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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN notes 49ers’ underrated offseason addition

Jun 18, 2024 at 11:55 AM

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ESPN's Seth Walder assessed each NFL team's offseason moves, grading their efforts to improve ahead of the 2024 season. The most significant move for the San Francisco 49ers was one they didn't make: deciding not to trade away either of its top wideouts, Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel.

"Aiyuk is worth keeping and paying, as he was the top overall receiver in ESPN's receiver tracking metrics last season and is just 26 years old," Walder explained.

However, the ESPN analyst acknowledges that the 49ers probably can't keep the duo together for much longer and may look to trade Samuel next offseason if forced to make a cost-cutting move.

The 49ers also revamped their defensive front, releasing Arik Armstead after failing to reduce the defensive tackle's salary but bringing in several new faces. San Francisco replaced defensive ends Randy Gregory, Clelin Ferrell, and Chase Young with Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos, which many view as an overall upgrade.

Walder considers one other addition an intriguing but underrated move. The 49ers traded for former Houston Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins to help mitigate the loss of Armstead in the middle.

"Collins is the player I like the most from that group (of newcomers) -- a longtime underrated pass-rushing threat who ranked 12th in pass rush win rate at defensive tackle (13%) in 2023 and accumulated 5.0 sacks," Walder wrote.

Collins' five sacks last season tied his career-high, achieved during his rookie 2016 campaign. He's the type of player who might significantly benefit from learning under the 49ers' respected defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek.

When asked what excited him about playing for Kocurek, Collins shared, "It was just his passion that he brings to the game, how he's all about getting a dub, and he wants to [have] the most productive defensive line, and he wants to be number one in everything. That's something that I want to come in, I want to contribute to, and I'm excited to be coached and coach hard."

Through 16 starts with the Texans last season, Collins registered 41 tackles, including eight for a loss, 18 quarterback hits, five sacks, and a pass defensed, according to Pro Football Reference.

Kocurek was already familiar with Collins, having done some homework on the defensive tackle heading into the 2016 NFL Draft.

"I really liked him coming out of Nebraska — just the explosion that he can generate through his lower body," Kocurek recently told Matt Barrows of The Athletic. "He jumps off the tape. He can play in the backfield, he can re-create the line of scrimmage and he's really athletic on the back side to make plays. And then it's the ability to manipulate things in the pass rush — you know, get a guard to lean one way and then beat him another."
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