Last week, we discussed where the 49ers' offense ranked among their counterparts in the division. On this week's episode of The Shanaplan, Akash and myself did the same, but for the defensive side of the ball.
We didn't waste any time discussing who had the best defensive line. Instead, we discussed the depth the Niners have and circled back to today's topic about potential defensive breakout stars.
It's telling that if you were to ask five different people, you'd likely get five different answers. I explained my answer earlier. Here's Akash on why his pick is Javon Kinlaw:
“He just seems to be in the right headspace. That’s part of the battle in the NFL. Just staying positive and upbeat. With the injuries over the past few years and what he’s gone through, it feels good to be healthy. I’m sure a little bit of the pressure has come off.
Now, you don’t have the expectations of living up to being a top-15 pick. Honestly, if you’re a productive player, if you’re what D.J. Jones was to this defense, while you may not have lived up to the expectations of the pick, you’ll still be viewed as a productive player.
I think that, and combination by all accounts his knee is finally healthy, he’s finally working out, and he’s mentioned how healthy he is. I don’t know, I feel like alongside Armstead and Nick Bosa, I think Kinlaw is going to be the guy that breaks out.
On this defensive line, I feel like he’s been forgotten a little bit, and he’s going to remind people why the 49ers drafted him that high.”
Kinlaw was a good player as a rookie. He didn't put up gaudy numbers, and 1.5 sacks didn't help, but he was productive, was a dominant run defender, but couldn't stay healthy.
Do the 49ers have the best linebacker duo in the NFL?
Where does the #49ers' defense rank among teams in the NFC West?@KP_Show & @akashanav broke it all down on today's show! Plus...— Niners Nation Podcast Network (@NNPodcasts) May 18, 2022
Are ESPN's FPI rankings too hard on the Niners?
Breakout candidates on the defensive linehttps://t.co/LGZKdTEdjN pic.twitter.com/nNYeMu7Lbn
We agreed the Niners have the best linebacking corps in the division. We took it a step further and asked if that were true in the NFL.
Everyone knows about Fred Warner and how special he is. He's been the best linebacker in the NFL since the 2019 season. But when you watch Azeez Al-Shaair, it's difficult not to come way impressed:
Scouting Azeez Al-Shaair for a project. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Major knee injury ended college career. Goes UDFA. Playing time continues to increase & he’s an absolute baller. Not a whole lot of clear deficiencies in his game.— Jerod Brown (@JerodBrown_) May 18, 2022
Looking around the league, Tampa Bay would be the team people bring up that could rival the Niners linebacker duo. We discussed why Devine White isn't nearly the coverage player people think he is, making that argument against San Francisco's duo invalid.
Akash had an interesting idea where the 49ers trade Dre Greenlaw during training camp, much like Jonas Griffith last summer, if they feel Greenlaw isn't on the same level as Al-Shaair:
I feel like they do this a lot when they get to training camp and realize they have a surplus at a position and they move that player. I’m not saying the trade compensation will be that big, it’ll probably be a Day 3 pick.
But I’d imagine if they realize one player is significantly better than the other, I could see something like that happening. And with Dre Greenlaw, you end up saving $2 million. That would be the reason I end up trading Greenlaw first. I think it’s a possibility.
With both Al-Shaair and Greenlaw in the final season of their contracts, letting the competition play out during the summer and then moving whichever player doesn't win the starting job makes sense for the 49ers.
We discussed the defensive backs, defensive coordinators, and more. You can hear the entire discussion below:
Other topics include:
Are the Niners taking enough advantage of having a QB on a rookie deal? (2:38)
ESPN's FPI rankings say the 49ers have a 39% chance to make the playoffs (3:24)
Which other NFC Teams are ahead of San Francisco in those rankings? (7:49)
Do the 49ers make the playoffs this year? (11:54)
Secondary rankings (29:10)
Is DeMeco Ryans the best defensive coordinator in the division? (38:35)