Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Football Outsiders names this position as the 49ers’ biggest roster hole

May 14, 2021 at 8:18 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers own what many expect to be a talented roster for the upcoming season. Of course, that depends on the depth chart not being impacted by the poor injury luck the team endured in 2020.

"Assuming everyone stays healthy this year, the 49ers have one of the league's more complete rosters, with no obvious weakness on offense or defense," wrote Vincent Verhei of Football Outsiders in a feature for ESPN.

No roster is perfect, though. If you look hard enough, you can always find a weakness. Where would you say that weakness lies with the 49ers? Perhaps the depth at cornerback? Maybe somewhere along the offensive line? Maybe the reserve linebackers? The answer isn't entirely obvious, which is a sign of a talented roster.

Verhei took on the task of identifying holes for all 32 NFL teams following the 2021 NFL Draft and believes he found one for the Niners — edge rusher.

But San Francisco is getting back its young star pass rusher, Nick Bosa, whose 2020 season ended in Week 2 after suffering a torn ACL. The team hopes to finally get back Dee Ford, too, after the veteran pass rusher was limited to one game last season due to neck and back injuries.

Bosa and Ford could make a formidable duo on defense — assuming everyone is healthy. Therein lies the problem. Can an injury-free campaign be depended on?

"Nick Bosa was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 when he had 9.0 sacks in the regular season and 4.0 more in the playoffs," explained Verhei, "but he missed 14 games in 2020 after tearing his ACL. It's a similar story for Dee Ford -- he had 6.5 sacks (in only 11 games) in the Super Bowl year but missed 15 games in 2020 with a back injury. Arik Armstead has topped 3.5 sacks only once in his six NFL seasons."

Armstead had a team-leading 10 sacks in 2019, but the production regressed last year after San Francisco inked the defensive lineman to a lucrative long-term contract.

Obviously, you can't just assume that Bosa and Ford will return to form. Nor can you assume that each will last the entire 17-game campaign. Ford has dealt with injuries in each of his two seasons with the 49ers.

San Francisco brought in former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam. However, Verhei notes that the defender will serve as more of a complementary pass-rushing piece and has never surpassed 4.5 sacks in a season. Although, he reached that mark in each of his two past seasons.

Ebukam hopes to show 49ers fans that he is capable of much more than what was on display during his first four NFL seasons with the division rival.

"I want to show exactly what I've got because I didn't really get to showcase everything that I had (while) with the Rams," Ebukam told in March. "Right here, I feel like there's definitely a better opportunity for me to showcase that."

As for the rest of the 49ers pass-rushing options, Verhei adds: "Only two other edge rushers on the roster have ever sacked a quarterback in the NFL: Jordan Willis has 5.5 sacks in five years with the Bengals, Jets and 49ers, while Arden Key had 3.0 in three years with the Raiders."

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