Now that the front office and coaching situation are starting to take shape, it’s time to take a look at the defensive starters for the 49ers. It’s rather upsetting to think how far the talent level has dropped on the defensive side of the ball. It was only a few years ago when this team was sporting Pro Bowl players left and right. Due to players retiring, injuries and legal issues, the defense has been depleted. There are, however, some talented players on the roster, who could flourish with the proper coaching. While we are still unsure who the defensive coordinator will be, or if they will run a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, we can certainly dissect the defensive personnel.
Defensive Line: DeForest Buckner has a great rookie campaign. With little help from his teammates, he was a force in the run game and provided a nice pass rush. His effort was outstanding as he played more snaps than any other player on defense. If healthy, he could be a Bryant Young 2.0 for this organization. His former college teammate, Arik Amstead, is another story all together. While he has all the physical tools you would want, his production has been subpar in his first 2 years. He has battled through shoulder injuries, and has never shown he has the motor to give 100% effort on every down. This is a make or break year for him. Beyond that, there are question marks all along the defensive front. Quinton Dial is a serviceable backup, but is not the prototypical nose tackle. Ian Williams was superb in this role, but injuries cut short his stay with the 49ers. Mike Purcell has been a spot player at best. Ronald Blair has the makings of a solid defensive end, and should see more time this year. The nose tackle position is the most glaring weakness on the line, and must be addressed via free agency or the draft.
Linebacker: What was once the envy of the NFL, is now a shell of its former self. NaVorro Bowman, God bless his heart, can’t seem to avoid devastating injuries. A torn Achilles cut short his season. This will be the 2nd major injury he will try to come back from in the past 3 years. We all hope he comes back healthy, but one has to think he will never be the player he was back in 2013. The other inside linebacker spot is a mess. Ray Ray Armstrong was playing well to start the year, but suffered a season ending injury in week 2. Beyond that, the linebacking crew is made up of free agents and journeymen. The outside linebackers are only slightly better. Aaron Lynch has all the makings of an elite pass rusher. The issue is that he hasn’t been healthy or stayed out of trouble. He needs to finally screw his head on straight, or this could be his last chance with the 49ers. Ahmad Brooks has been as consistent as gravity. He always puts in solid seasons. Always looks like he will get cut, but remains with the team. And is always good for multiple offsides penalties when the team can least afford them. At 33 years old, it’s finally time to move on. Eli Harold has the physical traits you would draw up for an outside linebacker, yet he has shown little production when given an opportunity. This is another spot the 49ers need to address. (Do you notice a common theme here?!?!)
Defensive Backs: Surprisingly, this is one area that the 49ers have some decent talent. Jimmie Ward has developed in to a pretty decent defensive back. The question is, where will he play? He seems like a natural fit at free safety, where is range and playmaking ability could flourish. Eric Reid is in the final year of his contract. Do the 49ers extend him? Reid’s rookie season was his best. He has declined with each passing year. Although a stable veteran presence, he might be best served moving to strong safety this year. Rashard Robinson turned in a better than anticipated rookie year. He needs another year in the weight room, but he has all the ability to be an elite corner in this league. Tramaine Brock is another player who benefitted from playing with an elite defense in 2013. His play has steadily declined, and perhaps Will Redmond can take over after redshirting this past season. Antoine Bethea is a free agent and will likely move on. Jaquiski Tartt has been earmarked for this spot for a couple of years now. It is time to prove what he can do or if he will continue to backup whoever the 49ers put at strong safety. Adding a player or two in free agency for depth purposes would be a smart move by new G.M., John Lynch, a former defensive back in the NFL.