San Francisco 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan has been fortunate to have defensive coordinators that can work miracles. Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans both had to work their magic to keep their defensive lines intact the last two seasons.
Ryans moved Arik Armstead to defensive tackle this season when Javon Kinlaw went down and Armstead shined. Forcing other players like Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, and Jordan Willis to step up on the edge.
Initially, the 49ers received good production out of Dee Ford — making the trade a win. However, injuries have kept Ford off the field a an alarming rate, and San Francisco may have to move on from his near bulletproof contact. The 49ers have to pair a defensive end with a significant pass-rush upside to replicate what Ford was able to do.
We look at five different edge players that can bolster San Francisco’s front-seven below.
Kinglsey Enagbare - South Carolina
The Niners have uncertainty at the defensive end position. Ford’s chronic back issues have been a major issue as of late.
San Francisco is scheduled to lose Arden Key and Jordan Wilis to free agency. Even though I vouched for Key’s return because of his productivity as an interior rusher, the 2022-23 season will be the last year on Charles Omenihu and Ebukam’s contract, which justifies San Francisco taking an edge at pick 61.
Kingsley Enagbare out of South Carolina is balanced against the run and the pass. Enagbare is similar to Ebukam, with them both being raw players. He has limited ways to win as a pass-rusher, and a questionable motor is the main reason for me calling him undeveloped.
Enagbare leads the SEC in pass rush win rate among defensive linemen despite not having a deep pass-rush repertoire. Ryans should keep Arik Armstead at his natural position (defensive tackle) and plan on adding a bendy player that can help San Francisco get to the QB on third down.
His draft was underwhelming, and he ended with a 6.7 Relative Atheltic Score. However, you can see his athletic upside on film when he rushes the quarterback. Engabare works in unison with his hands and feet to defeat an offensive lineman. He can continue to develop as a pass-rusher with Niners defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
My main concern when watching Enagbare was his motor. It just felt like he took plays off at times, and or he would not be physical at the point of attack. He can go cold as a pass rusher mid rep as he sometimes rushes without a plan. It also felt like tight ends regularly blocked him.
Joshua Paschal- Kentucky
Joshua Pachal out of Kentucky is the Niners' ideal edge given their previous draft and free agency acquisitions at defensive end. Pachal is on the heavier side (268 ILBS), but he plays with great pad level, can line up in different spots, and most importantly, is good at defending the run and getting to the quarterback.
In July of 2018, Paschal was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma, underwent three surgeries, followed by ongoing monthly immunotherapy treatments, and still returned to play in the 2018 season,
The redshirt senior is coming off a 15.5 tackle for loss season that earned him First-team All-SEC honors. Paschal can provide San Francisco depth at edge and defensive tackle.
Christopher Allen - Alabama
Christopher Allen missed the 2021 season after breaking his foot in the season opener against the Miami Hurricanes. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, opted to go to Alabama, where he became a key rotational outside linebacker.
I believe 2021 would’ve been a big year for Christopher Allen. He suffered a season-ending injury on this play.— Damian Parson (@DP_NFL) January 15, 2022
♦️inside hand stabs the OT
♦️Chops down the outside hand
♦️Good bend & closing burst
Allen is an intriguing edge rusher for 3-4 defenses. pic.twitter.com/PvsECicjk9
Allen could not test at the combine as he rehabs his foot, but he showed he could move on film while holding up against the run. He can play with his hand in the dirt or rush standing up, which is a plus when trying to confuse offensive lineman.
Every sack. Christopher Allen has control of the OT's hands on every sack. Here's another. Just club them away. pic.twitter.com/byb7H1gOZw— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) February 22, 2022
Boye Mafe - Minnesota
The 49ers may be out of reach for Boye Mafe as he had one of the better combines of all the edges and linebackers. His perfect Relative Athletic Score (tested as an LB) shows the athletic upside, and his 6’4 261 pound frame will be enough to handle offensive tackles at the next level.
Our very own Jordan Elliot was on the ground during the combine last week, and he asked Mafe a few questions. Jordan asked: What are your thoughts about potentially forming a pass-rushing duo with Nick Bosa in San Francisco?
Mafe’s answer is below.
“That would be great, honestly, having two great pass rushers on the same team. And especially learning from him would be a tremendous thing for me. I like watching his game the way he plays the game, and I feel like I could learn a lot from him. And going in there and obtaining all that knowledge, I feel like that’d be great for me.”
Mafe was used like Ford as he was more of a situational rusher versus every-down player. You see his explosiveness on film as he’s able to close in on quarterbacks and blow past tackles. His athletic profile allows you to drop him in coverage when Ryans wants to get aggressive and blitz. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher could be a great round-three pick-up if he is still around.
Sam Williams - Mississippi
Sam Williams out of Ole Miss is another stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker. Williams’ athletic profile matches up on film as he's able to bend around offensive tackles and finish for the sack. He had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time of all defensive linemen (4.46) and looked fluent in all his on-field drills.
Sam Williams 4.46 at 261lbs was quietly a wild time yesterday... And that speed/explosiveness shows up quite often on tape https://t.co/AKfiFgFSv7— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 6, 2022
Williams’ speed makes you think that he's solely a pass-rushing specialist, but he can hold up against the run. His Relative Atheltic Score mirrors everything you see on tape, and that should have the 49ers interested.
Lately, San Francisco has relied on heavier defensive ends with a limited bend, but this year's draft class provides plenty of athletic ends. You see Williams’ effortless bend on the last rep before he sprints out to give you a glimpse of how he can maneuver around an offensive lineman.
Kocurek has been rich in defensive tackle depth but has had to work a few miracles at defensive end the last two seasons. Pairing another edge player with Nick Bosa is paramount to keeping this front-seven elite.
Several of these players are stand-up 3-4 outside linebackers, but I do not think the transition would be extreme. I know Ryans’ wide-nine defense stresses the defensive end to possess the ability to anchor against the run. However, I'm comfortable with San Francisco taking a more athletic player with better pass-rushing upside. I’m still looking at edge players, so the Niners aren't limited to these five players—I just thought they were good fits. Do not be afraid to drop some defensive ends I should check out in the comments.
What kind of edge do the 49ers need?
This poll is closed
Balanced ( can play the run and pass)
I prefer a pass-rush specialist
Tweener (can play edge and defensive tackle)
Check out my recent work here:
- NFL Combine Day 4 winners the 49ers should target
- NFL Combine Day 1 winners the 49ers should target
- 3 free agents the San Francisco 49ers must re-sign