The San Francisco 49ers have been relatively quiet in free agency, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking at players. The Niners were reportedly in on Ndamukong Suh, who signed with Tampa Bay. I’d be surprised if we got to the NFL Draft, and the 49ers didn’t add another defensive tackle. Losing Sheldon Day doesn’t hurt from a production standpoint, but the defense will still need to replace his snaps—which is independent of getting D.J. Jones back from injury and signing Kerry Hyder, who plays all over the defensive line.
Let’s take a look at two players that are still available that may not generate a lot of buzz, but would be home run signings for the 49ers at this point in free agency. Both of these players would be significant upgrades from the non-starters that played along the defensive line in 2019.
Top Run-stuffing option
The 49ers need beef inside. Day was pushed around in the playoffs. It wasn’t just Day, either. Dareus had a six-year stretch where he was one of the best-run stuffers in the NFL. He only played 206 snaps due to a painful core injury in 2019. Dareus just turned 30 and has never been known as a top pass rusher, despite a couple of seasons with high sack totals. The Niners don’t need Dareus to be Buckner. That’s not fair to ask. If Dareus fully recovers from injury, he should be able to give San Francisco precisely what they need from a one-technique: excellent run defense. I watched a couple of the NFC teams the Jags faced in 2019. Dareus had a would-be tackle for loss that was called back against the Panthers. He also beat his man later in the first quarter:
The purpose of showing you the play above and mentioning a tackle for loss in the first quarter is because those don’t show up in the stat sheet. That’s not to say Dareus doesn’t make plays. He took Christian McCaffrey’s head off on a trap play.
Dareus is listed at 331 pounds, but he can move for a big fella. He’d be a fantastic fit for the 49ers defense, but if you are going to invest in a defensive tackle, make it a pass rusher. Dareus had a cap number of only five million in 2019. Dareus had a cap number twice as big in 2018. Realistically, there is room for one more defensive tackle. If that’s the case, invest in this next player.
Best pass-rushing option
Harris is a name we should get to know. I watched him against the Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings—all teams the 49ers played in the playoffs last season. I can ask some people that cover the Broncos or look at PFF, but I wanted to get a good idea for myself who Harris is as a player. I came away surprised in a good way.
Harris is listed at just over 300 pounds. His motor/energy is just what the 49ers need inside. Harris has range, which is rare for an interior defensive lineman. This play is a prime example:
Harris pushed the center back a few yards into the backfield on another play. He’s strong enough to hold up against double teams and quick enough to get by interior lineman as a pass rusher. Against the Packers, Harris won twice as a pass rusher, six times against the run, had four stops and one tackle for loss. Harris would have had another TFL, but he couldn’t bring down the running back. As a fit, it’s tough to find a better match for the 49ers than Harris. More on him as a player if the Niners sign him.
Harris hasn’t made more than $3 million in a season. That’s another reason he makes sense for the 49ers. Even if the team signed Harris to a deal where he made $5 million a season, that is a steal. Harris played over 220 more snaps than Day did last season, and he played both defensive tackle spots. Harris isn’t Buckner, but nobody is. If the 49ers plan is to replace DeFo by committee, Harris should be at the top of their list.