One of the unheralded parts of the 49ers’ defensive success over the last few years has been the effectiveness of their interior defensive linemen. Having defensive tackles that can push the pocket while also successfully defending the run is paramount in a wide-9 system.
It hasn’t been a terrific offseason for the 49ers at that position though. DJ Jones walked in free agency and Arden Key, who had success as a DT last season, also left.
Replacing Jones isn’t going to be easy, and the 49ers may have to do so in the draft after not making any significant offseason additions.
Lets look at what the club is working with at defensive tackle before the draft:
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Armstead could be listed as a defensive end, but he’s at his best when he’s rushing the passer from the interior. Last year was slow to start, but in the closing weeks and the postseason Armstead showed why the 49ers paid big money to keep him. Including the postseason he had 9.0 sacks last season, but 6.0 of them came between Weeks 17 and the NFC championship game. San Francisco’s defensive front is at its best when Armstead is playing at a high level.
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ACL surgery ended Kinlaw’s 2021 campaign early, but videos of his offseason progress are promising for a bounce-back 2022 season. The 2020 first-round pick showed flashes during an up-and-down rookie year. He’ll get plenty of chances to build on those as the frontrunner to start at nose tackle. If he doesn’t win that job out of camp the 49ers might have a problem.
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This could be a big year for Givens who’s carved out a nice role as a rotational DT since joining the club in 2019 as an undrafted rookie. He’ll get ample opportunities to climb into a starting role while also seeing his playing time increase if he continues playing well. He’s yet to flash much as a pass rusher, but he’s a very good run stopper who will be a key piece on San Francisco’s defensive line regardless of whether he’s on the starting unit.
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Hurst re-signed on a one-year deal this offseason after having his 2021 campaign hampered by a calf injury and playing in just two games. He’ll be in the mix to start, but it’s more likely he fits into a rotational role as long as he’s healthy.
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The 49ers added Ridgeway in free agency. He spent three years in Indianapolis and three years in Philadelphia before signing with San Francisco. In 65 games he has 80 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. He’s one of the players worth keeping a close eye on in camp, because if he’s playing well there’s a chance this group could have a ton of success in 2022.
Slayton was a mid-season practice squad addition for the 49ers last season. He’s yet to play in a regular-season game and has spent time with the Giants, Falcons and Steelers. Chances are he’ll be a practice squad candidate again.