Niners Live steps up to the plate and presents a fresh and unique look through our lens and provides our perspective on the top three NFL draft prospects the 49ers should consider at edge rusher.
As the 2018 NFL Draft steadily approaches, it is imperative that the 49ers address their anemic pass rush, as they were ranked 26th in team sacks (30th in the NFL), second worst in the NFL in 2017. Further driving the point, the team leader in sacks was veteran/situational pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil (6.5) and no other 49er recorded more than three sacks last season. Sadly, no 49er has had a double-digit sack season since Aldon Smith (19.5) in 2012.
The next highest sack output in a season was 8.5 in 2013, again, Aldon Smith. The only 49er not named Aldon Smith to post anything close to 8.5 sacks is DeForest Buckner (6.5) in 2016 (via ESPN). Knowing this, Niners Live takes the stage and provides its top three pass/edge-rushers that the 49ers should consider selecting to bring life back to their pass rush.
No. 1 Harold Landry, OLB Boston College. 6’3”, 250 lbs., 21, Senior
Position rank: No. 6 (per CBSports)
Projected round: 1-2 (per Walterfootball)
How he fits
Harold Landry is a pure pass-rusher with an extremely high motor that harasses the quarterback with the best of them and will upgrade the 49ers pass rush instantly. Defensive coordinator (DC) Robert Saleh would love to add a pass-rusher like Landry as he played 4-3 (and outside linebacker) defensive end at Boston College.
Landry ranks third in pass rush productivity (PRP), 17.5 with 18 sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 44 hurries on his 322 rushes, ranks 3rd, run stop percentage: 9.8, ranks 8th, inside pressure 29.3, ranks 30th, outside pressure 8.1, ranks 1st, picked up pressure every 8.1 rushes, which was best in the draft class, and his 3rd down PRP (when it counts) 23.9, ranks 2nd. That should about cover how he fits (statistics via Pro Football Focus, subscription required).
Landry has a ridiculous first step, a rip/dip (very good with his hands and extending his arms keeping lineman out of his body), and bend that allows him to win with pure speed and elude the man in front of him. Landry has a habit of getting too far upfield (running himself out of the play at times) on run plays coming off the ball so fast that it causes him to be an occasional liability in the run game. In addition, Landry was more effective versus right tackles (least talented pass blocker) posting a PRP of 19.8, than he was versus left tackles (best pass blocker) posting a PRP of 11.8. He’ll need to find better balance moving forward.
No. 2 Bradley Chubb, DE NC State, Height 6’4”, 275 lbs., 21, Senior
Position rank: No.1
Projected round: Top 10
How he fits
Bradley Chubb, in short, is a beast. He is everything a team would want in a defensive end. He can do it all, and he has it all. He’s an all-purpose 4-3 defensive end as he can rush the passer and play the run at an elite level. Now before you say to yourself “This guy has no clue ranking Chubb number two,” keep reading and allow me to explain. This section is called “How he fits,” right?
Well, according to his stats, he’s best versus the run and produces more inside snap pressure than outside snap pressure. Chubb ranked 19th in PRP, 11.7, 5th in run stop percentage, 10.4, 10th in inside pressure, 22.4, 23rd in outside pressure, 17, and when it counts on third down he ranks 31st, 13.9, and he had the sixth-highest percentage of positive plays versus the run of edge-rushers. He also could improve as an edge rusher as he only produced pressure every 17 snaps, which ranked 23rd in the draft class.
In all honesty, Chubb will most likely be off the board by the time the 49ers pick at 9 or 10. Secondly, in all his greatness, the 49ers don’t need another stout defensive lineman (ala Solomon Thomas). What they need is someone that dreams about, wakes up to, and lives to rush the passer. That’s why, based on need, he’s not number one on this list.
No.3 Arden Key, DE LSU, 6’6”, 238 lbs., 21, Junior
Position rank: 4th
Projected round: 1-2
How he fits
Arden Key is a dawg, plays to/through the whistle and doesn’t stop until he’s subdued his target. Key can, and has, played both standing up and with his hand in the ground rushing off the edge. The 49ers desperately need to add a bonified playmaker off the edge to resuscitate a pass rush that’s been on life support. Insert Key, who ranks 4th (15.5) in PRP, ranks 9th (13.3) in outside pressure, and ranks 9th in 3rd down PRP.
Key only played one game in which he recorded less than three pressures and had at least five games with at least five pressures in 2016. Key fits the bill for the pass-rusher the 49ers need. Key would be a great addition to the young and hungry front seven of DC Robert Saleh.
While he’s an awesome speed pass-rusher, his bullrush is below average, and his run defense can use some polishing as he ranked 114th (4.3%) on run stops and ranked 20th (25.5) on inside pressures. Key also missed some time away from the team as he was absent from spring workouts in 2017 while at LSU, and also had shoulder surgery and a knee injury in 2017.
While crazy talented, Key is also a wild card as he wasn’t the dominant player he was in 2015-16 as he reported to the team overweight and looked like he’d lost some of his explosiveness his first few games back in 2017. If Key can return to form, he could be exactly what the 49ers pass rush needs.
The bottom line
The 49ers don’t need just another defensive lineman, they need a pass-rusher who’s a sack master. And while each of the above candidates would be great additions, they need to select the player that “best fits” the sack master title.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Co-Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live and Co-Author, statistics researcher, Content Creator, Co-Editor, Sequoia Sims.