The San Francisco 49ers added a lot of defensive talent in the 2018 NFL Draft, but one area they did not appear to address was the edge rusher position. They drafted defensive end Kentavius Street who is built to be a big end option, and linebacker Fred Warner, who has the speed and size to make some noise as a pass rushing inside linebacker, but is meant for more than that.
The team entered the draft with Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas rotating edge work in base and sub-packages, followed by Ronald Blair, Eli Harold, Cassius Marsh, Jeremiah Attaochu, Cassius Marsh, and potentially some Pita Taumoepenu. They have bodies, but they raised plenty of questions for fans.
But apparently fans and the 49ers disagreed on how best to approach this!
Harold Landry was a regular mention as a potential pick at No. 9, and I had suggested Marcus Davenport with the pick. The 49ers had some options to consider in later rounds, but the team punted on edge rushers through the three days of the draft. After the draft, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were asked if they viewed the pass rush class different than the outside world, and generally why they did not elect to address the position. Here’s what they each had to say
Lynch: “Those guys are difficult to find first and foremost. We felt like there were a couple guys who had an opportunity to be special there. You know, just where we were, we didn’t have an opportunity or chose not to take them. I think one thing Kyle and I believe strongly in, is that there’s a lot of pieces right here that if you just look at their history, you know, might give fans and whatnot pause. We believe there’s opportunity. Part of this deal is you have to develop your own talent, so we believe that collectively we’ve got to get better as a unit. We’ve got to become better finishers. We believe we have that right within. Were we adverse to adding to it? Not at all. That’s just kind of the way the draft fell. We’re always looking to get better at every position. But, we do believe there’s great room for growth with the guys we have and that’s got to come alive. That’s a challenge to them, it’s a challenge to our coaches and it’s a challenge to all of us. That’s what this game is all about.”
Shanahan: “One thing people don’t take into account, we talk about pass rush and there’s nine D-Linemen allowed on our roster and there’s eight D-Linemen up on game day, and look at all our D-Linemen. We have some pretty good players. Yeah, we’d love to add whoever the best pass rusher is on the outside in the draft. We’d love to get a [Denver Broncos OLB] Von Miller, but you only get eight up on game day and you only get nine on our roster. So, you just keep drafting rushers. You’ve got to be pretty good to beat out [DL Cassius] Marsh. You’ve got to be pretty good to beat out [DL Arik] Armstead. You don’t just get guys. If you get them, someone else has got to get cut and we’ve got a pretty good group. We’re going to look to improve at every position all the time but people don’t realize that it’s not just, you don’t just stockpile people, and hey, we’ve got 20 pass rushers, let’s see which one turns up. You only get a few, and in order to bring one in, who are they replacing. We don’t have guys that are just easy to replace. We’ve got a bunch of good players, and again, it’s a good problem, but we’ll always look for better but that’s not an easy thing to do.”
They both complimented their own pass rushers, while Lynch did try and talk up the draft class a little bit. But the team just did not seem all that high on this draft class. When the team wants something, they have been aggressive in pursuing it. We saw it with their move up for wide receiver Dante Pettis, and we’ve seen it repeatedly in free agency, particularly with Jerick McKinnon this year and Kyle Juszczyk last year.
This offseason, the team signed Cassius Marsh to a contract extension and signed Jerry Attaochu to a one-year deal. Neither is a huge investment, but the team is intrigued by what they can bring to the table. Marsh had a modest breakout season after the 49ers claimed him off waivers, while Attaochu brings experience in the kind of defense the 49ers are continuing to implement. Neither appears to be a starter at this point, but we’ll see what Robert Saleh and company have planned this offseason.
The work of John Lynch and this front office have sort of telegraphed that if they don’t make a given move, they likely were not all that interested. That’s not to say there was zero interest. But rather, they seemingly did not think a pass rush option in this year’s draft was worth what is turning into trademark 49ers aggressiveness under John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.