior and 9 as a senior (including three forced fumbles). He also had 25.5 tackles for a loss, of which 12 came as a senior.

At the combine, Taumoepenu ran a 4.67 40 yard dash (92nd percentile amongst defensive linemen), with a strong 1.65s 10 yard split. Fellow draftee Solomon Thomas ran a 4.69s 40 with a 1.66s 10 yard split for comparison. Taumoepenu also performed exceptionally well in the three cone drill with his 6.91s effort placing him second amongst d-linemen at the combine (Thomas was fourth best) and in the 94th percentile per MockDraftable. He was sixth best at the combine in the short shuttle (4.33s), barely slower than Thomas who was third best with a time of 4.28s.

It is clear that Taumoepenu has the athleticism to translate to the NFL, and 49ers fans will hope that he can translate some of his pass rushing productivity to a team that could suddenly have a stud pass-rushing defensive line rotation.

Basic info:

Height: 6’1
Weight: 243lbs
Age: 23
Experience: Rookie

Cap status:

First year of rookie contract, Taumoepenu has a base salary of $465,000, a cap hit of $501,361 and a dead cap hit of $145,444 if he is cut.

What he could offer:

Whilst at Utah, Taumoepenu was used as a specialist pass rusher and invariably had his hand in the dirt. His role in San Francisco should largely be similar, where he could offer an explosive presence as a specialist pass rusher.

In OTAs, he has been running as the third string LEO, per Matt Barrows, which given Arik Armstead is currently the base down LEO, could have meant that the 49ers saw Taumoepenu as their second best, pure LEO player after Aaron Lynch. Whilst the signing of Elvis Dumervil changes this, Lynch has been out of shape and, as Taumoepenu is a first year player and was highly regarded by several other teams, Lynch could find himself on the chopping block unless he gets into seriously good shape.

Taumoepenu is, at this point, more explosive and faster than Lynch and demonstrates the traits to get after the quarterback. His first step alone could threaten most tackles and alleviate some of the issues surrounding his size, and he possesses a good swim and rip move to take advantage of tackles over-adjusting to his speed. He is also effective as a backside run defender, with the speed to get to running backs.With further experience, NFL coaching and the presence of veteran Elvis Dumervil, Taumoepenu could figure to grow into the rotation on passing downs as Robert Saleh’s defense takes shape. Before that of course, he can utilize his athleticism on special teams.

He could, if he plays at a high level, spell the end on the 49ers roster for someone like Lynch, Eli Harold or perhaps Quinton Dial, who seems to be a bit of a tweener in this scheme.

Why he might struggle:

Whilst Taumoepenu has the athletic traits and obvious pass rushing talent, the fact that he was largely a specialist pass rusher in college demonstrates that right now, he is not going to be capable of holding down a regular role in the team. He lacks the power to set an edge, though as a LEO he is unlikely to have to play that role consistently. As a SAM linebacker however, this could show up as a considerable weakness.

Seeing him as a specialist pass rusher at the NFL level is a fairly significant projection, albeit one with a legitimate chance of happening. When he can’t beat a pass blocker with his speed or his first move, he is easy to block out of a play. Taumoepenu will have to continue to work incredibly hard to improve and give himself a solid shot at making the roster and from there, continue to hone his craft to get himself onto a stacked defensive rotation.

Odds of making the roster

As a recent draft pick, Taumoepenu finds himself at something of an advantage, especially given his traits and proven abilities at the college level as a pass rusher. Nevertheless, the signing of Elvis Dumervil will see him on the bubble.

Taumoepenu does however have the ability to find his way onto the roster, and it will likely take a series of ineffectual performances in camp and in preseason for the 49ers to consider attempting to get Taumoepenu through waivers in order to stash him on their practice squad, or indeed to straight up cut him. Pass rushers are a rare commodity and one with Taumoepenu’s abilities hitting waivers would likely see him picked up.