49ers Defensive Line Notes

By: Mike Messner (@teachermike72


Arik Armstead, DL

History:

  • Played college ball at Oregon

  • Drafted in 1st round of 2015 draft by SF

  • Didn’t play much in his rookie year; played 33% of snaps

  • in two years Armstead has appeared in 24 games, starting a total of 5

  • showed some nice stuff in the pass-rushing department as a rookie, and showed massively upgraded pass rushing ability in 2016

  • last year, severely injury-hampered second season resulted in him appearing in only 8 games and starting 4; Jim O’Neil’s scheme also didn’t help

  • has recorded 45 career sacks, with 25 last season, and has 34 combined tackles on his career

  • Probably will be at left defensive end (strong-side end might be where he is best), but some discussion about the possibility of him operating as the team’s LEO on base downs

  • even if he is beaten out by another player for LEO, he will be heavily featured in the defensive line rotation to keep Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner fresh

Cap Status:

  • Third year of rookie contract and has a cap hit of just under $27 million this season

  • team will have to decide next spring on his 5th year option

  • if they trade him this offseason, they would carry $1,354,569 in dead money this season and $1,354,569 in dead money next season

  • UFA in 2020

Upside:

  • Seens as a long term part of defensive line

  • Has come back from injuries before

  • graded positively as a pass rusher per PFF with a 732 pass rushing grade

  • most productive pass rusher at the 3-4 defensive end position

  • Can disengage with a blocker at the right time

  • repairing of his shoulder coupled with a move to Robert Saleh’s aggressive one-gapping scheme should significantly help him succeed

  • pass rushing should continue to improve

  • long, powerful arms and explosive abilities; has the ability to cause offensive linemen serious headaches

Downside:

  • could be woefully miscast as an edge rusher

  • lacks the prototypical speed, bend and explosiveness that has previously been required of the position

  • Offensive tackles are the only players on the offensive line who are likely to be able to consistently negate his long arm length

  • Needs more refinement

Rated 44.1 overall by PFF (poor)


Ronald Blair, DL

History:

  • fifth round selection in 2016 out of Appalachian State; would have been higher except for poor athletic testing

  • appeared in all 16 games as a rookie

  • made 16 combined tackles (5 assists) and had three sacks

  • played considerably more snaps against the pass than against the run, with 217 pass rush snaps and 82 against the run

Cap Status:

  • Signed four-year rookie deal with $270,404 signing bonus; in 2nd year now

  • cap hit of $607,601

  • UFA in 2020


Upside:

  • improved noticeably as his rookie season progressed

  • Good pass rusher

  • increasingly found himself part of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation, especially when Arik Armstead was placed on IR

  • experiences both in college and as a rookie taking on double teams should help him to translate smoothly to the strong side end position in the 49ers’ new 4-3 defense

  • he can, if required, kick inside to rush the passer

  • arguably the best suited of the 49ers’ defensive linemen to the new defensive scheme and he is the versatility to play across the defensive line if required

  • move to a 4-3 defense will likely help him

Downside:

  • Could find himself low on the pecking order if Armstead is not a starter

  • not good at anchoring against the run


Rated 44.3 by PFF (poor)


Deforest Buckner, DT

History:

  • 1st round draft pick in 2016

  • Teammate of Arik Armstead at Oregon

  • 16 quarterback hurries and 17 tackles for loss while earning first-team conference honors and winning the Pat Tillman Pac-12 defensive player of the year award

  • 45 solo tackles

  • 105 sacks during his senior season alone

  • was regularly used as a stand-up pass rusher along the edges at Oregon

  • named Defensive Player of the Year by 49ers Insider in 2016

  • Will probably be used in the under-tackle role in 2017

Cap Status:

  • Entering second year of four-year rookie contract

  • UFA in 2021

Upside:

  • Can occasionally work as an edge rusher

  • Great stamina, rarely takes a play off

  • Very fast for a man his size

Downside:

  • Needs to set lower against double teams

  • Lack of rest has prevented him from top performance

  • May have been used too much last year

Rated 77.6 by PFF (average)


Tank Carradine, LB

History:

  • selected in the second round, with the 40th overall pick, in 2013 draft

  • Part of “Team ACL”

  • placed on the reserve/non-football injury list (torn ACL); missed most of his rookie season with the injury

  • has played in 23 career games and has 39 combined tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble

