NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might fit their needs, along with some hidden gems. In this installment we examine why the 49ers have a need at defensive line.
General manager John Lynch highlighted his plan a year ago to build a dominant defensive line.
The 49ers accomplished that goal with the additions of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to go along with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead as the headliners.
The defensive line still is one of the strengths of the 49ers, but it might not be as dominant without Buckner, the team MVP who was shipped to the Indianapolis Colts in a trade for the No. 13 overall draft pick.
The 49ers still have good depth on the defensive line, but they found out a year ago that a team can never have too many big-bodied players across the front line. Injuries took a toll on the 49ers, with Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street and Damontre Moore going on injured reserve.
Armstead, Bosa and Jones figure to be on the field for most base downs. Ford will play some early downs, but he is best saved for pass-rush situations.
Solomon Thomas and Blair, who is coming off a torn ACL, should have significant roles, too. Taylor, Street, Kerry Hyder and Kevin Givens will compete for roles in the rotation.
The 49ers are scheduled to have first-round picks at Nos. 13 and 31 overall. Then, they do not have another selection until the fifth round. The 49ers’ two picks on Day 1 gives Lynch some opportunities to move around.
While most of the attention for the 49ers’ first pick has been on the wide receivers, it is entirely possible a defensive lineman could factor into the 49ers’ thinking on Day 1.
Will Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown still be available at No. 13? That’s probably unlikely. But if he’s there, would he be at the top of the 49ers’ list ahead of the best-available wide receiver?
Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) is projected to be selected in the middle of the first round. Or, perhaps, later in the round, the 49ers could go after Ross Blacklock (TCU), K'Lavon Chaisson (LSU) or A.J. Epenesa (Iowa).
The 49ers do not necessarily need a player to step in and replace Buckner, who played more snaps than any other lineman during his four seasons with the club. But the 49ers can use a player who can play a specified role early in his career to enable the club to better move on without Buckner.