The San Francisco 49ers looked a little more to the future with their 2018 draft class, selecting a mix of immediate impact players and more longer term projections. We know Mike McGlinchey will slot in at right tackle, Dante Pettis will get work at wide receiver and in the return game, and Fred Warner will rotate in at linebacker. Other than that, there are some mysteries.
One thing that was very clear was the team choosing to not add edge rusher help. The team drafted defensive end Kentavius Street, but a) he is out for the year with a torn ACL, and b) he is likely better suited for the big end role. Additionally, Fred Warner will likely get some work rushing the passer, but that will be part of his broader overall role as middle or weak side linebacker.
Football Outsiders put together a look at the biggest remaining hole for each team, and Bryan Knowles broke down the NFC West. It is not surprising he pointed to edge rusher as the 49ers biggest remaining hole.
The 49ers did draft an edge rusher -- Kentavius Street in the fourth round. However, he’ll miss the 2018 season with an ACL injury, so the 49ers will have to cobble together a pass rush for this season with pre-existing pieces. Their 2017 pressure rate of 29.4 percent (according to Sports Info Solutions charting) ranked 23rd in the league, their sack rate of 5.2 percent was 27th, and no individual pass-rusher hit 30 total pressures. Their leading outside pass-rusher, Elvis Dumervil, is still an unsigned free agent. There’s a fair amount of work to do. San Francisco is counting on a pair of first-round talents providing more oomph in 2018. Solomon Thomas made plenty of tackles in the backfield in the running game as a rookie but had some growing pains as he transitioned to the outside in his first year in the NFL. Arik Armstead was beginning to show serious pass-rushing promise before a broken hand ended his season after just six games. The 49ers likely will need career years out of both players -- or from last year’s midseason pickup, Cassius Marsh -- if they’re going to be a serious playoff contender in 2018.
Arik Armstead got a lot of pressure last season prior to getting hurt, but his health and ability to convert that pressure into sacks are the two big questions as he heads into his fourth season. Eli Harold will likely get edge rusher work, while Cassius Marsh and Jerry Attaochu are rotational guys who have decent opportunities this fall given the lack of further additions.
The 49ers defense has its share of questions, but the pass rush is as big as any. If DeForest Buckner can turn more of his interior pressures into sacks, that could be the difference-maker for a group lacking a big time edge rush option. It could prove make or break for a defense looking to take a big step forward this season.