49ers 53-man roster projection: Defensive Line

With the start of training camp about two weeks away, now is the perfect time to look at each of the position groups on the San Francisco 49ers roster and predict who will make the 53-man roster.

We have covered the offense; today, we move to the defensive side of the ball with a look at the defensive line. 

On the roster: Arik Armstead, Kevin Atkins, Alex Barrett. Nick Bosa, Kalia Davis, Samson Ebukam, Dee Ford, Kevin Givens, Maurice Hurst, Kerry Hyder, Drake Jackson, Charles Omenihu, Hassan Ridgeway, Kemoko Turay, Jordan Willis, Javon Kinlaw

Analysis: The 49ers roster is stocked with talent throughout, but none more than along the defensive. Getting this group down to the ten players who make the final roster will be no easy feat for defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. 

Led by Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, the 49ers return three of the four starting defensive linemen who helped spur a turnaround over the second half of the season that helped the team finish second in sacks per game with an average of three. 

Samson Ebukam will join Bosa and Armstead in the starting group. A free agent acquisition from the Los Angeles Rams, Ebukam came on strong once he moved into the starting lineup around the midpoint of the 2021 season. Ebukam gives San Francisco’s defense the speed rusher opposite Bosa, similar to what they had with Dee Ford in 2019. 

After losing D.J. Jones and Arden Key during free agency, San Francisco added several veterans on one-year contracts through free agency. Kerry Hyder, Hassan Ridgeway, and Kemoko Turay are each veterans who bring a history of being productive to the 49ers. 

San Francisco didn’t stop there, selecting defensive end Drake Jackson with their first draft pick at the end of round two. With the talent in front of him, look for Jackson to be little more than a role player during his rookie season, taking approximately 10-15 snaps per game.

Question marks: Javon Kinlaw

San Francisco will turn to Javon Kinlaw to replace D.J. Jones along the interior. The 2020 first-round draft pick must prove he can stay healthy for this to work.

Kinlaw has missed parts of both seasons with the 49ers due to knee injuries. He missed the final two games of his rookie season after suffering a knee injury in week 15 against Dallas. He played only 149 snaps in 2021 before going on injured reserve following week five with another knee injury. 

Due to his ACL having chronic issues, Kinlaw underwent an ACL reconstruction during the latter half of the 2021 season. Following the surgery, Kinlaw worked out in Los Angeles with the same rehabilitation team that worked with Nick Bosa during his recovery from surgery the year prior. The team and Kinlaw have both stated they feel good about his progress since the surgery and that he will have a successful return to the field. 

A healthy Kinlaw will go a long way to solidifying the middle of the 49ers defensive line. Kinlaw is not quite as good against the run as his predecessor; however, he brings more productivity as a pass rusher. With San Francisco set to face several top quarterbacks this season, the ability to get pressure will be critical for the defense.

Will Arik Armstead stay inside?

While Armstead has the versatility to play multiple positions along the defensive line, he is at his best when he is lined up inside at defensive tackle. His move inside in week seven last season coincided with the 49ers pass rush becoming a force to be reckoned with. 

Armstead’s productivity inside is not limited only to his ability to rush the passer. The veteran was stout against the run as well, using his strength and athleticism to help improve the 49ers defense in this area.

By keeping Armstead inside, opposing offenses must focus on Armstead and Nick Bosa. Focusing on those two will free up one-on-one opportunities for the others, such as Kinlaw, Ebukam, and Kemoko Turay.

53-man Roster Projection: (10) Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Samson Ebukam, Kerry Hyder, Hassan Ridgeway, Kemoko Turay, Charles Omenihu, Drake Jackson, Kevin Givens

This article has 7 Comments

  1. Report: According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer – “The Browns will pursue a backup to Jacoby Brissett, if Deshaun Watson is suspended for “lengthy” period of time.”

    “There’s is a growing consensus within league circles that DeShaun Watson will play at some point this season, despite the NFL arguing for an indefinite suspension of at least the full season with a chance to apply for reinstatement afterwards. The NFLPA has been fighting for no suspension at all, based in part on the fact that several NFL owners haven’t been suspended for their direct or indirect involvement in sexual misconduct. It marks the first case under the revised CBA in which a jointly appointed disciplinary officer, rather than NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, will make a disciplinary judgement. Most insiders believe that having a 3rd-party rule over the case will likely work in Watson’s (and the Browns’) favor.”

  2. You’re suggesting the 49ers will dump Jordan Willis. Why would they do this after reaching out and resigning him to a one-year contract? He played well last season, and such a move doesn’t make sense on its face.

    1. It’s a numbers game and Willis is on the bubble due to the additions of Hyder, Turay and Jackson. He may make the roster due to his special teams ability.

    2. If Willis, a talented player, has a good camp, he likely stays. He also played well last year and may be coming into his own. His camp will tell.

  3. Totally agree with this analysis. Armstead belongs inside. If Ebukam and Jackson can provide even a modicum of credibility as pass rushers on the opposite side of Bosa, then the 49ers have the makings of a top 5 D-line. Omenihu is a wild card in my opinion. I believe most people think the LDE position is Ebukam’s to lose but Omenihu’s athleticism is off the charts. It wouldn’t surprise me all that much if Omenihu and Ebukam basically split time at LDE and Drake Jackson spelled Bosa at times. If Kinlaw can come back strong from injury and earn his draft slot then the 49ers could have the top defense in football. Just need a few things to break right for the secondary. The front 7 is definitely elite with a chance for greatness.

    1. I expect to see Omenihu filling the role Arden Key played last year as an interior pass rusher in Nickel/Dime situations.

      1. 6’5, 280 lbs is definitely big enough for the interior d-line. It’s bigger than Arden Key’s playing weight so Omenihu can hold his own against bigger O-lineman. Certainly not in the 260 lb range of Soloman Thomas. I still like Omenihu better on the outside. He has a very good first step and good athletic ability. At the very least, Omenihu is great depth at multiple positions. If Shanahan is set on versatility from his players then he must love Omenihu.

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