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Pro Football Focus ranks 49ers defensive front seven dead last in NFL

The 49ers have a lot of potential, but a lot to prove.

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Pro Football Focus is wrapping up the offseason with a look at each position group, ranked out with a little help from their grading system. Earlier this week, PFF took a look at defensive front seven units. There will be plenty of defensive line and linebacker rankings, but given the value of all seven players on most base fronts, it makes sense to combine them together.

The Houston Texans are up top, with the NFC West well represented in the top five. After Houston, the top five includes the Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, and Los Angeles Rams. The Arizona Cardinals are not too far behind this group at No. 8.

The San Francisco 49ers defensive front has room for growth this year, but potential instead of proven production leaves the group bringing up the rear of these rankings. PFF has them at No. 32, with the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, and Chicago Bears just ahead of them.

Here’s what PFF had to say about the 49ers defensive front:

The 49ers will be the dark horse candidate for possibility of most improvement this year. They’ll be banking on rookies Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, each first round picks, while San Francisco will also hope for a re-emerging season from edge defender Aaron Lynch. With the ageless veteran Elvis Dumervil and NaVorro Bowman guiding them, this team could be solid on the front seven. Key word, could, as we just don’t know yet.

Like many parts of the 49ers defense, there’s a lot of potential, but it revolves around “could” as opposed to “will.” The defensive line is arguably the deepest unit on the roster. Their analysis doesn’t even factor in what the trio of Earl Mitchell, D.J. Jones, and Quinton Dial could bring to the table as a base defensive tackle. And of course, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are just slightly important to the development of the defensive line.

At the linebacker position, there are possibilities and questions. Ahmad Brooks has been a rock for what has otherwise been a bad defense in recent years. NaVorro Bowman is returning from his torn Achilles, and the team paid a hefty chunk of change for free agent Malcolm Smith. Reuben Foster’s role remains to be seen as he works his way back from pre-Combine rotator cuff surgery, but much will be expected of him if he gets on the field early in training camp.

A year ago, Football Outsiders ranked the 49ers defensive front No. 29 in adjusted line yards, and No. 20 in adjusted sack rate. That would seem to be the floor for this unit. If the group takes a step forward, the defensive line will likely be a bigger reason for it. But a healthy Foster and Bowman could be huge for this group’s development in 2017.