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Can new DE Anthony Zettel bring the pressure to Russell Wilson?

Late season pickups are a gamble at best, but there are good reasons to think Zettel might make a difference.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers pass rush has tailed off drastically since Dee Ford last played on November 17th. He’s nursing quadriceps and hamstring injuries, hoping for a playoff return. Meanwhile, the Niners have only three sacks in their last four games, after notching 44 in their first 11 contests.

There aren’t going to be many effective pass rushers waiting for you to sign them off the street ever, much less two weeks before the playoffs begin. But new Niners’ signee Anthony Zettel offers some real promise.

A 6th round pick for the Lions in 2016, he got his chance in his second year when Detroit’s starting defensive end Kerry Hyder tore his Achilles tendon during training camp. Zettel started all 16 games in 2017, playing 70% of the team’s snaps and notching 6.5 sacks and an impressive 10.1% pressure rate as Ziggy Ansah’s bookend.

It’s worth noting that Detroit’s defensive line coach during Zettel’s best years was Kris Kocurek, who has transformed the 49ers DL this year.

Despite Zettel’s success, the Lions cut him at the end of their 2018 training camp, after new coach Matt Patricia switched from their 4-3 front to a hybrid 3-4/4-3. (Kocurek was also fired during that transition, and spent a year at Miami before coming to the 49ers.)

Zettel hasn’t made much of an impression playing for Cleveland and Cincinnati (both 4-3 defensive front teams) in the two seasons since. Then again, the Browns and Bengals have been disasters during that biennium.

Is Zettel so bad that he can’t get snaps on two of the worst NFL teams? Or are they so poorly run that they couldn’t recognize or make use of his talent? (Both might be true.)

Besides his breakout second season, Zettel has an interesting online presence of brutalizing inanimate objects. While still in college, he tackled a dead tree to the ground and kicked a water bottle held 6 feet high out of a Penn State teammate’s hand.

The latter stunt was, of course, an example of the Norwegian folkloric dance called “The Halling,” in which a man is wearing elk-leather, knee-length breeches kicks a hat held high on a stick by a lovely lady. Its usefulness in the NFL is questionable unless you want your defensive end to bicycle-kick a pass to a teammate — which you have to admit, would be the coolest way to set up an interception EVAH.

Obviously, Zettel has yet to solidify his place in the NFL, and there are some — such as Bryce Rossler of LionsWire — who consider him “fools gold,” a technically-deficient, high-motor player who was quickly out-schemed by opposing offensive coordinators.

That said, what better options do the 49ers have? They need some pass-rushing firepower to complement Nick Bosa, and Dee Ford won’t be back until the playoffs. Zettel has performed at the NFL level before, for the Niners’ current DL coach, and no one is better positioned than Kris Kocurek to make the most of his talent.

Zettel has shown some skill on tackles for loss, as well. Maybe he’s just the guy to stuff Marshawn Lynch when the old man attempts to come back on Sunday.