  • Moved to OLB after starting as a defensive tackle; might be moved back there

  • make-or-break situation this year

Contract Status:

  • Signed to a one-year contract extension in September 2016; deal totaled $2,650,000

  • can earn an additional $1 million in incentives for sacks

  • signing bonus was $1,250,000 in 2016, with a 2017 base of $1,100,00 ($1,000,000 guaranteed for injury; fully guaranteed on April 1, 2017)

  • will also earn $250,000 if he is on the roster weekly, which will be paid over the season

  • earned a $50,000 workout bonus for his participation in the offseason workout program

  • incentive of $1,000,000 for sacks

  • 2017 cap hit is $1,978,125

  • Mercury thinks he will be not be renewed; ditto Bleacher Report

  • UFA in 2018

  • Brian Peacock says he’s in trouble this offseason

Upside:

  • impressive physical specimen with a high ceiling and high motor

  • Has some speed

  • a remote chance he finally starts to show his true abilities in the Niners’ switch to a 4-3 base scheme

  • was a formidable 4-3 defensive end in college; since 49ers are switching to a 4-3 defense this season, that could allow Carradine an opportunity

Downside:

  • 28 years old

  • should never have started bulking up

  • Hasn’t put pressure on quarterbacks much; has just four sacks over his NFL career

  • Stiff, not good at turning the corner

  • has never been good stopping the run in the NFL

  • we have seen little to nothing from Carradine

  • play has been somewhat unforgettable and at times, frustrating

  • seems pretty unlikely he will be used in a formidable way

  • new regime may have other ideas than Baalke had for him

  • Might end up being a role player in the nickel

  • NinerNoise says he should be cut in 2017-2018

Rated 61.3 by PFF (below average); unranked


Quinton Dial, DL

 

History:

  • fifth-round pick in 2013; drafted out of Alabama

  • put on weight and muscle after college

  • eventually became a two-down read-and-react player capable of both stopping the run and getting good pressure when needed

  • missed most of his rookie season coming off toe surgery

  • in 2015, finished fourth on the team in quarterback hits, tackles for loss and tied for second with 25 sacks

  • had a good showing in his third season in the league and the 49ers front office showed their confidence in his future performance by extending his contract

  • Good reserve option

  • Will probably be playing DT in the new 4-3 scheme

Cap Status:

  • signed a three year extension in February 2016 worth $12 million

  • received a $3.227 million signing bonus, and a guaranteed base salary of $1.5 million for 2017

  • additional $14 million is guaranteed for injury

  • included in the contract are roster bonuses worth $400,000, and $15 million in potential escalators

  • due modest pay increases in each of the next two years, and carries a base salary of

  • cap hit is just under $2.9 million

  • UFA as of 2019

Upside:

  • watched film during the off season to improve his performance

  • loves his role as a leader in the DL meeting room

  • Works well in 4-3 defense

  • Good run stopper

  • Has the right attitude and provides some DL depth

  • still in his physical prime

  • should make more highlight reel-quality plays without having to worry too much about the read-and-react system

Why He Could Regress:

  • any time a new scheme is introduced, there is always a possibility for regression by players who may have to adjust their techniques and routines

  • Not as versatile as he once was

  • Has to compete with Earl Mitchell, who already knows the position and is proven at it

  • new scheme will give him the added responsibility of following centers and guards more closely on outside running plays

  • has a long way to go to earn significant playing time

Rated 68.2 by PFF (below average); ranked 53rd


Elvis Dumervil, DE

History:

  • Played college ball at Louisville

  • drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft by Broncos, who were at that time coached by Mike Shanahan

  • In the first game of the 2007 NFL season, he would get the first interception of his career

  • finished the year with 8.5 sacks in 13 games; total of 2.5 sacks in 2007.

  • 2009 season: made an outside linebacker in his 3-4 defensive scheme, but kept as a defensive end in nickel packages

  • led the league in sacks with 17, and tied a franchise record with 4 in the Sep 20th game against Cleveland

  • near unanimous selection for the All-Pro Team, receiving 46 out of the 50 total votes; finished third in voting for Defensive Player of the Year

  • 2010: signed a six-year $61.5 million contract extension (including $43.168 million in guaranteed payments) to keep him with the Broncos through 2015

  • 8/4/10: suffered a torn pectoral muscle during practice, and missed the entire 2010 season

  • Released by Broncos on 3/15/13 due to contract faxing snafu

  • 3/24/13: agreed to a 5-year-deal with the Ravens worth $35 million, including $8.5 million in the first year of the deal

  • 2014: tied his career high of sacks with 17, as well as forcing two fumbles (the sacks set a new Baltimore Ravens franchise record)

  • was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl and also named to the Associated Press’s All-Pro first team.

