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The addition of Javon Hargrave makes the 49ers the team to beat in the NFC

An overreaction? Or does that say more about the rest of the landscape of the NFC

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

John Lynch and the 49ers front office opened the legal tampering period with a bang after agreeing to a four-year, 84 million dollar deal with standout defensive lineman Javon Hargrave.

This was a home run signing for the 49ers, who added one of the top available free agents to a defense that finished as the number one unit in the league last season. This is the type of move that can thoroughly change the trajectory of a team, and the addition of Hargrave has effectively made the 49ers the clear-cut team to beat in the NFC for the foreseeable future.

To get a gauge of just how much this signing tips the scales, we must first examine the situation that Hargrave is stepping into. The 49ers had the most dominant defense in the league last season, with only a couple of areas you could objectively look at and label as a weakness.

One of those was consistently being able to generate pressure from the interior, As Arik Armstead was the only interior defender on the team who logged more than 15 pressures during the 2022 season. It is even more concerning when you consider Armstead had more than double the next player, despite missing eight games due to injury.

Collectively, the 49ers had eight different interior defensive linemen combine for a total of 88 pressures during the 2022 season. Hargrave had 66 by himself.

The most impressive thing about the pressure Hargrave generated last season was the consistency with which it occurred. Hargrave recorded multiple pressures in 19 of the 20 games he appeared in during the 2022 season, with 14 of those games seeing Hargrave record three or more pressures.

Those numbers would be impressive for an edge rusher, but they are simply otherworldly when you are talking about a player who plays the entirety of their snaps on the interior. To put that into perspective, Hargrave had five different games with at least five pressures in 2022, something that only Nick Bosa and Charles Omenihu accomplished for the 49ers last season.

What is even more impressive is the fact that Hargave’s consistent pass rushing production has spanned multiple seasons as well. Hargrave has recorded multiple pressures in 33 of the last 37 games he has played in, dating back to the start of the 2021 season.

Another thing that makes Hargrave, so valuable is the ability he has to win from multiple spots along the defensive line. One tech, 2i tech, three tech, it doesn’t matter. Hargrave is a game altering force, no matter where he is deployed on the defensive front.

Here are some examples of Hargrave winning from different spots, starting with a ferocious bull rush from the three technique that resulted in a sack:

The 49ers love shading their defensive tackles in the 2i technique, something that Hargrave excelled in during his time with the Eagles. A rip move by Hargrave here leads to a strip sack by and fumble recovery for Philadelphia’s defense:

Where Hargrave really sets himself apart is the damage he is capable of doing on centers when he is lined up as a one technique. The explosion Hargrave has in his get off is something that centers and interior linemen in general typically do not have to deal with. Check out this club move Hargrave uses on the center out of the one technique.

Here is another rep from the same game that illustrates the mismatch Hargrave presents when he is lined up over the center:

Here’s one more that illustrates the incredible burst and agility that Hargrave possesses.

While the explosion Hargrave possesses is invaluable, don’t let it overshadow just how powerful he is as well. Take a look at this rep against Colts guard Quenton Nelson, who is arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the entire league. Watch how much power that Hargrave can generate on this bull rush:

That combination of power and agility translates extremely well to Hargrave’s impact as a run defender as well:

Hargrave is a bona fide three down threat who has the ability to take over a game at any given time, and he has now been added to a defense that is littered with blue chip players at all three levels.

Not only does Hargrave give the 49ers an immediate boost, his departure from Philadelphia also makes the reigning conference champions significantly weaker. As of right now, DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the 49ers as the odds on favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl next season.

For obvious reasons, we never fully got to gauge just how big the gap was between the 49ers and Eagles last season, but it would be more than fair to make the case that Philadelphia was stronger in the trenches.

Hargrave is such an impactful player, that swapping him alone gives the 49ers the advantage up front should these two teams get a chance to run it back in next year's postseason.

Even with the uncertainty at the quarterback position, adding a player like Hargrave is a franchise altering move that solidifies the 49ers status as the gold standard in the conference until proven otherwise.