In 2013 the San Francisco 49ers ranked 18th in the NFL in total sacks with 38. What makes this stat slightly misleading is how many people they consistently bring on pass rushes compared to other teams. The 49ers rush four or fewer players more than any other team in the league. To record 38 sacks while only bringing that many players is pretty impressive. In 2014, look for that number to go up though.
Unfortunately, what’s going to hurt the 49ers’ pass rush in 2014 is the early absence of outside linebacker Aldon Smith, one of the best sack specialists in the league. He is expected to miss 6-8 games due to a suspension. However, the 49ers have the depth at his position to not fall off too badly and this season they have the depth across the whole defensive line to improve their sack numbers through the middle.
One of the players to really keep an eye on is Tank Carradine. He spent all of 2013 rehabbing a knee injury he sustained in his final season at Florida State University. So far in his first training camp as a pro he has impressed all the coaches with his strength and explosiveness. In the 49ers’ first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, Carradine was constantly getting into the backfield disrupting the play and getting pressure on the quarterback.
Another player to watch that you might not know much about is Corey Lemonier. He is going into his second year in the NFL and will be taking the majority of the snaps while Smith is suspended. Lemonier played extremely well in limited snaps last season and will look to improve on his performance this season. He’s a very talented pass rusher who will be sure to get the sack himself or draw extra attention so someone else can make the play.
An obvious name on the defensive line is Justin Smith. Last season Smith had a shoulder injury people didn’t know about and played with it most of the season. When the season was over, he had surgery on it and he has said it’s much better than it was last season. Look for him to be much more effective in the pass rush by getting to the quarterback and also being more effective when they run stunts where Smith takes two offensive linemen out of the play.
The 49ers are going into their first season in the Jim Harbaugh era where their defense is actually a question mark. They have a lot of young players all over on top of crucial injuries and suspensions. One area that no one is talking about being improved much is their pass rush. They will have Lemonier, Aldon Smith (after his suspension), Justin Smith, Carradine, Ahmad Brooks (one of the lesser talked about outside linebackers in the league), Ray McDonald and Dan Skuta all wreaking havoc in the backfield. When playing the 49ers, offenses are going to have to make sure they get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly or it’s going to be a long day. In 2014, I fully expect the 49ers’ pass rush to be top five in the league.