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How Hassan Ridgeway fits into the 49ers defense

The potential D.J. Jones replacement

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After a week of free agency, there are a handful of new faces donning the red and gold. Among them is defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway. After spending last season with the Eagles, Ridgeway signed with the 49ers on a one-year deal worth 1.8 million.

How exactly does Ridgeway fit into the 49ers’ plans? For starters, it gives the interior defensive line some much-needed depth, particularly when you consider Javon Kinlaw will be returning from a knee injury.

While the loss of D.J. Jones absolutely stings, the addition of Ridgeway does give them a viable replacement at the nose tackle spot Jones excelled at. In the game film I broke down, Ridgeway looked comfortable lined up in the 0,1 and 3 tech spots, which gives the 49ers’ defensive front considerable flexibility when he is on the field.

Ridgeway showed an ability to regularly fill his run gaps and a knack for getting after the passer. In addition, he looked like a player who would be comfortable on the field during any down and distance, offering a level of versatility that could prove extremely valuable.

As an interior pass rusher, I was impressed by the diversity of moves Ridgeway had in his arsenal. That includes the use of the long arm by Ridgeway on this rep to drive back Falcons guard Jalen Mayfield before ultimately strip sacking quarterback Matt Ryan.

As a defensive tackle, driving that left arm near the shoulder and extending the guard back is crucial. It prevents the opposing offensive lineman’s hands from cleanly getting up into your own frame, allowing you to dictate the leverage and terms of engagement as you attempt to explode into the backfield.

Here’s another rep from Ridgeway rushing the passer out of the 3-tech, this time recording a pressure on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Again, Ridgeway beats guard Connor Williams to get home and force an errant throw from Prescott as a result.

Ridgeway’s impact wasn’t just limited to what he brings to the table as a pass rusher. He also put together some very impressive snaps defending the run, including this one against the 49ers in week 2.

Lined up over the center at the 0 tech spot, Ridgeway is able to quickly diagnose the play before bursting through the A gap to blow up this Eli Mitchell carry in the backfield for a tackle for loss.

After going even further in-depth into the tape, one thing really stood out to me: Ridgeway’s motor. A trait Jones’ had that I always thought flew under the radar seems to be something that Ridgeway possesses as well.

Having that quality is not extremely common among players of that size. And at 6’3 304 pounds, Ridgeway showed a tenacity and willingness to never give up on a play that jumped off the screen.

Ridgeway’s determination on this play ultimately kept Giants quarterback Daniel Jones well short of the line to gain and was a result of good old-fashioned hustle. That relentless pursuit to get after the ball carrier was evident on quite a few occasions a season ago, including this hit on Ryan during the Eagles’ week one win in Atlanta.

These kinds of effort plays will endear Ridgeway to his new defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek. With that level of commitment, coupled with his own ability and the talent around him, it’s easy to see a path to Ridgeway making a sizable impact on this team in 2022.

He possesses all the tools to come in and make a difference no matter the situation in a given game. When you consider how multifaceted Ridgeway is and how team-friendly the deal was, the 49ers truly hit a home run with this signing.

The positions are different, and I expect the production will be as well, but this has a chance to compare favorably to the signing the 49ers made when they brought in Arden Key last offseason. A veteran defensive lineman to throw into a rotation with a proven group of quality players and maximize their ability on a very budgeted one-year deal.