Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN ranks one 49ers defensive unit as the best in the NFL, another as one to watch

Aug 7, 2020 at 10:31 AM--

Mike Clay of ESPN continued his annual tradition of ranking each positional group for all 32 NFL teams, looking at 10 key offensive and defensive positions. During the process, he also commented on each category's best, shakiest, and "on the rise" groups, along with the ones to watch.

The strength of the San Francisco 49ers defense last season — its edge rushers — came in as Clay's best in the game when compared to those from around the league.

"Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford combine to form the league's best edge rushing trio," wrote Clay. "Bosa and Armstead combined for 19.0 sacks and 105 pass-rush wins during the 2019 regular season (plus 6.0 sacks and 21 more wins during three playoff games). Armstead might get more run inside this season with DeForest Buckner gone, but the 49ers figure to get more out of Ford, who was limited to only 27% of the defensive snaps in his first season with the team. Ronald Blair also returns after sustaining a torn ACL in Week 10 last season, and Dion Jordan and Kerry Hyder were signed for depth."

Another Niners defensive group — the off-the-ball linebackers — made Clay's list of units to watch. San Francisco's linebackers came in at No. 16 in the NFL within his ranking for the position.

"A midrange grade for this unit might seem low, but Kwon Alexander, who landed a four-year, $54 million contract last offseason, has struggled with injuries and effectiveness the past two seasons," explained Clay. "On the other hand, Fred Warner was a solid find on Day 2 of the 2018 draft, and 2019 fifth-rounder Dre Greenlaw impressed as a rookie. This is a solid group with a high ceiling."

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