The 49ers have made focusing on the defensive front a core philosophy since Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took over in 2017. This philosophy led San Francisco to make improving along defensive line for 2023 their top priority during free agency.
Let’s look at the key additions that are set to make a huge impact.
The 49ers made Javon Hargrave their splash signing of free agency. A talented defensive tackle. Hargrave has made a name for himself in the league with his impressive skill set and relentless work ethic. Before joining the 49ers, Hargrave played the last three seasons in Philadelphia where he accumulated 23 sacks, 42 quarterback hits, and 24 tackles for loss.
Hargrave brings a unique combination of power, quickness, and technique to the 49ers’ defensive line.
As a pass rusher, Hargrave is known for his ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt the quarterback’s rhythm. His quick first step and powerful bull rush make him a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen.
Hargrave stands out against the run as well. He excels at clogging up running lanes and making plays in the backfield. His strength and leverage allow him to shed blocks and make tackles for loss.
Another new addition to the starting defensive line this season will be Drake Jackson. Jackson had an impressive rookie season, showcasing his raw talent and potential as a dynamic edge rusher. He racked up 3 sacks, 14 tackles including three for loss, and a big interception against Las Vegas while his presence felt on the field.
The area of concern for Jackson last season was his conditioning. The rookie pass rusher hit a wall late in the season and he was left off the active roster for the postseason. To unlock his full potential, Jackson has reportedly been working on his strength and conditioning, which will help him become more explosive off the line and improve his overall durability.
In addition to Hargrave, the 49ers added Clelin Ferrell in free agency and Robert Beal Jr. through the draft along with 2022 draft pick Kalia Davis. Davis missed all last season due to a knee injury suffered during his final year at UCF and the defensive tackle will be looking to make the final roster.
That brings us to the returning stars who have been the backbone of the 49ers’ defensive line.
Leading the way for San Francisco is Nick Bosa. Bosa is coming off a season which saw him named First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career. He finished last year with 18.5 sacks, 48 quarterback hits, 19 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles.
Another key returning piece is Arik Armstead. Armstead is coming off a 2022 season which saw him miss 8 games due to injury and not record a sack during the regular season. The lack of sacks didn’t stop Armstead from making his presence felt. His pressure on opposing quarterbacks directly led to a pair of interceptions by Jimmie Ward. If he can stay healthy this season, the combination Armstead and Hargrave inside will be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines.
The 49ers defensive line also returns several other veterans including Kerry Hyder, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, and T.Y. McGill.
San Francisco defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has been instrumental in implementing new schemes and techniques that maximize the potential of each player.
The 49ers emphasis on aggressive, attacking play has allowed their defensive line to become one of the most feared units in the league.
With a stronger pass rush, the 49ers’ secondary will benefit from increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks, leading to more hurried throws and potential interceptions.
The improved run defense will force opponents to become more one-dimensional, allowing the 49ers’ defense to focus on shutting down the passing game.
A dominant defensive line also has a ripple effect on the entire team, as it can create more opportunities for the offense by generating turnovers and providing better field position.
Last season the 49ers led the NFL in starting field position on both sides of the ball. San Francisco’s 30 forced turnovers playing a pivotal role in a drastic turnaround from the prior year when the team was near the bottom of the league in all three categories.