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Early offseason discussion this year didn’t revolve around what players the 49ers would bring in, instead it focused on what concessions the team would have to make to extend two of their All-Pro players: defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle. But shortly following the announcement that the team had resigned defensive end Arik Armstead rumors began to swirl that the 49ers were engaged in trade negotiations and that a defensive lineman would be moved. Within an hour of the initial reports it was announced that the 49ers were trading Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The trade of Buckner gives some insight into how the front office feels about the current construction of the roster. Last offseason the 49ers made it clear that they wanted to build their defense from the front four back, taking Nick Bosa with the second overall pick, while also sending a second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for Dee Ford. The absence of Buckner leaves a huge hole, both literally and figuratively, which makes you think that the 49ers had a plan in place before the trade. Who is primed to fill the 3-technique position in 2020?
This sounds like broken record; another offseason and more hope that Thomas finally fulfills some of the expectations that come with being the third overall pick in the 2017 draft. It’s more than fair to have given up on Thomas at this point and it’s not a given that the team picks up his fifth-year option. Thomas has been a square peg that the team has tired to force into a round hole, clearly lacking the skills to be a edge player he was still cast in that role for 217 of his 422 defensive snaps last season. The argument can be made that he didn’t establish himself on the interior enough to warrant more snaps there, but keep in mind that he was competing against both Buckner and Armstead for interior snaps. Thomas has the athletic traits to beat guards on the inside, with Buckner gone his path increased playing time along the interior is wide open.
Taylor has been an intriguing prospect out of Temple for two years now. The knock on Taylor coming out of college was his durability, he missed almost the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons and played only 15 college games in his four years at Temple. Those concerns have followed him to the 49ers were Taylor has had problems staying healthy, after recovering from an elbow injury earlier in the season, in a 1-on-1 drill and was placed on injured reserve to end the season. If Taylor is able to come back from the ACL injury and keep himself healthy, he could be a vital piece on the defensive line.
Blair could very well be former general manager Trent Baalke’s best draft pick. While not as talented as players like Armstead and Buckner, his value as a fifth-round selection is hard to find. Blair saw the majority of his snaps on the edge this season, but he has the skillset that allows the coaching staff to move him along the interior to be used as a pass rusher on the inside. In limited action has 13.5 career sacks and has proven himself to be a valuable depth piece on the defensive line.
Following Taylor’s season ending ACL injury the team activated Givens from the practice squad to fill the open roster spot. The Penn State product impressed the coaching staff during the preseason and was close to making the final roster. After clearing waivers he was placed on the practice squad where he won the . Givens only saw action in the week 17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks where he recorded one tackle.
Obviously, the 49ers don’t have a player on the roster that will step in and fill the void left by Buckner. But with the depth on the defensive line and the possibility of some of the above players stepping up, his lose could be mitigated.
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