Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers


49ers Roster Breakdown: Addressing the Uncertainty of Nick Bosa

Justin Wong
Mar 19, 2021 at 12:16 PM3


The 49ers' front seven has been the team's strength for several years but due to a string of unsurmountable injuries last season, general manager John Lynch will probably look to bolster his pass-rushing assets.

The injuries—notably at MetLife Stadium—took a hard toll on the 49ers defensive line. Its typically deep rotation of defensive linemen was quickly sapped with Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, and Ronald Blair lost for the majority of the season. Losing Bosa was the biggest domino to fall but having Ford out (again) to injury put the team in a real bind. The 49ers streamed through Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan, and Jordan Willis before finding a gem in Kerry Hyder to start alongside Arik Armstead. Hyder finished the season with a career-high 8.5 sacks in 14 starts.

While the defensive line suffered, the 49ers linebacker corps stepped up in a big way, in large part due to the emergence of middle linebacker Fred Warner. Warner finished the season with his first Pro Bowl selection and was selected as an AP First-Team All-Pro. Second-year linebacker Dre Greenlaw solidified his status as the starter alongside Warner, which eventually led to the 49ers' trade of Kwon Alexander to the Saints for a 2021 fifth-round pick.


Concerns are now raised for the defensive line, notably the defensive end position, with Bosa coming off a major ACL injury and uncertainty with respect to Ford's health. Former first-round pick Solomon Thomas signed a one-year deal with the Raiders and concludes his run as the 49ers' regrettable 2017 first-round pick. Armstead should hold down the big defensive end spot while Bosa takes edge but typically, the 49ers would like to have a deeper pool of pass rushers for defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Due to injuries and cap space, the 49ers parted ways with Blair. However, they nabbed Samson Ebukam and his ideal athleticism from the division-rival Rams on a two-year deal. It was a big coup to retain last season's starting nose tackle, D.J. Jones, who should start alongside Javon Kinlaw in the middle, on a one-year deal. Expect the 49ers to invest more in the defensive line this offseason.

49ers DL Free Agents


  • Solomon Thomas – UFA
  • Ronald Blair – UFA
  • Kerry Hyder – UFA
  • Ezekiel Ansah – UFA
  • Dion Jordan – UFA
  • Jordan Willis – UFA
  • D.J. Jones – UFA

49ers LB Free Agents


  • Mark Nzeocha – UFA
  • Joe Walker – UFA

Initial Outlook


The 49ers' group of linebackers and defensive line remain the team's strongest units, but looking no further than last season, that could once again sour quickly.

Ideally, similar to their 2019 season, the 49ers want to ensure they can keep their rotation of defensive linemen fresh. The starting defensive line retains its continuity: Kinlaw becomes the full-time starter for Thomas and, hopefully, Bosa is back to full-strength. The 49ers would like to get rid of Ford and his hefty contract but they were able to find common ground with a restructured two-year $24 million deal with the hope that he can get back on the field. On paper, the unit remains strong but I'm sure the 49ers would like to bolster their depth via free agency and/or the NFL Draft.


There won't be much change to the linebackers with impending free agents Joe Walker and Mark Nzeocha set to hit the market; their value came primarily on special teams. The 49ers will likely look for versatile players who can contribute similarly.

Free Agency


The 49ers made left tackle Trent Williams the league's highest-paid offensive lineman with a six-year $138.06 million deal, and the team now has about $13 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. Given their current draft scenario with nine picks, the 49ers are projected to spend about $9.8 million on their upcoming rookie class. In other words, the 49ers won't have that much spending room moving forward.

As mentioned earlier, I do not anticipate the 49ers investing much at the linebacker positions with Warner and Greenlaw holding it down on reasonable deals. As a result, San Francisco will likely fill up the depth in the later stages of the draft or via free agency.

With Ebukam now signed, the 49ers would ideally like to sign at least one more veteran pass rusher to round out the group. The current free agenct class of defensive ends actually has several prospects on the market, which bodes well for the 49ers. They could wait it out a bit more and try to get some value in the later stages of free agency.

The perfect scenario would have the 49ers retaining Hyder for another season on a one-year deal similar to how they re-signed Jones. It would allow both Hyder and Jones to compete in a familiar system this upcoming season and look for a bigger deal when the NFL salary cap increases the following year. Aside from Hyder, the other possible free agents the 49ers could possibly get at a value price would be former WFTer Ryan Kerrigan, former Lion Everson Griffen, and former Brown Adrian Clayborn.

Draft


The 49ers head into the NFL Draft with most of their glaring needs somewhat addressed in the secondary, offensive line, and defensive line, which means they shouldn't be pigeon-holed to any position with the 12th pick in the draft.

Although the 49ers have continuously invested in the defensive line, it wouldn't surprise me if they continued that trend. The draft class features Michigan's Kwity Paye, Penn State's Jayson Oweh, Miami (FL) defensive end Gregory Rousseau, and Georgia's Azeez Ojulari as potential choices in the first round. Nonetheless, I expect at least one more pass rusher to get nabbed in the first couple of rounds with viability concerns to both Bosa and Ford.

Overall Outlook


While the 49ers' linebackers and defensive line continue to be a strength, expect Lynch to replenish the cupboard to ensure the front seven remains strong. It's not ideal that the 49ers continue to invest in the defensive line year after year when there are other positions of need, but that is the reality of the team's current state: injuries derailed the heart of the defense and that can't happen again. Silver lining? As long as Bosa can bounce back from his ACL injury and play up to pre-injury form, the team should have franchise players in Warner and Bosa to build around on defense for years to come.

Next: Roster Breakdown: O-line, running backs
  • Justin Wong
  • Written by:
    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


3 Comments

  • Errol
    You are creating a ton of pessimism out of something that a lot of people have nothing but positivity about. Everyone knows that when an injury happens, there is healing that goes beyond the scope of hope. Nick may need more than what is hoped for. But, what you are selling is that he may not EVER be able to play. And then, you start on a tangent about the whole team which doesn't have THAT much h to do with Nick. Stop creating doom and gloom ant let everything play out
    Mar 20, 2021 at 9:26 AM
    0
    Response: Wow! Not sure about the doom and gloom--that wasn't the intention. The 49ers have a lot of great things going for them with the front seven! If everything bodes well they'll have two defensive stalwarts in Bosa and Warner.
  • keith bandy
    good job batter than most
    Mar 19, 2021 at 5:28 PM
    0
    Response: Much appreciated
  • Longterm9erfan
    Justin.... FYI....It is "insurmountable" not "unsurmountable"... Just sayin'.
    Mar 19, 2021 at 4:38 PM
    0
    Response: Roger that!

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