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49ers D-linemen earning impressive PFF grades compared to previous seasons

Sep 29, 2023 at 11:53 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers defense has racked up eight sacks this season, which puts the unit around the middle of the pack in the NFL. The Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers lead the league with 13 sacks apiece. Although, the Lions have played one more game than the Steelers as of this article's publish date.

Don't mistake the Niners' sack total for a lack of pressure, though. When it comes to flustering opposing quarterbacks, San Francisco's defensive line has been among the best this season.

The 49ers entered the offseason knowing they wanted to shore up the interior of the defensive line, finding a stout body to line up next to Arik Armstead. So general manager John Lynch and company went after the best available defensive free agent, paying a significant amount of money to pluck defensive tackle Javon Hargrave from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have to be happy with the results. Through three games, Hargrave is on track to earn his highest-ever Pro Football Focus grade. His 90.6 overall grade is a career-high, and his 91.4 pass-rush grade is just shy of his career-high mark of 91.6 in 2021.

Hargrave's 13 total pressures are second on the team to Nick Bosa (15). Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, may only have one sack, but his career-high 93.9 overall grade leads all NFL defenders, and his 92.4 pass-rush grade, also a career-high, is bested only by Myles Garrett among all defensive linemen.

Armstead is the third-highest-graded defensive lineman on the team. His 87.8 overall grade is his best since 2019 and a significant jump from his 63.4 mark during an injury-plagued 2022 campaign.

"The 49ers have the highest pass-rushing grade in the league by almost three grading points," JT Bonomo recently wrote for Pro Football Focus.

Then you have defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who most had already written off as a bust. Kinlaw's 31.9 overall grade in 2022 was the lowest on the team. The former first-round pick has gotten healthy this offseason and has been impressive since training camp. His overall grade has jumped to 85.3, and his 10 pressures rank third on the team.

Second-year defensive end Drake Jackson earned an overall grade of 64.1 last season and was inactive for six of the 49ers' final eight games, including the three playoff games. His three sacks lead the defense, and his 79.3 overall grade is a vast improvement over his rookie campaign.

New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has ensured there is no drop-off from last season's top-ranked defense, and the 49ers remain a force in the NFL when some questioned how the unit would perform following the loss of now-Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans.

"We want to continue to take the next step each and every game," Wilks said this week. "So, the potential that this unit has, not just upfront as a D-line, but as a unit, the sky's the limit."

Player Snaps 2022 grade 2023 grade
Nick Bosa 137 90.6 93.9*
Javon Hargrave 127 80.1 90.6*
Arik Armstead 131 63.4 87.8
Javon Kinlaw 72 31.9 85.3*
Drake Jackson 98 64.1 79.3*
*Career high

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