Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

PFF ranks 49ers defense as the best in the NFL heading into 2020 season

Sep 3, 2020 at 5:56 AM--

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh must be very proud. Or maybe he's busy preparing for the Arizona Cardinals.

Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus ranked the top defenses in the NFL heading into the 2020 season and listed Saleh's unit tops above all others. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers came in at No. 2 and 3, respectively.

"The 49ers fielded the most improved defense of the 2019 season after going from 26th in EPA per play allowed in 2018 to second in 2019," wrote Treash. "And they deservedly lock up the No. 1 spot here ahead of the 2020 campaign.

"For starters, they have arguably the best pass-rush unit in the league. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa leads the way, and he will look to get his play to elite status in Year 2 after posting an 86.7 PFF grade in 2019 that ranked 11th at the position. Bosa's 80 total pressures over the regular season also smashed the PFF record for most total pressures by a first-year edge defender."

Treash also notes the addition of Pro Football Focus' top interior defensive lineman in this year's draft class, Javon Kinlaw. While the rookie has struggled at times during training camp, there is no denying his size and raw potential. The first-year big-man is expected to help plug up the middle and offset the loss of DeForest Buckner.

"The South Carolina product has some incredible pop behind his hands and is an impressive athlete for a human of his size," wrote Treash. "And even with a relative lack of pass-rush moves, he still managed to produce a 90.7 pass-rush grade in 2019, third in the FBS."

Then you have the 49ers pass defense, which ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season and is led by savvy veteran Richard Sherman.

"At 31 years of age and just a couple of years removed from a torn Achilles, Sherman was the highest-graded cornerback in coverage last season," added Treash. "He allowed 35 yards or less in all but one regular-season game, routinely shutting down his side of the field."

The competition for the starting cornerback spot opposite Sherman is ongoing. While Emmanuel Moseley has to be considered the favorite to win the job, Treash notes that a healthy Jason Verrett may make an impact in 2020.

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