  • 2015: highest ranked Raven on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2015 list

  • production would slow down drastically in 2015, despite starting all 16 games for the Ravens for the first time

  • ended the year with 6 sacks, a defended pass and a forced fumble

  • selected to play in the 2016 Pro Bowl as an alternate

  • 3/8/17:  released by the Ravens

Cap Status:

  • signed a two-year deal worth $8 million on 6/5/17

  • received a $1 million signing bonus, with an additional $500,000 in base salary fully guaranteed

  • has a $750,000 roster bonus in each of the two seasons.

Upside:

  • has undoubtedly been one of the most consistently effective pass rushers of the last decade

  • In the final five weeks of last season, he ranked sixth among all edge rushers with 22 pressures forced from the left side

  • pass rushing tools and awareness are extremely polished and his explosiveness was still evident last season

  • notable lack of depth below him at DE/pass rusher

Downside:

  • had Achilles surgery in the offseason

  • Was merely serviceable upon his return, not spectacular

  • certainly not the player he was two or three years ago

Rated 76.2 by PFF (average); unranked


Chris Jones, DT

History:

  • played college football for Bowling Green

  • selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Texans; released on 8/31/13

  • claimed by the Buccaneers on 9/1/13; was inactive for the season opener; released on 9/10/13

  • Claimed by Patriots

  • recorded his first career sack against the Bengals on 10/6/13

  • finished the season with 6 sacks in 13 games, which was 2nd amongst rookies

  • earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for Week 7 of the 2014 NFL season

  • finished the season with three sacks and 15 tackles

  • Part of the winning Patriots team in Super Bowl XLIX

  • calf injury caused him to miss the entire 2015 NFL season

  • Patriots waived him on 4/15/16

  • claimed by the Dolphins on 4/18/16; released as part of final roster cuts but re-signed on September 14, 2016

  • played in seven games, starting none, with no sacks and four tackles

  • released by the Dolphins on 11/7/16

  • claimed by the 49ers 11/8/16 when Arik Armstead went on IR

  • was inactive his first two games with the 49ers

  • made starter against the Dolphins on November 27 when Quinton Dial went out; started again the following week and for the final four games

  • had an 89 percent run stop rate, according to Pro Football Focus

  • had the sixth most run stops from Week 12 through 17 among defensive tackles

  • had four quarterback pressures in 74 pass rush snaps

Cap Status:

  • Signed to 1-year deal as of 3/16/17

  • $775,000 contract with a $50,000 signing bonus

  • Niners Nation says he’s fighting for a roster spot

Upside:

  • some solid play last season

  • has flashed talent in the past

  • there is room to build, and that bodes well for him

Downside:

  • Not clear what kind of opportunities he might have

  • if he does make the roster, his role could end up fairly limited

Rated 43.4 by PFF (poor); ranked 100


Earl Mitchell, DT

History:

  • Played college ball at University of Arizona

  • drafted by the Texans in the third round (81st overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft

  • signed by the Miami Dolphins to a four-year, $16 million contract including $9 million guaranteed in 2014

  • placed on injured reserve on 9/13/16 (calf); 17 combined tackles in 9 games last year, including a 6 yard stuff in a goal line stand

  • local beat writers gave him good marks for his games against San Diego, Baltimore, and Buffalo

  • had 3 tackles in the playoff game against Pittsburgh

  • has experience with 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, who was a defensive assistant during Mitchell’s time with the Texans

Cap Status:

  • Signed a 4-year, $16 million deal on 2/25/17

  • 2017 Base salary: $1,650,000 (guaranteed)

  • Signing bonus: $3 million

  • Bonuses: Roster ($750,000), Workout ($100,000)

  • 2017 cap charge: $2,921,875

  • UFA in 2021

Upside:

  • Lynch praised Mitchell’s character when he signed him

  • PFF listed him as their top-rated DT in 2014

  • Everyone raves about his effort and attitude

  • Miami sportswriters liked his play generally after he came back from injury

  • release was a price/performance issue related to their large payroll

Downside:

