49ers injury status, list: Major overhaul surrounding Nick Bosa and Javon Hargrave

The 2023 season almost started without San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa.

Three days before the 49ers opened the season in Pittsburgh, the defensive end signed a record-breaking five-year contract, and it’s no surprise that he wasn’t the same to start the season. Bosa finally got going and was excellent in the playoffs, with 28 tackles in three games, including 12 in the Super Bowl.

But he finished with eight fewer sacks than the previous season and showed signs of a defensive line that has declined in 2023, especially in the first half of the season. For example, the 49ers quarterback who was expected to be Bosa’s rushing quarterback, Drake Jackson, had three sacks in the game and none in the next seven games before going on injured reserve.

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The situation led the 49ers to make not one, but two moves at the position, first acquiring Randy Gregory and 26 days later, Chase Young. Both provided solid midseason upgrades, though the defensive end with the next sack after Bosa turned to Clelin Ferrell … with 3 1/2 sacks.

The 49ers also played the final five and a half games of the regular season without their veteran leader in Arik Armstead. It appeared that they were going to ask Armstead to take a significant pay cut for next season, which he refused, leading to his release. Armstead, the 49ers’ longest-tenured player, signed a three-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That makes linebacker Kyle Juszczyk, who was signed as a free agent in March 2017, San Francisco’s longest-tenured player and Bosa the de facto captain of the defensive line. —Matt Burroughs

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According to the numbers

The 49ers suffered a sharp decline in run defense, dropping from No. 2 in EPA per game in 2022 to No. 26 in 2023. This negatively impacted pass rushing, and advantageous downside situations became less frequent. That problem was perhaps most evident in a disastrous first half of the NFC Championship game, when the Detroit Lions blew a 17-point lead, but that was just one episode of the regular season.

2023 49ers D-line performance

D-lineman Photos Change the degree of acceleration. Make the defense level.

1.022

92.3

76,4

484

66.0

67.1

471

60,4

47,4

334

56.0

54,7

199

64.1

38,9

59

63,6

35,8

54

51,5

68,6

36

66,3

63,8

775

86,5

51.4

661

86,5

52,7

544

71,7

35,6

63

51.3

65.1

54

64,4

37,9

51

56,4

30,8

Grades are from Pro Football Focus.

The breakdown of last season’s D-line grades suggests the run defense was already a weak spot for the front in 2022, and it took exemplary performances from the linebackers and defensive backs to maintain a high ranking that season. The 49ers lost those back-seven in 2023, perhaps at least in part due to a schematic change by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was fired after one season with the team.

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Aside from that, the chart above should make it easier to understand why the 49ers felt the need to overhaul their defensive line this offseason. Too many individual performances against the run were poor, and the lack of a consistent pass-rush playbook for Bosa hampered the defense. That said, Young did get the second-most snaps of any defensive tackle on the team despite missing the trade deadline.

Hargrave, Armstead and Kinlow all enjoyed solid rushing seasons on the interior, but all three struggled against the run. This may come as a surprise, given that Armstead has earned a reputation as a top-tier defensive anchor. But it perhaps underscores the 49ers’ need for a true block-eating defensive tackle in the mold of DJ Jones, who left for the Denver Broncos in free agency after the 2021 season. Armstead’s run defense peaked when paired with Jones. – David Lombardi

Seasonal plan

The 49ers underwent a radical change on the defensive line in March. Armstead, Young Kinlow, Young, Ferrell and Gregory are out. Leonard Floyd, Maliek Collins, Jordan Elliott and Yethur Gross-Matos are out.

Floyd and Collins are key additions. In Floyd, the 49ers have a proven first option for Bosa at defensive end since Dee Ford was a regular part of the lineup in early 2019.

Floyd has finished with at least nine sacks in each of the past four seasons and has appeared in every regular-season game in each of the past five seasons. He will turn 32 the day before the 49ers host the New York Jets in the season opener and will likely be the team’s oldest starting quarterback in Week 1.


Leonard Floyd gives the 49ers a reliable and proven pass rusher opposite Nick Bosa. (Gregory Fisher/USA Today)

Collins, meanwhile, is expected to take Armstead’s spot in the defensive line rotation. He has started as many games — 117 — over an eight-year career and played in a similar system for the Houston Texans last season. He finished with five career sacks, the same amount as Armstead in 2023.

The team’s third defensive end is expected to be Gross-Matos, whose physique is similar to former 49ers Arden Key and Charles Omenihu and could provide the same type of backup as a third-down interior pass rusher. Jackson, meanwhile, has yet to play to earn his second-round draft status and may have to hold off Robert Beal Jr., who added nearly 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, to earn a spot on the game-day roster. -barros

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Outlook for 2023

Getting back to the way things were has been the 49ers’ mantra for their defense this season, and that effort is predicated on a resurgence of the defensive line. The 49ers’ new talent group must accomplish two goals for this defense to return to elite NFL territory.

First, the 49ers must be athletic and strong enough on the interior to prevent opponents from running there. This is imperative to creating an effective pass rush, and getting out of the Wide-9 alignment isn’t easy.

Then the 49ers have to adjust and keep strong corners, especially against Bosa. running the perimeter of the obstacle and putting too much pressure on the pass.

Do the 49ers have the pieces to accomplish their goals? Floyd is a proven and consistent veteran who should complement Bosa well. Gross-Matos projects to be the type of internal talent that has developed in defensive line coach Chris Kocurek’s system.

The biggest gamble comes in when the 49ers replaced Armstead and Kinlaw with Collins and Elliott. But this complete rebuild was a gamble the 49ers felt they had to take, simply because production and consistency weren’t enough.

They hope that the big change in 2024 will allow them to reverse course. – Lombardi

(Foto superior: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 
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