Last season, the 49ers finished the season as one of the top five teams in the league in sacks. The team was led in sacks by star defender Nick Bosa (15.5), Jaguars’ offseason addition Arden Key (6.5), Arik Armstead (6.0), and Samson Ebukam (4.5). As they turn the page towards the 2022 NFL season, San Francisco is looking at how to replace the production of Key and get a little more out of their pass rushers not named “Bosa,” according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic.
Right now, the starting defensive line likely has some combination of Javon Kinlaw, Armstead, and Bosa. Kinlaw is pretty stationary in terms of his placement on the inside of the line, as is Bosa on the edge, but Armstead and Key both were used as pass rushers from the edge and interior last season. With Key gone and Dee Ford not likely to stay with the team, according to a quote from head coach Kyle Shanahan provided by Cam Inman of 95.7 The Game, one of the favorites to fill that vacant role on the line is free agent acquisition Kerry Hyder.
Referring to Hyder as if he is new to the program is a bit misleading as he is only a year and a half removed from the last time he wore a 49ers jersey. That season in San Francisco was the best of his career as he recorded career-highs in sacks (8.5) and tackles (49) and tallied his second-highest season totals in tackles for loss (10.0) and quarterback hits (18). Hyder has experience and ability to play on the inside of the line like Armstead and Key, but his most effective seasons have seen him line up on the end, making him a prime candidate to complete the starting lineup.
Ebukam was fourth on the team in sacks but, at only 4.5, they didn’t provide quite the impact that was expected from his addition. He and Jordan Willis (who totaled 3.0 sacks last year) specialize as speed rushers that maybe don’t have the versatility to run with the first string. 2022 second-round pick Drake Jackson falls into that category, as well, but, as a rookie, he should have plenty of opportunities to make an impact on the line. Former Colts defensive end Kemoko Turay was brought in, too, but his time in Indianapolis mostly saw him playing on a rotational basis.
Charles Omenihu may be the best competition for Hyder considering that, last year, San Francisco used Omenihu in a very similar role as Key. His large frame could land him more on the inside of the line than the outside, but he claims very similar versatility as Hyder, while lacking the top-end production.
Here are a few other rumors on depth chart decisions the 49ers face this offseason, based on the spring practice breakdowns of Barrows:
- With Jason Verrett still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last September, the 49ers brought in Charvarius Ward on a three-year free agent deal. He ran opposite Emmanuel Moseley with the ones all spring. Barrows noted that last year’s rookie, Ambry Thomas, is currently the No. 3 cornerback on the outside behind Ward and Moseley. Veteran Darqueze Dennard is the first-team unit’s nickel cornerback, though 2022 fifth-round pick Samuel Womack will push him for playing time this season. With those two occupied in the slot, Thomas becomes the team’s top backup option on the outside.
- This offseason, the 49ers saw longtime safety Jaquiski Tartt depart in free agency. They now have a decision to make on who to pair up with Jimmie Ward in the defensive backfield. The top candidates to replace Tartt have been Talanoa Hufanga, George Odum, and Tarvarius Moore. According to Barrows, Hufanga in the clear frontrunner following spring practices. Hufanga took all of the first-team snaps at strong safety while Odum and Moore ran as the second-team strong and free safeties, respectively. Hufanga made three starts as a rookie last year and will look to make the leap to full-time starter alongside Jimmie in 2022.