Zach Kerr went from an undrafted free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft to starting four games in each of the next two seasons for the Colts. Since then, Kerr has been playing for the Broncos, Cardinals, and Panthers, filling in as an occasional starter while mostly playing as a backup.
Kerr had his best year in Carolina this past season, and it’s no coincidence he played the most snaps in his career. Kerr notched career highs in QB hit, knockdown, and pressure percentage. He also missed the fewest tackles during his career. So, what are the 49ers getting from the 6’2, 334-pound defensive tackle?
Surprisingly, athleticism. Kerr heated up as the season went along as 12 of his 19 pressures came after Week 10, and he missed Week 13, 14, and 15. Kerr played 3-technique for the Panthers and did a nice job of holding his ground when teams ran his way, and an even better job slipping blocks on zone plays running away from him.
Think D.J. Jones at 3-technique, which a little more juice and 30 more pounds. What stood out when watching Kerr was his stamina. He could play three to four series in a row, which could come in handy for San Francisco.
Age: 30 (birthday is on August 29)
Experience: Seven accrued seasons
Weight: 334 pounds
Kerr signed a one-year deal with the 49ers with a base salary of $1.75 million. He has $200,000 in guaranteed money. If he doesn’t make the roster, that guaranteed money, plus his prorated bonus of $50,000 will turn into dead money for San Francisco.
Odds of making the roster
Nate Sudfield received more guaranteed money than Kerr, so he’s no lock to make the roster. Plus, the Niners have a deep defensive line rotation: Jones, Javon Kinlaw, Maurice Hurst, and Kevin Givens will all battle for presumbably four or five spots. Plus, you have Arik Armstead who can kick inside.
Kerr should make the roster due to his experience and versatility. He could backup Kinlaw or Jones, or even start, if Kerr shows more than Jones during training camp. That could turn into a sneaky good positional battle.
If we assume Kinlaw, Jones, and Givens make the team, that leaves Hurst and Kerr for one spot. Both are talented players with different skillsets, which should make the decision even more difficult. I’d rather San Francisco keep an extra defensive lineman, or any position, for that matter, than a third QB.
What to expect in 2021
A valuable role player An upgrade from the Sheldon Day’s of the world, and not a steep drop-off from the starters. That happened during 2019 for the 49ers defensive line, which is part of the reason they dominated teams.
If Kerr provides anywhere between 20-25 quality snaps for the defense, his contract will be a bargain for the Niners. A best-case scenario is Kerr ends up playing at the level of a peak D.J. Jones where he’s disrputing passing plays and stopping the run.