Football Outsiders went through each team in the NFL to determine which position is the biggest hole on every roster. For the San Francisco 49ers, they chose edge rusher.
Think about the players who the Niners have on the edge. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Samson Ebukam, and Arden Key. On paper, how many teams in the NFL are better? We have to add context here, though.
Bosa is coming off an ACL injury and likely won’t look like “Bosa” for a few games until he gets his legs underneath him. Armstead wore down in 2019 after playing too many snaps. Ford lasted four quarters last season before getting injured. Ebukam has never rushed the passer full-time, and Key is a reserve.
Here’s the blurb from FO:
Assuming everyone stays healthy this year, the 49ers have one of the league’s more complete rosters, with no obvious weakness on offense or defense. The one spot where another proven starter would make the biggest difference might be edge rusher. Nick Bosa was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 when he had 9.0 sacks in the regular season and 4.0 more in the playoffs, but he missed 14 games in 2020 after tearing his ACL. It’s a similar story for Dee Ford — he had 6.5 sacks (in only 11 games) in the Super Bowl year but missed 15 games in 2020 with a back injury. Arik Armstead has topped 3.5 sacks only once in his six NFL seasons.
San Francisco also signed Samson Ebukam away from the Rams, but he’s a complementary piece, never getting more than 4.5 sacks in four seasons in L.A. Only two other edge rushers on the roster have ever sacked a quarterback in the NFL: Jordan Willis has 5.5 sacks in five years with the Bengals, Jets and 49ers, while Arden Key had 3.0 in three years with the Raiders.
According to Football Outsiders stat adjusted line yards, the 49ers defensive line actually improved in 2020 from the year before. Run defense shouldn’t be an issue.
Pressures and sacks will be what we’re all watching. The 49ers adjusted sack rate was 5.3% last season, which was the eighth-worst in the league. The Niners finished second in 2019 with an adjusted sack rate of 9%. That’s a steep drop-off from year to year.
Depth should allow Bosa to work his way back into the rotation without playing heavy snaps early on in the season. Another benefit of the added depth along the defensive line should preserve the starters deep into the season.