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3 draft prospects who could fill the Charles Omenihu void

The 49ers should be able to find a potential successor in this class.

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NFL Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Versatility is one of the traits the 49ers have valued highest during Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s tenure with the team. In recent years, they have found great success on the defensive line, in part through having depth pieces who can operate effectively off the edge and on the interior.

Yet with the Niners losing Arden Key and Charles Omenihu in successive offseasons, they now look light on defensive linemen who can fulfil those dual roles. Starting defensive tackle Arik Armstead can do so, but is undoubtedly best on the interior rather than at ‘big end’.

Omenihu emerged as an important player on the defense last season because of his multiplicity and success generating pass rush playing inside and out

As I recently wrote, filling the void left by Omenihu’s departure for the Chiefs should be a priority for a 49ers team that heads into the 2023 draft short on glaring needs and similarly short on premium picks.

San Francisco will likely have to wait until late in the third round to select a draft prospect with the potential to replace Omenihu, and there are three who figure to still be on the board on day two or perhaps even day three who have the experience playing multiple roles on the D-Line and the promise to pique the 49ers’ interest.

Isaiah McGuire, EDGE, Missouri

McGuire has predominantly operated as an edge during his career, and with good reason. He is a well-rounded pass rusher with the athletic gifts and technical ability to consistently do significant damage from that spot.

Possessing the explosiveness and power to win with his bull rush — excelling in part in that area through his understanding the importance of attacking ‘half a man’ — and the bend to turn the corner, McGuire is a pass rusher who can win in a variety of ways.

With swipe, rip, forklift and spin moves in his armory, McGuire already has an impressive arsenal at his disposal and, though his time lined up on the interior has been limited, he has displayed the quickness to win when pass rushing to the inside.

The 2020 season, when McGuire played 174 snaps lined up in the B gap, according to Pro Football Focus, was the year in which he spent the most time on the interior.

McGuire’s experience playing in that alignment may give the 49ers confidence they could draft the former Tiger and use him on both the edge and the interior.

However, Omenihu regularly thrived against the run, even when playing on the interior. McGuire has been inconsistent in that area of the game in terms of disengaging from blocks.

But there is no doubt McGuire is starting from an extremely intriguing base as a pass rusher, and he could quickly make an impact as an edge rusher and on stunts that see him work inside and attack interior offensive linemen.

It is something of a projection to view McGuire as a hybrid defensive lineman who can occupy both roles. However, so varied is his skill set that it would be no surprise if the 49ers are comfortable betting him on to grow into that kind of player.

Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn

Wooden played all over the defensive line in his final year with Auburn. Per PFF, he played 259 snaps in the B gap, 131 over tackle and 253 outside tackle.

And he enjoyed his best year as a college player with 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2022.

Wooden can push the pocket from the edge and the interior, but there is no doubt his skill set is better suited to the latter.

While he struggles to generate explosiveness on a snap to snap basis when working off the edge, Wooden’s quick and powerful hands aid him significantly when he shifts to the inside.

Wooden possesses swim, two-hand swipe and rip moves and frequently pairs the swipe and the rip together to create interior disruption against the run and the pass. He also combines his intelligent hand usage with impressive lateral movement, making him a significant threat when he loops around the outside on stunts,

He can hold his ground at the point of attack against the run — though he often struggles against double teams — and, between his success in pushing the pocket from the edge and his varied pass-rush weaponry, Wooden is a prospect whose talents closely match those of Omenihu.

With a Relative Athletic Score of 9.25 out of 10 as a defensive tackle, the 49ers may view Wooden as an interior defender first who can give them valuable edge snaps in time, and they’ll be more than happy with that for the price of at third-round or day three pick.

Dylan Horton, DL, TCU

Horton was compared to Omenihu during the NFL Network broadcast of the Combine by Daniel Jeremiah, and it’s easy to see why.

Though he spent much of his time at TCU playing on a three-man front, Horton projects well as a 4-3 base end who boasts hugely impressive explosiveness and intriguing room to develop.

Horton racked up 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his final season with the Horned Frogs, exciting numbers for a player who is a long way from the finished article.

Blessed with a superb get-off, Horton consistently gains ground with his first step and has a stable of moves that includes the long arm and the club-swim. The latter, combined with a dip move that sees him regularly beat linemen to their inside shoulder, has allowed him to frequently win when pass rushing to the inside.

Though he has moves at his disposal, Horton has thrived despite possessing a largely unrefined skill set. His hand usage is underdeveloped, and he lacks the bend to consistently win around the edge, with Horton regularly attacking opposing blockers without a semblance of a pass rush plan.

Horton plays with outstanding leverage in the run game, but it does not always translate to success against opposing rushing attacks. He has struggled to hold his ground and impose his will defending the run, sometimes even on the plays where he is blocked by tight ends.

While Horton has obvious room to improve, he clearly has the versatility to play the Omenihu role. He spent 219 snaps in the B gap last year, compared to 209 over tackle and 304 outside tackle.

Additionally, he plays with a high motor that 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek would surely appreciate, his extremely impressive effort enabling Horton to successfully pursue scrambling quarterbacks and running backs alike.

Horton’s numbers are deceiving in that they paint the picture of a defender who could perhaps be ready to quickly develop into a productive pass rusher at the highest level. It may be a leap to suggest Horton can have that kind of immediate influence but, with Kocurek’s tutelage, it isn’t hard to envisage him blossoming into a player ideally suited to filling the Omenihu role.

Honorable mention - Jonah Tavai, IDL, San Diego State

Short but with a broad frame at 6ft and 290 pounds, Tavai’s body type would likely prohibit him from playing regular snaps on the edge in the pros.

But he played in A gap, the B gap, over tackle and outside tackle during his career with the Aztecs and displayed an enticing skill set.

Extremely quick off the snap and blessed with the power to generate excellent push against both the pass and the run, Tavai is a heavy-handed defender with the quickness to win inside and, more surprisingly, the bend to be a consistent threat off the edge.

Swipe, rip, swim and spin moves are all part of an expansive repertoire for a player who is more likely to be typecast as a rotational interior pass rusher than asked to play multiple roles up front for a contending team.

Yet, his broad range of abilities should appeal to the 49ers, and don’t be surprised if San Francisco gives a lot of consideration to adding Tavai to its ranks on the D-Line.