San Francisco 49ers, Def, 49ers
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2015 Outlook: Quality BackupLast updated on Aug-20-2015 by Shawn Childs
The 49ers have five games against teams with weak rushing attacks: the Cardinals (twice), Bears, Lions and Atlanta Falcons. I believe four of those games will be tougher than expected. They have two bad matchups against the Seahawks' ground game, and the Bengals should run the ball well in 2015. San Fran's defense has four tough games versus the pass: the Falcons, Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. They have seven games versus below-par passing attacks: the Seahawks (twice), Cardinals (twice), Browns, Bengals and Vikings.
San Fran allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards last season (1,612). Opposing rushers gained 4.0 YPC with only seven rushing TDs. San Francisco managed only 36 sacks due to multiple injuries to their defense. They allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards (3,541) with 29 TDs and 23 INTs.
The 49ers will have three new starters on their defensive line in 2015. DE Arik Armstead could move right into the starting lineup after being selected 17th overall in this year's draft. Arik has upside as a pass rusher and the ability to disrupt the run game. However, he is very raw athlete who still needs to improve his pass-rushing techniques and vision. Nose tackle Ian Williams played pretty well in eight starts last year before a broken leg ended his season. He was primarily used a run stopper with no real upside in the pass rush. DE Darnell Dockett missed the 2014 season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Darnell has downside risk against the run and, at age 34, is declining as a pass rusher. Dockett is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Linebacker Aaron Lynch was a neutral run defender in his rookie season. However, he had six sacks, eight QB hits and 27 QB hurries. LB Michael Wilhoite was unimpressive in his first season with starter snaps after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He struggled against the run and didn't do much as a pass rusher. LB Philip Wheeler has a strong NFL resume despite struggling in 2014 with the Miami Dolphins. Wheeler has a chance to deliver league-average value if he earns a starting job in place of the retire Chris Borland. LB NaVorro Bowman missed the 2014 season due to a torn ACL in his left knee. When healthy, he offers upside in all areas of the game. LB Aldon Smith was suspended for the first 10 games last season. He was only slightly above average once he returned to the lineup, but he's an elite pass rusher. From 2011-13, he recorded 50 sacks, 48 QB hits and 130 QB hurries. Smith will also add value to the run defense.
CB Tramaine Brock dealt with toe and hamstring issues last year. He saw action in just three games after playing in every game in each of the two previous seasons. in 2013, Tramaine allowed 59 catches on 103 targets for 787 yards and six TDs with five INTs. Shareece Wright is expected to start at the other CB position after playing poorly in 2014 with the Chargers (41 catches for 532 yards and three TDs on 71 pass attempts). Safety Antoine Bethea is coming off his best season in pass coverage (24 catches on 41 targets for 303 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions). Safety Eric Reid has been a league-average defender through his two seasons.
This defense still has two studs at the linebacker position and two other first-rounders in their starting lineup. The defensive line may have risk against the run, and there are some big shoes to fill at linebacker without Willis and Borland. The secondary will only be as good as the passing window allowed by the pass rush. This defense will have an edge against second-tier offenses with mediocre QB play, but a top passing team will take advantage of its attacking style. I don't expect this defense to finish as a top-12 Fantasy option.
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