  • has had an up and down career

  • not a man of high statistics

  • Has to compete with Quinton Dial and possibly Chris Jones

  • Drafting D.J. Jones in the 6th round might indicate that Lynch isn’t 100% committed to Mitchell going forward

  • will be 30 by the end of week 3

  • much better on passing downs than in base, which is a problem because San Francisco acquired him specifically to shore up their run defense

  • has never finished higher than 30th in overall grading among defensive tackles during any point in his career

Rated 46.3 by PFF (poor); ranked 78th


Solomon Thomas, DE

History:

  • Drafted in 1st round, 2017, 3rd overall pick

  • was a team captain at Stanford and drove that defense in so many ways

  • Made the winning tackle in Sun Bowl against UNC

  • has been viewed primarily as a strong defensive end player in the base

  • can also slide to the interior line in passing downs, three technique for pass rush situations

  • said the team wants him to learn LEO as well in an interview with SiriusXM NFL radio

  • sought out Demarcus Ware for tips on pass rushing

  • also worked out with Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp

  • wrangled an invite to work out with Von Miller

Cap Status:

  • the only rookie that remains unsigned by the 49ers; this is probably because Stanford is late on the academic calendar and the NFL prohibits players from practicing with their new team until classes are no longer in session

  • should receive a contract worth $28,154,382, with a signing bonus of $18,615,912

  • will likely also receive roster bonuses in the second, third, and fourth years

Upside:

  • Angular build, well-built frame

  • Lined up at multiple positions

  • has ravenous approach to the game

  • excellent against the run, something the 49ers were terrible at last season.

  • Gets out of the blocks quickly and attacks with early, skilled hands

  • Has the ability to lead and take ownership of the defensive side of the roster

  • provides a likable spirit and unifying quality needed

  • Stays hungry and wants to feast

  • Shows ability to win with power or quickness

  • Outstanding athleticism

  • Fluid in his play

  • Transitions from move to move

  • Unpredictable pass rush

  • Attacks both the edges and can crank up a bull rush

  • Hands and feet work in unison

  • Has lightning-quick spin move he can access to unhinge from block and find new life in his rush

  • Violent disengagements from blocks leave no doubt blocker is whipped

  • Relentless approach combined with athleticism makes block recoveries extremely difficult in run or pass

  • Refuses extended engagements to blockers and works himself free

  • Will sniff out gaps and make himself skinny into the backfield

  • Very good pursuit speed and range as playmaker

Weaknesses:

  • Considered a “tweener” by scouts, who believe he could struggle to keep enough weight on his frame to play along interior

  • Length is below average as five-technique

  • Plays with inconsistent pad level

  • Needs to get bigger and stronger through his lower body

  • Tends to play taller as play rolls along and can get washed out of plays by strong down blocks

  • Gets engulfed at times

  • Had seven offsides penalties in 2016

NinersWire says he has an 87% chance of starting in Week 1


DJ Jones, DT

History:

  • Played college ball at Ole Miss for two seasons; began his collegiate career at East Mississippi Community College

  • played in 25 games (15 starts), and registered 70 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 8.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR and 1 PD

  • drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round of the 2017 draft

Cap Status:

  • guaranteed salary of $465,000

  • prorated bonus of $36,967

  • no workout or roster bonuses

  • being cut would result in $36,967 in dead money and a cap savings of $465,000

Upside:

  • Has a big bubble and plays with a wide base

  • Outrageous weight room strength with monster numbers in clean, bench, and squat

  • Plays low and fires upward strikes to elevate the blocker’s center of gravity

  • Has the play strength to rip through an edge once he gets to it

  • Has quick hands and is nice with the swim move

  • Has necessary play traits to be an effective rusher in the twist game

  • Rare reactive athleticism and short-area lateral quickness for an interior player

  • Extended tackle radius allows him to close out running lanes away from his gap

  • Keeps hounding runners down the field for the tackle

  • Instinctive and quickly sniffs out screen passes

  • Very rarely on ground

Downside:

  • Has a stocky frame with short arms and lacks the length teams like

  • Lack of size could be an issue against NFL double teams

  • Motor gets him too juiced at times

  • Needs to gather himself to prevent running past his target

  • Was unable to overpower strong guards in man-to-man contest

  • Lacked impact tackle production

  • will likely take a back seat to Earl Mitchell and Chris Jones while learning Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme and adjusting to the speed of the NFL

