49ers undergo D-line remodel in first week of free agency

49ers undergo D-line remodel in first week of free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The 49ers remade their defensive line during the first week of the new NFL league year.

San Francisco released defensive tackle Arik Armstead. Then, they brought in four veteran players to fill holes in the defensive line rotation.

And there still is some work to do for general manager John Lynch to provide upgrades for a defense that had the league’s best scoring defense in 2022 and ranked second in fewest yards allowed.

In the one and only year for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, the 49ers dropped to No. 3 in points allowed and No. 8 in total yards.

Here is how the remodeled defensive looks after free agency has slowed and all attention shifts toward next month’s NFL Draft:

Defensive end

Starters: Nick Bosa, Leonard Floyd

Depth: Yetur Gross-Matos, Drake Jackson, Robert Beal, Austin Bryant, Raymond Johnson, Ernest Brown

Overview: The 49ers have tried to find an above-average edge rusher to line up opposite of Bosa since his rookie season of 2019. Floyd is their latest attempt to solve that issue.

Floyd is known for playing with effort, something that showed up as an issue for Chase Young in the NFC Championship Game. Floyd averaged close to 10 sacks per season over the past four years. The 49ers will take that kind of production after Young managed just 3.5 sacks in 12 games, including the postseason.

Gross-Matos likely is to serve as an edge as part of the team’s D-line rotation. He also has the ability to move inside and rush the passer in nickel situations. The 49ers expect to get more production from recent draft picks Jackson and Beal. They also could address this position as early as with their pick at No. 31 overall.

Defensive tackle

Starters: Javon Hargrave, Maliek Collins or Jordan Elliott

Depth: Kevin Givens, Kalia Davis, T.Y. McGill, Alex Barrett, Sam Okuayinonu, Spencer Waege

Overview: Armstead, the longest-tenured player on the 49ers, no longer is around. The club decided to move on from Armstead. He now is with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The 49ers have the makings of a solid group of rotational players with newcomers Collins and Elliott joining Hargrave. Collins and Elliott come to the team on equal footing and at this point, it’s a toss-up who will see more playing time. Elliott might be better as a run defender, while Collins is more productive as a pass-rusher.

Givens returns to his role as the team’s fourth defensive tackle. Davis must compete to earn his spot in the rotation. The 49ers should bring in more depth and competition at this spot.


Starters: Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, De’Vondre Campbell

Depth: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jalen Graham, Dee Winters, Ezekiel Turner, Curtis Robinson

Overview: Warner and Greenlaw formed the top linebacker duo in the NFL. Greenlaw’s recovery from a torn Achilles sustained in the Super Bowl will determine whether they remain as the best in the league.

Oren Burks signed with Philadelphia, and Campbell appears likely to take his spot at the team’s third linebacker. Injuries impacted Campbell’s production over the past couple of years with Green Bay after he was chosen as first-team All-Pro in 2021.

Graham and Winters, in their second NFL seasons, could work into the mix with strong work during the offseason and training camp. Flannigan-Fowles and Turner are strong special teams players.


Starters: Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir

Depth: Isaac Yiadom, Darrell Luter, Sam Womack, Ambry Thomas, Chase Lucas, Kemon Hall

Overview: The 49ers have reason to feel good about their starters — Ward and Lenoir. They have reason to be concerned about their depth, including the lack of a reliable nickel back. That position should be a target on Day 2 of the draft.

Yiadom, a free-agent pickup from New Orleans, has more experience than any of their other backups. Luter and Womack need to take a step forward to produce. Thomas played his way out of the lineup last season, and his spot on the 53-man roster is far from assured.

The 49ers are not done adding cornerbacks. It is a position they should address in the draft with Ward and Lenoir both signed only through this season.


Starters: Talanoa Hufanga, Ji’Ayir Brown

Depth: George Odum, Erik Harris, Tayler Hawkins

Overview: Hufanga is going through physical therapy with his sights set on returning to the field to open the season after sustaining a torn ACL in November. Brown played well down the stretch after taking over for Hufanga in the starting lineup.

There are some options on the free-agent market with some veterans who remain unsigned. That list includes Julian Blackmon, who reportedly visits the 49ers on Thursday. The four-year pro had a career-best four interceptions with Indianapolis last season.

Odum is a core special-teams player and provides depth. The 49ers might like Hufanga and Brown as the starters, but they are also open to the possibility of adding more competition for those top spots.

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