It’s been said ad nauseam that the 49ers are likely to be in the edge rusher market in the 2023 NFL Draft after losing much of their depth at the position in free agency.
Without a pick until the 99th overall selection in the third round, the Niners could find it difficult to find an edge capable of expediently making an impact in his rookie season.
But Football Outsiders has identified two such players who may be available when the 49ers pick on day two of the draft.
Its sackSEER metric predicts the NFL success of draft-eligible edge rushers and is optimistic on two players who could still be on the board when San Francisco finally comes to make its first selection.
Notre Dame edge rusher Isaiah Foskey is fourth on Football Outsiders’ sackSEER rankings for this year’s draft, projecting him to record 20.8 sacks through five seasons. Further down the list is Byron Young of Tennessee, who ranks seventh with a projection of 19.2 sacks through five seasons.
Foskey and Young have contrasting skill sets, though both will likely appeal to the 49ers.
Power is the name of the game for Foskey, who racked up 20.5 sacks over the course of his final two seasons with the Fighting Irish.
Indeed, Foskey can generate hugely impressive push with his bull rush, his power evident when he drives pass protectors back with the long arm move.
Super easy power from Foskey with the long arm. pic.twitter.com/3as6GJFF6q— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) April 11, 2023
Though he doesn’t have the flexibility to bend and turn the corner, Foskey can use the force in his hands to disengage from blocks and then redirect to the quarterback at the top of his rush. And, when he has a clear path to the quarterback, Foskey displays a relentless motor in pursuit.
That same hand usage is key to Foskey’s play against the run, which is a strength. Foskey had 23 tackles for loss over the course of his final two years with Notre Dame, those numbers owing to his success in not only holding his ground at the point of attack but also swiftly shedding run blocks to find the football.
Isaiah Foskey had some dominant play against the run vs. UNC. pic.twitter.com/hHr4ttEctF— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) April 11, 2023
While he has shown a rip move as well as club, chop and swipe moves as part of his repertoire, the Niners might ideally want to draft an edge rusher with more refinement and more ways to win than Foskey displayed in college.
Yet, an explosive edge rusher who posted a 90th percentile broad jump and pushes the pocket with regularity while excelling against the run should still be of interest to the 49ers, with Foskey’s skill set similar to that of Samson Ebukam, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency.
Ebukam played an important role for the 49ers as a rotational base end, and it would represent a success with a day-two pick to effectively fill the void he left.
More enticing for the 49ers, though, may be to draft a prospect whose body type and abilities closely resemble the physical makeup and skill set of former Niners edge rusher, Dee Ford.
At a little over 6’2” and 250 pounds, Young’s frame is markedly similar to that of Ford, whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with the Chiefs in 2019 only to see an initially promising start to his career with the team derailed by injuries.
And Young wins in much the same way as Ford. He had seven sacks in his final season with Tennessee, with the explosiveness that helped him post a 98th percentile 40-yard dash and broad jump and a 91st percentile vertical jump glaringly obvious on tape.
Young possesses an excellent get-off, with his speed and lower-body flexibility making him a constant threat to turn the corner and win around the edge.
SEC leaders in pressures/game in 2022:— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 12, 2022
1. Byron Young, Tennessee (4.80)
2. BJ Ojulari, LSU (4.75)
t3. Will Anderson, Alabama (4.33)
t3. Derick Hall, Auburn (4.33)
With his athletic twitch and motor, Young continues to rise. pic.twitter.com/avPY3np5Ze
He uses the threat of beating tackles around the edge to get them to open their shoulders to create a rush lane to the inside. Young has the lateral quickness to win consistently to the inside, turning him into a substantial weapon on stunts.
Young regularly translates his speed off the snap into power, but could still serve to be more consistent with his bull rush and has plenty of room to add to his pass-rush armory,
Boasting a tremendous motor and outstanding closing speed to the quarterback, the 49ers might be able to overlook Young’s lack of refinement and run defense that is not as strong as that of Foskey — as well as the fact he is entering the draft aged 25 — to snap up a speed rusher they could use on a rotational basis while last year’s second-round pick Drake Jackson plays the bulk of the base end snaps across from Nick Bosa.
Foskey and Young are both blessed with intriguing — albeit different — physical gifts, and those traits are appealing enough that the 49ers may be enticed to select one of them and task defensive line coach Kris Kocurek with adding the polish they each require to help ensure the positive forecast from Football Outsiders proves accurate.