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49ers 90-in-90: Samson Ebukam is the ultimate wild card for the 49ers defense

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is edge rusher Samson Ebukam

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the 49ers elected to pass on drafting an edge rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft, that signaled a couple of things:

  1. Nick Bosa will be ready to roll come Week 1
  2. There’s an outside chance the team gets some production from Dee Ford this year
  3. The Niners have a plan for Samson Ebukam

Relying on a pass rusher who has never rushed the passer more than 251 times in a season is a risky proposition. Betting on a rookie to come in and give you similar production is just as big of a risk. In a sense, the 49ers bet on Ebukam’s athleticism and versatility, along with how often he created pressure with the Rams.

There’s plenty of reason to get excited at the idea of Ebukam being the bookend pass rusher to Bosa. Though the sample sizes are limited, Ebukam has been extremely effective when he rushes the passer. Ebukam’s QB hit percentage is 5.5% during his last three seasons, and his pressure percentage is 13.9%.

For reference, if you extrapolate it into a full season, that pressure percentage number would have been identical to Nick’s brother Joey and a touch higher than Yannick Ngakoue.

Basic Info

Age: 26 (turned on May 9)

Experience: Four accrued seasons

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 245 pounds

Salary Cap

The 49ers signed Ebukam to a two-year deal worth $12 million. Ebukam received $5 million guaranteed, including a $3.5 million signing bonus.

If Ebukam doesn’t work out in 2021, the 49ers save $6.5 million if he’s released before June 1 of 2022 and only have to pay the remainder of his bonus, which is $1.75 million. Ebukam’s cap hit in 2021 is $3.75 million, and that number will balloon to $8.25 million in 2022.

Where he can improve in 2021

“Raw” is a term used to describe a player who has the skill set but doesn’t know how to use it yet. Ebukam is further along than someone I’d label as “raw,” but you can tell he’s not used to rushing the passer on a full-time basis.

There were reps with the Rams where it was evident Ebukam didn’t have a plan outside of winning with his athleticism. There’s no denying his first step, but Ebukam’s hand usage leaves a lot to be desired.

This is where defensive line coach Kris Kocurek will earn his paycheck. For Ebukam, if he is indeed the team's edge rusher on obvious passing downs, he’ll have 1-on-1 opportunities every time Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, and Arik Armstead are on the field.

Instead of running full speed into the offensive lineman, Ebukam needs to develop a counter. He may be a work in progress to begin the season, but with more reps, Ebukam could grow into the speed rusher the 49ers have been looking for during the past couple of seasons.

What to expect in 2021

This one is tough, as Ebukam could be sprinkled in as a Blitzer early on, or, if there are no other options, he might have to play along the edge.

We throw around the term “elite” too often, but when talking about Ebukam’s athleticism, that’s the only word that comes to mind:

Ebukam has some serious explosion, and that 10-yard split is faster than most skill players.

In 2020, the 49ers' defense didn’t have many issues. One of them was allowing ball carriers to get outside the numbers due to the lack of athleticism on the field. No matter where Ebukam plays, he’ll be an upgrade in terms of speed.

When the team was at its peak in 2019, the defense was flying around and making plays. The second-level defenders would chase down running backs against the run, get into throwing lanes against the pass, and find ways to affect the quarterback when they blitzed.

That might be Ebukam’s role early on as he learns his craft to become a full-time pass rusher. He’s the ultimate wild card for this defense and could be precisely what they needed on the edge.