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Do the 49ers need a defensive lineman in free agency?

We review the 49ers’ defensive line positions from 2017. Do they need to upgrade in free agency?

Before the start of the NFL free agency period, we’re going to look at various positions on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster to determine a few things. The first is whether or not the position improved from 2016 to 2017. The second is to see if free agency is a viable option to improve the position — if it’s even needed.

Season in review

The 49ers have invested heavily in the defensive line in recent years, and for the most part, it seems to be working out. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas are all high draft picks, and Tank Carradine was not too long ago as well.

Last season, the 49ers were getting a whole lot out of Buckner, who often drew the double-team from opposing offenses. Armstead played pretty well, but he played inside too much for my liking and is better suited outside, which is good because that’s probably what he’ll be doing primarily next season.

Unfortunately, Armstead dealt with injuries, and Buckner was unable to get to the quarterback with all the attention he received. Thomas was played at the edge, where he was extremely ineffective as a pass-rusher and consistently out-performed by other players down the stretch. We talked about Thomas once earlier today.

Earl Mitchell and Elvis Dumervil wound up being solid additions, with the former playing a lot of snaps — 55.29 percent of defensive snaps, to be exact — and the latter being incredibly productive with his limited time. Buckner played the most — 76.71 percent of snaps — while Thomas was right behind him with 61.87 percent of defensive snaps.

After Dumervil, it was Armstead, Leger Douzable, Carradine, Sheldon Day, Cassius Marsh, Aaron Lynch, D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair in that order.

My guess going forward is that the 49ers try and find another edge player, but if they don’t, a top four of Buckner, Thomas, Armstead and Mitchell, with a heavy dose of the recently-extended Marsh and another year of Dumervil sounds good to me.

Below, we’ll take a look at the way the position changed, but there is going to be some disagreement in the order. It’s not necessarily based on order from right to left, but by playing time at that point.

Here’s a look at the way the position changed from 2016 to 2017:

2016 Week 17: DeForest Buckner, Quinton Dial, Arik Armstead (IR) Tony-Jerod Eddie, Mike Purcell, Glenn Dorsey, Ronald Blair, Chris Jones, Zach Moore
2017 Week 1: DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Earl Mitchell, Tank Carradine, Elvis Dumervil, D.J. Jones, Xavier Cooper
Current: DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, Earl Mitchell, Cassius Marsh, Elvis Dumervil, Tank Carradine (FA), Ronald Blair, Leger Douzable (FA), Aaron Lynch (FA), D.J. Jones

I think the position is in good shape. For me, I don’t want the 49ers picking up any kind of middling defensive lineman on the market. They have what they need to fill out the position. The only thing I can see being beneficial is if they think they can find a full starter, someone like Ziggy Ansah.

The market for defensive lineman

We’re going to take a deeper look at the various positions and free agents available in a separate series. For now, here’s a quick and dirty list of the top defensive linemen set to hit the open market.

Sheldon Richardson, Seattle Seahawks
Dontari Poe, Atlanta Falcons
DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions
Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta Falcons
Alex Okafor, New Orleans Saints
Trent Murphy, Washington
Kony Ealy, New York Jets
Aaron Lynch, San Francisco 49ers
Tank Carradine, San Francisco 49ers
Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers
William Hayes, Miami Dolphins
Nick Fairley, New Orleans Saints
Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
Frostee Rucker, Arizona Cardinals
Legeer Douzable, San Francisco 49ers
Quinton Dial, Green Bay Packers