The 49ers signed a lesser-known hybrid defensive player in Samson Ebukam during the offseason of 2021. Ebukam’s deal was for two years, $12 million, totaling $5 million in guarantees. Based on his contract alone, the 49ers weren’t expecting Ebukam to be a Dee Ford replacement.
The fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft showed flashes of pass-rushing potential with the Rams but was never used on the edge full-time. So, 2021 was a transition from bouncing back and forth between linebacker and edge rusher to Ebukam permanently playing with his hand in the ground.
Results were a mixed bag in Year 1. According to Sports Info Solutions, 2021 was Ebukam’s second-worst season from a sack percentage standpoint. He also had his lowest numbers for pressure, hurry, and QB knockdown percentage.
Using season-long numbers isn’t fair to Ebukam as he was always going to get off to a slow start. From weeks 1-9, Ebukam had one game where he notched three or more pressures. From weeks 10-18, Ebukam had five games of three or more pressures. Even better, he had four or more pressures in four of Ebukam’s final five games. So, he started to figure out what worked for him.
Experience: Five accrued seasons
Weight: 245 lbs.
Ebukam was a popular choice as a potential cap causality for the 49ers this offseason back when we thought the team would pinch pennies to keep Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster.
This is the final season of Ebukam’s two-year deal, where he’ll carry a cap number of $8.25 million. There’s no guaranteed money remaining on Ebukam’s contract. If they cut him pre-June 1, the team would have saved $6.5 million in cap space while only eating $1.75 million in dead money, the remaining portion of Ebukam’s prorated bonus.
Despite a relatively quiet start to the season, the 49ers must feel good about Ebukam’s progress to keep him on the roster heading into 2022.
Where he can improve in 2022
The way we talk about rookies and players who are inexperienced such as Trey Lance, applies to Ebukam. He needs to play. His December 2021 numbers were a result of early-season failures where Ebukam had to go through growing pains and learn how to win. It took some time, but Ebukam’s athleticism and motor were always going to be rewarded. Now, it’s about adding and layering moves to his pass-rushing repertoire.
Ebukam will have all of the 1-on-1 opportunities in the world playing on this defensive line. Seven of his 11 tackles for loss game after Week 13. Ebukam isn’t facing the pressure that Drake Jackson is to live up to a second-round pick. So, expecting incremental improvement as the rest of the youngsters like Jackson get up to speed is fair.
Nick Bosa has a double-scissor swipe. Arik Armstead will bulldoze his way to the quarterback or use a timely arm-over move to get past a guard. It’s on Ebukam to develop a patent go-to pass rush move. That’s how he can improve heading into Year 2 with Kris Kocurek.
What to expect in 2022
Ebukam has never had five sacks in his career. If he were to reach 40 total pressures, that’d be a career year. I mentioned his motor and athleticism above, and that alone makes it difficult to take Ebukam off the field. There aren’t many great metrics to determine how a player is against the run, but Ebukam was superb last season. He refused to let runners get outside of him, and Ebukam didn’t miss a tackle all season.
I’m expecting more dominant run defense with a few more splashes as a pass rusher. A fun debate would be who has a better season, Jackson or Ebukam?