When asked earlier this offseason about the traits he looks for in the team’s “Leo” pass-rush end position, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh ticked off some names of players he considers the prototypes.
“People who have been attached to this system, you’re looking at Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley,” Saleh said. “People outside of the system, you’d look at Von Miller, Khalil Mack. Back in his heyday, Charles Haley would have been a guy that would have been a Leo.”
The 49ers are currently looking at Arik Armstead, who is listed as 4 inches taller and 32 pounds heavier than any of the current players Saleh mentioned as prototypes at the Leo position.
Although Armstead has recorded just 4.5 sacks in 24 career games, he ranked fourth among 3-4 defensive ends last season in "pass rush productivity," according to Pro Football Focus. Armstead played in just eight games due to a shoulder injury, but he generated 24 quarterback pressures in just 171 pass-rush opportunities.
“He moves well,” Saleh said of Armstead during a press conference Wednesday in Santa Clara. “The concern was that he’s so big and he doesn’t exactly fit the prototype, but he’s so athletic. He’s so long and he’s got a good first step. He just needs to get more comfortable in the things that we’re asking him to do physically.”
“He looks lean. He’s in amazing shape and he looks good out there.”
Former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke selected former Oregon defensive linemen Armstead and DeForest Buckner with the team’s top picks in his final two drafts. Armstead (6 foot 7, 292 pounds) and Buckner (6-7, 300) are currently lining up alongside each other in the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme. Buckner has been installed at one of the defensive tackle positions.
“We look good coming off the bus,” Saleh said of Armstead and Buckner. “They’re huge. But you can be big and still not be very effective. But those guys are working so hard at kind of transitioning to our style of play. And once they start understanding that, they have the ability to control the line of scrimmage. They’re working hard at it. I’m excited to see them work, for sure.”