49ers Expect Defensive Line to Be a 'Dominant Force' in 2019

PHOENIX -- John Lynch didn't mince words when discussing his expectations for the San Francisco 49ers defensive line.

"We want to become a dominant force there," Lynch told reporters at the annual league meetings. "We think that's very important."

That vision isn't surprising given the team's investment along the defensive front. San Francisco has used first-round picks on Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. The 49ers then traded a 2020 second-round pick in order to acquire Dee Ford from the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco promptly signed Ford to a lucrative five-year contract extension.

There's also a strong possibility that the 49ers will use the No. 2 pick on another edge rusher. So, yeah, it makes sense that Lynch expects the defensive line to be an absolute strength in 2019 and beyond.

"It can change the course of a game," Lynch said. "It can change the course of a season. We have an opportunity to do that with our group. We still have to go do it but you keep adding pieces, and our expectation is to be special there."

It's been documented ad nauseam that the 49ers have ranked in the bottom third in sacks over the last two seasons. No edge rusher has put together a 10-sack season since Aldon Smith in 2012. Buckner, despite posting 13 sacks in 2018 as an interior rusher, still has several missed opportunities due to a lack of pressure off the edge. The acquisition of Ford alone should remedy both of those things.

"Dee is known for, I think, having the best first step in football coming off the edge," Lynch said. "All of a sudden you have a tackle who doesn't feel so good about hanging in and helping (block) DeForest."

Now one could argue that the 49ers have too much personnel on the defensive line. Ford and Buckner will obviously have set roles. But, it could be a challenge to find enough reps for guys like Armstead and Thomas, especially if the team adds someone like Nick Bosa, Josh Allen or Quinnen Williams in the draft. That's before even mentioning D.J. Jones, Ronald Blair, Kentavius Street and the other players who are already in house.

Lynch made it clear that he isn't worried about any potential bottleneck.

"You've got to have a quarterback, and you've got to have the guys to knock him down," Lynch said. "Some people want to think that's one guy. For us, it's always been collective.

"I would say there's enough snaps to go around."

The best way to navigate the surplus in defensive linemen is to figure out what each player does best and deploy them accordingly. There's also arguably enough talent already on the roster to give San Francisco the flexibility to trade out of the No. 2 pick in order to acquire more draft capital. The 49ers currently only own six selections in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Regardless, there's no avoiding what will be a vigorous competition for playing time during training camp. Any coach or general manager will tell you that's a great problem to have.

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