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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

PFF Ranks the 49ers Defensive Line as the NFL’s Second-Best

Jun 25, 2024 at 10:07 AM

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Emphasizing quality defensive line play has been a cornerstone of the San Francisco 49ers during the John Lynch/ Kyle Shanahan era.
The 49er's rise to perennial Super Bowl contenders has largely been fueled by loading up on the defensive line. The team lost several key contributors this off-season, causing some to suggest the D-Line has regressed. However, Pro Football Focus (PFF) is not among those critical of the 49ers rebuild.

PFF ranks San Francisco's defensive line as the second-best in the NFL coming into the 2024 season, surpassed only by the New York Jets' young and talented front.

Pro Football Focus' Sam Mason writes, "The 49ers remain loaded up front." He calls Nick Bosa a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and contends Jason Hargrave is "close to as good as it gets as an interior rusher."

Pro Football Focus' Top Ranked Defensive Lines

  1. New York Jets
  2. San Francisco 49ers
  3. Philadelphia Eagles
  4. Detroit Lions
  5. Cleveland Browns
  6. Dallas Cowboys
  7. Indianapolis Colts
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers
  9. Las Vegas Raiders
  10. Houston Texans

The 49ers did a major rebuild along the defensive line. Arik Armstead was released in a cap-savings move, and former first-rounder Javon Kinlaw signed with the New York Jets. Chase Young, Clelin Ferrell, and Randy Gregory left via free agency. Yet, the front office feels they've improved the squad through free agency. Pro Football Focus agrees.

Edge rushers Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos signed in free agency. The Niners traded with the Houston Texans for defensive tackle Maliek Collins and picked up interior defender Jordan Elliott from the Cleveland Browns.

Floyd, who has racked up at least nine sacks in each of the last four seasons, is a significant upgrade and a much-needed complement on the outside to Bosa. The departing Clelin Ferrell finished second among the 49ers'defensive ends last year with 3 ½ sacks.

The defense, specifically the defensive line, was the team's strength under defensive coordinators Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans. However, the unit played below the expected standard last year, leading to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

According to The Athletic, the 49ers defense "regressed statistically, dropping from No. 1 to No. 12 in expected points added per play from 2022 to 2023. The run defense had slipped particularly badly, dropping from No. 2 in 2022 to No. 26 in 2023."

This disappointing play led to a wholesale reshuffle along the interior defensive front. Collectively, the reboot requires that the 49ers replace half of all snaps along the D-line. The team got younger and stouter against the run and feels Floyd, Gross-Matos, Collins, and Elliott will take most of those snaps.

Pro Football Focus sees this reboot as a change for the better.
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