The 49ers need a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Do you remember those?
You don’t if you’re a Niners fan younger than 9. (Hey, kids!).
San Francisco hasn’t had a linebacker – or any player, for that matter – record more than 8.5 sacks in a season since 2002.
It’s a problem. And it’s possible the 49ers will use the No. 7 overall pick in the draft to find a long-awaited answer.
WHY IT’S A NEED: As noted, San Francisco hasn’t had a player record more than 8.5 sacks in a season since 2002 when Andre Carter had 12.5. In addition, Parys Haralson is the only San Francisco linebacker to rank higher than 29th in the NFL in sacks in the past eight seasons.
In 2008, Haralson ranked 17th in the league with eight sacks. In response, the sack-starved Niners signed Haralson to a four-year, $15 million extension. In return for their investment, Haralson has provided nine sacks the past two seasons, including 4.5 in his past 20 games.
Haralson hasn’t been the only disappointment as the 49ers have tried to locate a get to-the-quarterback outside linebacker — a vital ingredient in the 3-4 scheme they’ve run since 2005. They spent the 22nd overall pick in 2006 on Manny Lawson, who has 15 career sacks – not quite matching the 2010 total of Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware (15.5).
In 2010, Haralson and Lawson were part of an outside-linebacker rotation that included Travis LaBoy and Ahmad Brooks. Call it a four-headed meh-nster. The so-so foursome produced 16.5 sacks.
On the bright side, that was one more than DeMarcus Ware.
WHAT BAALKE SAYS: In his KNBR interview last week, general manager Trent Baalke noted that it’s difficult to evaluate a true 3-4 outside linebacker because few colleges run the defense.
Ware and Kansas City’s Tamba Hali, who ranked first and second, respectively, in sacks this past season, are outside linebackers who were defensive ends in college.
“Most of these guys that are turning into the outside linebackers … they all had their hand down in college,” Baalke said. “The two main things those guys have to do, is they have to get pressure on the quarterback and they’ve got to be able to set the edge in the run game. And that’s where you start. What they can do for you in coverage as linebackers is very minimal in terms of requirements compared to the other two – setting the edge and getting heat on the quarterback.”
WITH THE SEVENTH PICK IN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT …: North Carolina’s Robert Quinn? Texas A&M’s Von Miller? Missouri’s Aldon Smith?
There will be some options if the Niners decide to address the pass rush with their first pick.
Quinn (6-4, 254), a defensive end in college, was declared permanently ineligible before his junior year this past season for accepting benefits from agents. As a sophomore, he led the ACC in tackles for losses (19.0) and ranked second in sacks (11.0). He’s been clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, topping the previous mark for UNC lineman held by Julius Peppers.
Miller (6-3, 240) led the nation in sacks as a junior (17.0). He won the Butkus Award (top linebacker) this past season after recording 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss despite being hampered by an early season ankle injury. The Aggies developed a hybrid “joker” position for Miller in which he also played as a stand-up defensive end.
Smith (6-4, 258), a defensive end in college, declared for the draft following his sophomore season. He set a school-record with 11.5 sacks as a freshman. He missed three games as a sophomore with a broken right fibula and wasn’t fully healthy when he returned. He finished with 5.5 sacks. His athleticism and toughness make him a first-rounder, but his inexperience makes him the biggest question mark of the bunch.
WHAT THE DRAFTNIKS SAY: ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Niners selecting Quinn at No. 7.
Kiper: “It’s an understatement to say that Quinn will be fresh. After sitting out his entire junior year at Chapel Hill, it’s a testament to Quinn’s talent that he’s this high on the draft board. And make no mistake — scouts think extremely highly of Quinn. If his preparations for the draft process are up to par, at this spot he offers the Niners a pure pass-rusher at defensive end that can only be matched by (Clemson’s DaQuan) Bowers.”
Kiper’s first mock draft: Quinn (No. 7), Miller (No. 8), Smith (No. 11).
The rankings from ESPN’s Todd McShay in his latest mock: Quinn (No. 6), Miller (No. 11), Smith (No. 21).
McShay has the Niners selecting Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus at No. 7. (I don’t see it, but who am I to argue with a draft expert?).
McShay: “New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio brings a 3-4 scheme with him, and Dareus proved his effectiveness in three-man fronts under Nick Saban at Alabama. Dareus is quick, strong and mobile and would further upgrade a defense that already ranks in the top 10 against the run.”