Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus believes the San Francisco 49ers pass rush could improve on their 2019 performance. How could that be possible after losing one of the best interior defensive linemen in football, DeForest Buckner? Linsey gave three reasons.
First, he believes first-round pick Javon Kinlaw can be better than Buckner, despite being a rookie. Linsey’s train of thought comes from Kinlaw’s previous production:
“There is a reason Kinlaw was listed as our top interior pass-rusher in the class. Kinlaw doesn’t just have the freakish tools that NFL teams covet, but he also has a track record of elite pass-rushing production in the SEC.”
The 49ers have a luxury that maybe one or two other teams in the NFL have: they can get after the quarterback consistently without blitzing. San Francisco was a bottom-five team in terms of blitzing last year (21.8% of the time) but pressured the quarterback the second-most in the NFL (28.7%.)
Kinlaw doesn’t have to be the next Buckner off the bat. His production can’t fall off a cliff compared to Buckner. If you watched Kinlaw at South Carolina, you could see how easily his game translates to the NFL, but, more importantly, the 49ers defensive line.
A better Bosa
For years, everyone I know has been around this game will tell you that defensive line is one of the most difficult positions for a rookie to have success. You go from playing underclassmen and players that don’t have an NFL future to the best linemen in the world. Nick Bosa had to fight off the rookie transition, the rookie wall, and entering the NFL without his legs underneath him as Bosa was nursing a calf injury. Bosa won’t have to worry about either of those three heading into 2020, and that’s a big reason why Linsey listed Bosa as one of the reasons the pass rush will improve:
“He entered the NFL as a significantly more finished product than most pass-rushers. Something that played a big hand in his rookie success. Still, there is a good chance that he does improve — even if only slightly — with a full season and offseason under his belt with the 49ers.”
Bosa went from Defensive Rookie of the Year to the second-best odds to win Defensive Player of the Year. That’s all you need to know about the caliber of player we’re talking about.
A healthy Ford
The third and final reason was the prospects of a healthy Dee Ford. The 49ers feel like their hedging their bets on Ford’s health. History suggests 2020 will be Ford’s year, where he plays the majority of the season. Ford, on a per-snap basis, was one of the most efficient pass rushers in the NFL last year. During his final season with the Chiefs, Ford was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Here is Linsey’s take:
“No edge defender recorded more pressures than Ford during the 2018 regular season nor did anyone at the position top his 91.1 pass-rushing grade. The 2018 season was — by all metrics — a massive leap in Ford’s career, but his success in limited (and injured) action last season indicates 2018 wasn’t a fluke.”
Last month, Ford said, “I can’t believe I played a whole season on it,” in reference to the severe knee tendinitis and hamstring injury he played through. Hopefully, that’s behind us, and we see the Niners defensive line at full strength this season. The schedule is set up for the front four to get off to a great start that could set the tone for the entire season.