The 49ers have invested the team’s top draft pick on a defensive lineman three of the past four years.
In less than a month, there’s a good chance it will be four in five years.
"We want to become a dominant force there," 49ers general manager John Lynch said last week at the NFL owners meeting. "We think that's very important."
There is history that shows if a team is going to stock up at one position, defensive line is the best place to start.
George Seifert, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the 49ers in the 1990s, was a defensive visionary. He often said that it was impossible for a team to have too many defensive linemen.
In Seifert’s eight drafts as head coach, the 49ers selected 16 defensive linemen, including Ted Washington (1991), Dana Stubblefield (1993) and Bryant Young (1994) in the first rounds. They also added a handful of other players during those years who were listed as linebackers but could rush the passer on nickel downs.
DeForest Buckner has lived up to the production expected of the No. 7 overall selection, and is likely to become among the highest-paid defensive players in the league when he signs his next contract. Arik Armstead is in his contract year, playing on the fifth-year option. Solomon Thomas has struggled to find his niche in two NFL seasons.
The 49ers added another first-round draft pick last month with the acquisition of edge rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs.
If the 49ers end up selecting Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen, at least one of those recent first-round picks will not be trotting onto the field to open the game as a starter.
And that’s OK. There are plenty of snaps to go around for defensive linemen, who are often rotated into games on a series-by-series basis.
“You can never have too much D-linemen,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Last season, Buckner played 79.4 percent of the 49ers’ 1,073 defensive snaps. That number can probably go down a little bit to keep Buckner more fresh through the course of games and the entire season.
Thomas and Armstead played 60 and 56.7 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps, respectively. Those numbers can remain near the same this season. The combination of starting nose tackles, Earl Mitchell and D.J. Jones, played 46.6 percent. The 49ers declined to pick up the option on Mitchell’s contract.
Nickel edge rushers Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair played 51.3 and 49.8 of all snaps. Marsh was cut last month after the 49ers acquired Ford.
Shanahan referenced the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles as teams that have strong defensive lines and annually add even more players to the mix.
“Everyone needs D-inemen,” Shanahan said. “They are very hard to find. And when you get guys who are difference-makers, those guys can change the game as much as anyone just on their own by rushing the passer.”