NinersWire says he has a 37% chance of starting in Week 1


Pita Taumoepenu, DE

 

pitat.jpg

History:

  • sixth round pick out of Utah in 2017

  • specialist pass rusher

  • left college with the fifth most sacks overall by a Utes player (21.5), including two in his final game (played at Levi’s Stadium in the Fosters Farm Bowl)

  • appeared in 46 games at Utah, starting 7 of them

  • sack totals increased each year, with one as a freshman, 5.5 as a sophomore, 6 as a junior and 9 as a senior

  • had 25.5 tackles for a loss, of which 12 came as a senior

  • ran a 4.67 40 yard dash (92nd percentile amongst defensive linemen), with a strong 1.65s 10 yard split, at the combine

  • also performed exceptionally well in the three cone drill with his 6.91s effort placing him second amongst d-linemen at the combine

  • was sixth best at the combine in the short shuttle (4.33s)

Cap Status:

  • First year of rookie contract

  • base salary of $465,000

  • cap hit of $501,361

  • dead cap hit of $145,444 if he is cut

Upside:

  • Quick-twitch athlete with light, bouncing feet

  • has the athleticism to translate to the NFL

  • Able to stick his foot in the ground and redirect quickly to mirror change of direction from running backs and quarterbacks

  • Probably their second best, pure LEO player after Aaron Lynch — and Lynch has been out of shape

  • demonstrates the traits to get after the quarterback

  • first step alone could threaten most tackles and alleviate some of the issues surrounding his size

  • has a good swim and rip move to take advantage of tackles over-adjusting to his speed

  • effective as a backside run defender, with the speed to get to running backs

  • Always looks to crash down inside and catch ball-carrier before he hits the hole

  • might warrant consideration as a 4-3 WILL

  • could offer an explosive presence as a specialist pass rusher

  • Plays with terrific urgency and a motor that is always humming

  • Relentless in his pursuit with a good closing burst to the ball no matter where he is on the field

  • Good explosiveness out of his stance and into his rush If he times-up snap, can race up the field and beat a tackle around the edge

  • Uses a well-timed inside counter when he senses his opponent has set far enough up the field

  • Second-effort sack man

  • Has attributes to potentially shine on special teams

Downside:

  • Undersized and underpowered for the edge

  • Has to compete with Lynch, Eli Harold and Quinton Dial

  • Lacks upper body power and overall play strength to set a strong edge and will get caught inside losing contain responsibilities at time

  • easy to block out of a play

  • When tackles clamp into his frame, he is unlikely to unhinge in a timely fashion

  • Has no chance of channeling speed-to-power as a pass rusher

  • Pass rush plan is lacking

  • Face-up rushing style will require cleaner hand usage to create some openings

  • Ducks head into contact as a tackler and allows too many broken tackles

  • Carries very little thud behind his pads as a tackler and is forced into wrap and drag finishing

  • Has just seven career starts; limited exposure to the game

NinersWire says he has a 9% chance of starting in Week 1


Noble Nwachukwu, DL

 

noble.jpg

History:

  • son of two immigrants from Nigeria

  • Appeared in 47 games during his five years at West Virginia

  • Finished with 126 tackles, 29.5 TFLs, 15.5 sacks, 7 PDs, 3 FFs and 1 FR

  • as a senior in 2016, led the team with 4.0 sacks and finished with 40 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 2 PDs, 1 FF and 1 FR

  • in 2015, started all 13 games for the second-consecutive season and tallied 47 tackles, 13 TFLs and a team-high 8.5 sacks, 1 PD and 1 FF 2.0 sacks, 3.0 TFLs, 1 INT and 1 FR

  • Signed as UDFA with SF in 2017

Cap Status:

  • Signed 3 year contract

  • Will be paid $465,000 this season

  • No guaranteed money

  • UFA in 2020

Upside:

  • explosive off the ball, with good twitch, considerable strength and the ability to drop into pass coverage

  • good tackler and has a high motor

Downside:

  • late start in the game

  • just not NFL size: height, short arms, tiny hands

  • Has to compete with Pita Taumoepenu, who is 25 pounds lighter, a quarter inch taller, a little faster, and had more sacks in a tougher conference


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