Who will replace DeForest Buckner on the San Francisco 49ers defensive line? The 49ers will need to replace an extremely talented defensive lineman, but also a great leader in the locker room. They can replace him in multiple ways, through the draft, or in-house with players already on their roster. The 49ers had a loaded defensive line and have many players that could help out in 2020. Who will have the first crack at starting along the defensive line?
Players On The Roster
John Lynch could look to lean on his former classmate at Stanford, and first draft pick as a general manager of the 49ers, Solomon Thomas. Thomas was drafted with the third pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He hasn’t lived up to his draft potential, for example, he played out of position his first three years in the NFL which hurt his performance. Thomas is in a contract year, his final year on his rookie deal since the 49ers didn’t pick his fifth-year option up. It’s time for him to step up and command respect in the NFL. He will now get the opportunity to play inside at defensive tackle look for Solomon Thomas to get a crack at the starting gig inside. It’s finally time for the 49ers to get their number three overall pick from the 2017 draft to become that player they envisioned. Finally getting 51% of his reps inside at defensive tackle could’ve given the coaches and front office enough on the film to be happy moving forward with him as their starting defensive tackle.
The 49ers also drafted a starting nose tackle in the 2017 NFL draft D.J. Jones. Jones has made a good name for himself starting at nose tackle for the 49ers. He has the capability to play inside against the run and on passing downs. Jones could compete to play next to Arik Armstead inside. He will push Thomas for reps on passing downs, but will still have his reps on running downs. Jones is looking to build on a strong 2019 season.
Potential Rotation Players
The 49ers could look to have a few others plays fill that spot through a rotation with Julian Taylor, Kentavius Street, Kevin Givens, and Kerry Hyder. The 49ers have players they could rotate to fill the big shoes left by Buckner. Street hasn’t seen the field much due to injury. Kevin Givens is an undrafted free agent in 2019, that the 49ers found were capable of playing in the NFL. Hyder was signed as a free agent this summer, reuniting with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. They could ask for these players to help Jones and Thomas in rotation.
Looking At The NFL Draft
Looking In The First Round
The 49ers could replace Buckner with the 13th pick in the NFL draft. The player that could be sitting there at 13 is Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina. Kinlaw is an extremely hard worker, working his way out of homelessness. He turned himself into a dominant defensive lineman. Kinlaw is still raw as a player and has a really high ceiling. He is an aggressive player with strong hands someone that could step in day one and contribute right away.
If the 49ers get a packaged deal to trade back from 13 or at 31 they could take Ross Blacklock out of TCU. Blacklock is a relentless pass rusher however goes missing in the run game too often. The 49ers could use Blacklock on passing downs inside. In the run game, he would have to be on the sidelines unless he improves there with coaching.
Round Two Of The Draft
If the 49ers want to acquire more draft picks, they could trade back from 13 get their guy or from 31 and draft a defensive tackle in the second or third round. Two players that could be sitting there in those rounds are Jullian Elliot out of Missouri and Raekwon Davis out of Alabama.
Elliot has more upside as a pass rusher and is capable of holding his own in the run game. He is a skilled hand fighter that translates when he is rushing the passer and has a good explosion from hips that translates to his active hands to win his reps. Elliot’s athleticism jumps off the screen, similar to a small forward in basketball.
Raekwon Davis is a tall long defensive tackle that had strong hands at the point of attack. He is able to shed and tackle in the run game beautifully. He isn’t moved easily against power blocking lineman. His capability as a pass rusher would take time to develop. It might not show in the stat sheet for instance based on the film he dents the pocket creating for others.
When it is all said and done after the draft is over the 49ers will still need to put a defensive tackle on the field they feel can replace ALL-PRO defensive tackle, Deforest Buckner. That player could potentially be on the 49ers already or the 49ers have their eyes on someone in the draft to pass the torch to and keep their defensive line one of the best in the NFL. Could the 49ers potentially use another high draft pick on a defensive lineman?
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