Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Garafolo: Arden Key’s development with 49ers will get him paid this offseason

Jan 8, 2022 at 11:29 AM--

Arden Key is starting to develop into the pass rusher many scouts felt he'd become coming out of college, and as a result, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network thinks he could be in for a solid payday after the season comes to an end.

Key showed plenty of potential as a raw pass rush prospect at LSU, where he rocketed up mock draft boards after posting 55 tackles and 11 sacks in 11 games as a sophomore in 2016 before falling back a bit after a 33-tackle/four sack showing as a junior. Key slipped to Round 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft, where he was scooped up by the Raiders at pick 87 overall. He totaled 44 tackles and three sacks in 37 games with the Raiders before being waived in April of 2021, then landed a one-year deal with the 49ers, with whom he's found an important role as the current season progressed.

Key produced six tackles and no sacks over his first seven games with the 49ers, but since then his numbers have taken off. He has 14 tackles and six sacks over the past nine games and is now being looked at as a player the 49ers might want to prioritize this offseason. Whether the 49ers feel that way remains to be seen, but Garafolo seems to think some team is going to give Key a big raise in the coming months.

"I'm telling you this guy's going to get paid as a free agent," Garafolo said during a segment on the NFL Network's Good Morning Football Weekend on Saturday.

Garafolo said he spoke recently with Key, who admitted he was in over his head a bit earlier in his NFL career. But Key has taken a step forward over the past year, with the help of a defensive line coach and his teammates on the 49ers.

"I talked to him the other day and he said, 'First of all, I wasn't ready my rookie year. I've done a lot of maturing, a lot of growing,'" Garafolo said. "He also did some work this offseason with Mark Hall, who is a guy in Las Vegas who works with a lot of defensive linemen, and he learned a lot of the tricks of the trade. He learns it with the guys you see in Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and the 49ers."

Key told Garafolo he's discovered the importance of hand placement from Bosa and Armstead, who also works with Hall in the offseason.

"'Every day we're talking about technique and all these things,'" Garafolo said, quoting Key. "'So yeah, you might be good and naturally gifted the way that I have been, and you try to swipe with your hands—everybody can swipe with their hands, but where exactly does the one hand go? And where exactly does the other hand go?' That's the difference between getting pressure, which he's gotten over his career, and getting the sacks, which he's now starting to get for the San Francisco 49ers."

Watch the segment below:

One would have to think the 49ers would be interested in re-signing Key, given the progress he's shown this season. Time will tell if the right price can be found for both parties.

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