One of the main reasons the San Francisco 49ers were able to from worst-to-first in 2019 is the improved play of the defensive line. General manager John Lynch drafted Nick Bosa and traded for veteran Dee Ford to take the unit to another level.
The Niners had 37 sacks during their 4-12 2018 campaign. The defense improved to 48 sacks last season, and he led the league with a QB hurry rate of 14.7& per drop back. San Francisco’s defensive line will be a huge problem again for opponents in 2020.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus released his list of the top 25 edge defenders going into the new season, and three 49ers made the cut. Bosa is the highest-ranked Niner, coming in at No. 7:
“Nick Bosa didn’t just break the single-season rookie record for total pressures at PFF — he shattered it. That record, 64, was set by Aldon Smith back in 2011, but Bosa ended his rookie year with 80 and was still cooking on gas throughout the postseason, adding another 22 in three postseason games, including double-digits in the Super Bowl. If Bosa takes even a marginal step forward in year two — or even just avoids a sophomore slump backward — he is one of the league’s best edge rushers and a true force to be reckoned with.”
PFF gave Bosa an 86.7 grade during his rookie season, which was second-best in the league for his position. The scary part is that Bosa will only continue to get better as he gains more experience.
Arik Armstead also made Monson’s list, coming in at No. 19. The 26-year-old had a breakout season in 2019 after struggling with injuries early in his career. San Francisco rewarded Armstead with a five-year $85 million contract in the offseason after he finished with a career-high 10 sacks last year.
Monson is looking for Armstead to repeat his success from 2019 given it was a contract-year for the defensive lineman:
“He [Armstead] produced an 89.6 overall PFF grade, more than 15 grading points better than his mark in 2018, and he almost doubled his pressure total to 73 from the previous year’s 37. If 2019 Armstead is here to stay, he is a force to be reckoned with and deserves a better ranking than 19th among edge rushers. But the doubt that lingers from a contract year keeps him here until he proves he can back it up again.”
The final 49er in the rankings is Ford, who Monson has listed at No. 21. Ford left practice early Sunday with a leg injury. We should get an update on his status after the Niners get back on the field for practice on Tuesday.
“Injury kept Dee Ford from backing up his contract year performance last year with another impressive campaign, this time with the 49ers. When he was on the field, Ford was effective, notching 33 total pressures from 252 pass-rushing snaps. But his season was limited to just 322 total snaps after he played over 1,100 the year before as Kansas City made it to the AFC Championship Game. Ford has elite speed-rush ability on the edge, and his run defense is just good enough to make him viable in an every-down role.”
Ford’s health is key for the Niners. He’s a game-changer when he’s on the field, but injuries have plagued his career. The 29-year-old had 6 sacks last season, and PFF gave him a grade of 84.4.
Monson has J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Cameron Jordan ranked as the top three edge defenders in the league. Bosas’s brother, Joey, came in one spot behind Nick.
What do you think of Monson’s rankings? Would you have Bosa, Armstead, and Ford higher or lower on your list?