The San Francisco 49ers are officially into the offseason following a 2018 season that did not meet expectations. The team entered with hopes of contending for a playoff appearance, but stumbled to a 4-12 record after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL in Week 3.
Expectations will climb again in 2019, but before we get into that, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was for the current roster. There will be turnover in the coming months, but I thought we’d start the offseason with a stock report on the roster. We’ll go through each position group and offer stock up or stock down for each player, and then stock up or stock down for the position group as a whole. Today we move on to the defensive line.
No player’s stock on the 49ers defense has risen higher than Buckner’s. The third-year defensive lineman racked up 67 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits in 2018. His 12 sacks on the season led the team were more than his previous two seasons combined. Buckner established himself as the cornerstone of San Francisco’s defense as he enters into his fourth year with the team. His agent is scheduled to meet with 49ers brass during the offseason to discuss the possibility of a contract extension.
2018 was Armstead’s first 16-game season as a starter. In 2016, he missed the final eight games of the season to undergo shoulder surgery. In 2017, a broken hand ended Armstead’s season after six games. This season Armstead totaled 48 tackles, six tackles for a loss, three sacks and 12 quarterback hits in 2018 — all career bests. The 49ers exercised his fifth-year option last offseason, locking Armstead at the cost of $9 million. His stock is up, but Armstead’s spot in the roster is far from guaranteed considering his inflated salary in 2019.
Thomas hasn’t produced at level you would expect from a third-overall pick. In his second year, Thomas started 13 games but only managed 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and one sack – a significant step down from his rookie year. The 49ers have been attempting to play Thomas more on the interior, where he made his name at Stanford. For now, he ranks 90th out of 109 edge rushers this season in pass-rushing productivity, per Pro Football Focus. The 49ers are undoubtedly hoping for improvement from Thomas as he enters his third year.
Mitchell’s spot on the starting lineup was surrendered in 2018. As the season progressed, the 49ers’ veteran defensive lineman saw his playing time decrease, totaling just one snap over the final four weeks. He was inactive for the final two games of the season. In 14 games, Mitchell totaled just 28 tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits this season. With a salary cap hit of $4.4 million cap hit in 2019, the writing may be on the wall for the Mitchell’s time with the 49ers.
D.J Jones: Stock up
Jones’ rise came at Mitchell’s expense. The 49ers’ sixth-round pick in 2017 supplanted the veteran late in the season. In just four games, Jones managed to rack up 17 total tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. The 49ers wanted to give Jones a chance to show his quality before the conclusion of the season, and he didn’t disappoint. Jones will likely have a chance to compete for a starting spot in 2019.
Blair’s emergence was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise disappointing year for the 49ers’ defense. The 2016 fifth-round played in all 16 games this season as part of the rotation along the defensive front. Blair totaled 36 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hits and 5.5 sacks this season. He’s developed into a solid backup among a crowded position group and should be in the mix for a similar role heading into next season.
Day was claimed off waivers midseason in 2017 from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He made an immediate impact on the 49ers’ defensive line, quickly stacking up 16 tackles, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a sack in six games. Day’s 2018 has been a disappointed. He was inactive for the final three games of the season and was unable to make a significant impact in the other 13. With young players like Jullian Taylor and Kentavius Street in the mix for 2019, Day should be prepared to fight for a roster spot in the offseason.
Taylor’s stock has been on a slow but steady rise since he managed to earn a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster at the start of the season. The seventh-round rookie was inactive most of the season, only playing in six games, totaling seven tackles and a quarterback hit. He’ll look to earn a more prominent role in 2019.
Overall: Stock slightly up
The 49ers’ defensive line is stacked with first-round talent, but only Buckner is making the impact you would expect from his draft position. It’s a deep group that hasn’t lived up to expectations. The 49ers’ defensive front finished 2018 with 37 sacks – tied for 22nd in the league. The lack of a true pass-rush threat along the edge has allowed opposing offenses to execute with relative ease. The unit as a whole still has a chance to take a significant step forward next season, with the 49ers holding the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Perhaps general manager John Lynch will target a pass rusher to boost the defense’s ability to get after the quarterback.