The San Francisco 49ers pass rush emerged in a big way last week against the Oakland Raiders. The team racked up seven sacks, with Cassius Marsh and Dekoda Watson combining for four of them. The Raiders are a bad football team, but entering the game, their offensive line was ranked in the middle of the pack in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate.
Marsh has shown talent since joining the team last year, but has been inconsistent in getting to the quarterback. Watson was primarily a special teams player in his first season with the 49ers, also serving as backup at the SAM linebacker spot. This offseason however, the 49ers worked Watson into an edge rusher role. He was still a backup at SAM, but the team wanted to mix him into the LEO role.
Watson suffered a hamstring tear in practice prior to Week 1, and was placed on injured reserve. He returned last week, and he credits weight loss for his big performance in Week 9. He went on a mostly vegetarian diet to cut from the low 270s to 246 pounds, which is closer to the kind of weight the smaller edge rushers can bring in this defense.
Considering Watson spent the first half of the season on injured reserve, it would make sense he would be particularly fresh in his return to action. And facing players who had seven games under their belt, that would give him an edge. He’s 30, so it’s hard to see him developing into something he has never really been before, but the thought is moderately intriguing.
Watson is playing at a lower weight, and maybe that can put him in a position to at least modestly break out as a pass rusher. Through the first eight years of his NFL career, he had four total sacks. He has 1.5 sacks in his first game back, and he gets to face a bad New York Giants offensive line in Week 10. One more full sack will give him a single season career high. The rest of the season, the 49ers face some shaky offensive lines. After the Giants, they face the Bucs (currently 19th in adjusted sack rate), Seahawks twice (27th), Broncos (16th), Bears (14th), and Rams (8th). If the weight loss is actually giving him an extra speed edge, I’ve got to think he’s got at least one more sack in him.
Watson is signed through the 2019 season. He’s not going to suddenly emerge as the dominant edge presence the 49ers will be building around for the future. But maybe he can provide a little something this season that provides some much needed depth next year if they invest a high draft pick or big bucks in an edge rusher.