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Samson Ebukam’s late-season surge leaves the 49ers with a big decision this offseason

Has Ebukam shown enough to keep him around?

San Francisco 49ers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

While I was sifting through the game tape searching for some positives from the 49ers road loss in Tennessee, I was thoroughly impressed with the performance of Samson Ebukam in particular. Ebukam finished the game with five pressures, two sacks and was a force defending the run as well. This is now the third straight game that Ebukam has recorded a sack, and he has averaged 4.3 pressures per game over his last three contests.

Ebukam is a player who was highly scrutinized early in the season due to a lack of production. Still, it is important to remember that Ebukam is essentially playing an entirely new position. After spending the first four seasons of his career taking the majority of his snaps as a stand-up outside backer in a 3-4 scheme, Ebukam has now been tasked with primarily lining up as a 4-3 end.

The roles are not only different, but the responsibilities that accompany them are as well. As the season has progressed, Ebukam’s performance and production have skyrocketed, and I think the reason for that is simply getting acclimated to this new role within a new scheme. Let’s look at Ebukam’s first 10 games as a 49er.

189 pass-rushing snaps

10 pressures

1 sack

Now let’s look at Ebukam’s last 5 games:

127 pass-rushing snaps

16 pressures

4 sacks

Ebukam’s athleticism has been on full display as well, as he has been able to generate pressure on the interior with as much success as the edges. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has been able to maximize his physical talent by using Ebukam on various stunts, allowing the fifth-year player to rely on his plus strength and speed to overpower those already have their hands full with a loaded 49ers defensive line.

These displays of physicality showcase exactly why the 49ers were willing to invest 5 million guaranteed into a player they planned on putting into a role they had essentially never played at the NFL level. Banking on Ryans and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and Darryl Tapp to harness Ebukam’s raw ability into pass-rushing production at the highest level was a risky bet but appeared to be one that is paying off as the season winds down.

Ebukam inked a 2 year 12 million dollar deal prior to the 2021 season, with the second year essentially being a team option for the 49ers. If they don’t want to absorb the scheduled 8.25 million dollar cap hit next season, they can either restructure via extension or cut Ebukam while only accruing 1.75 million in dead cap space for 2022.

What they will do remains to be seen, but given the way Ebukam has played as of late, the restructure via extension seems like the most logical move to me. Maybe they are okay with absorbing the cap hit Ebukam is currently slated for in 2022, but with so many impending free agents, I expect the front office to get very creative with a number of contracts in order to free up the needed space to retain several key players who are set to hit free agency.

Regardless, the fact this conversation can even be entertained is a huge step in the right direction. During Ebukam’s rocky start to the season, it was fair to wonder if the 49ers had seen enough and were ready to pull the plug after this season. Now, with Ebukam playing his best football of the year, that decision can be put on the back burner as the 49ers eye a strong closeout to the season, and a potential playoff run, one that would largely be fueled by Ebukam and the rest of that tenacious 49ers pass rush.