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How does the 49ers’ interior defensive line stack up ahead of the draft?

The re-signing of Kerry Hyder gives the Niners more depth in the middle.

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 49ers decided to re-sign Kerry Hyder Jr. to a one-year deal, officially, Monday. It’s a pre-draft move that will not generate much in the way of buzz but, while their draft board will have long since been set, it could influence their approach next week on days two and three.

Hyder is listed as a defensive end, but last season — his second with the 49ers after he spent the 2021 campaign with the Seahawks — played over three quarters of his snaps at the defensive tackle position.

Though he can still set the edge in the run game, Hyder at this stage of his career lacks the explosiveness to be a factor as a defensive end, but he did prove very valuable in rotation on the interior in 2022.

Hyder offered sporadic impact as a pass rusher from the interior, and showed his ability to hold his ground at the point of attack in the run game, often even against double teams.

The re-signing of Hyder is another move by the Niners to piece together their depth on the interior of the D-Line. In previous years, the 49ers have been blessed with significant strength in depth in the middle of the D-Line, but for 2023 that group is more top-heavy.

Adding interior pass-rush help was a must for San Francisco heading into the offseason, and the Niners did just that with the surprise blockbuster addition of Javon Hargrave.

Hargrave and Arik Armstead — provided the latter can stay healthy — will make up an imposing starting pair of defensive tackles but, with few dynamic options behind them, where do the 49ers stand at defensive tackle going into the draft?

Much depends on whether the 49ers can get anything out of former first-round pick Javon Kinlaw.

Kinlaw displayed some flashes of the potential that convinced the Niners to select him in 2020 when he finally shook off his knee injury issues late last season. Still, he was not explosive as a pass rusher and his performance in the NFC Championship Game defeat to the Eagles — when he was regularly blown off the ball by Philadelphia’s offensive line — raised questions about his proficiency against the run.

The 49ers can afford to have more confidence Kevin Givens will continue to provide an impressive rotational impact after re-signing him to a one-year deal. Givens registered a career-high seven tackles for loss and two sacks last season.

San Francisco was also clearly encouraged by what T.Y. McGill displayed down the stretch, re-signing him to a one-year deal, while Kalia Davis represents an unknown after essentially red shirting his rookie year because of injury.

Between Hyder, Givens and McGill, the 49ers have stuck with low-risk signings of players with whom they have familiarity to fill out the bulk of the interior defensive line depth chart.

Two things are lacking from that depth chart. A third high upside interior rusher to supplement Hargrave and Armstead, and a run-plugger to fill the void left by Hassan Ridgeway, who had proved an effective replacement for D.J. Jones prior to his season-ending injury.

The Niners may look to their edge depth chart to give them an extra interior pass rusher, with free-agent signing Clelin Ferrell having found joy rushing from the inside during his final season with the Raiders last year, and the hope may be that Kinlaw can rebound and, along with Hyder, allow San Francisco to survive without a rotational 1-technique run plugger.

Behind Armstead and Hargrave, the 49ers’ plan on the interior of the D-Line is all about projection. They’re projecting that Kinlaw, with a full offseason to get into shape and put his injury troubles behind him, will finally start delivering on his potential and that they can harness Ferrell’s inside-out versatility more regularly than the Raiders did.

On top of that, they’re betting on Hyder and Givens to maintain a track record of solid replacement level play.

Of course, it is no sure thing those predictions will come to fruition. Yet, such is the level of talent on the starting D-Line following Hargrave’s addition that it might not even matter if the 49ers’ backups fail to excel.

The Niners’ primary bet is that Nick Bosa, Hargrave and Armstead, along with presumptive edge starter Drake Jackson, will form a defensive line that can produce dominance akin to that of the Eagles’ front last season. Philadelphia had 70 sacks in 2022. There’s plenty to suggest that is a smart wager to make.

In an ideal scenario, the 49ers would identify a couple of rookie interior defensive linemen to lessen the burden on their stars. However, with no selection until pick 99 and more pressing issues at edge, in the secondary, at right tackle and tight end, they’re unlikely to prioritize further interior insurance.