Sakamoto: 49ers DT DeForest Buckner receives top grade against Panthers, Carradine not far behind

Defensive line shows up in run defense

The San Francisco 49ers did a nice job containing the two-headed monster of Carolina Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart and RB Christian McCaffrey. Holding them to a 3.6 yards per carry, the front four did their job. The pass rush is where the team had problems. 

The 49ers did little to address the all important LEO position in the off-season. Why? Maybe they hoped DE Arik Armstead would live up to that role. But was he ever known to be an elite rusher off the edge? This may be one of the team’s storylines heading into the off-season, especially if the pass rush continues to be a non-factor. 

However, the team did well against the run. Below are my individual grades for the team’s top defensive lineman. Enjoy. 

DE Solomon Thomas

49ers.com

Analysis: On the surface it looked like the first-round pick (No. 3) had a solid rookie debut. However, that wasn’t the case. Thomas failed to maintain gap integrity resulting in a seven-yard first-quarter run, while also being penalized five yards for lining up in the neutral zone. This is not a rookie mistake. You learn that in pop warner.

And where was the pass rush? It’s not like this Panthers offensive line is elite. When the 49ers drafted Thomas they saw something ‘special,’ this according to GM John Lynch

“I think we see a special football player, disruptive football player, who has tremendous versatility. I think he fits in with the current group that we have because he’s a little different than the guys we have and when I think of Solomon, I think of speed and quickness and disruption,” Lynch said in his draft presser.  

I didn’t see that in the pass rush department. No quarterback hurries, quarterback hits, or sacks from the Stanford product. For the third overall pick that’s borderline unacceptable. Sorry, no longer do players get the pass for being a rookie, especially top five picks.  

But with that being said, there were many positives from Thomas’ play. For one, he stacks-and-sheds better than DE Arik Armstead in run support. He can play multiple positions along the line and provides solid get-off when the ball is snapped. 

Week 1 statistics: 2 tackles (including 1 TFL) 

Run Grade: 6/10

Pass Rush: 0/10 

DE Tank Carradine (6-technique) 

Analysis: Carradine quietly graded out as the team’s second best defensive lineman after Week 1. He didn’t miss a single assignment in the run game while finishing the game with two tackles. Lined up on the strong side of the formation (tight end side) Carradine set the edge to perfection. 

The pass rush was however was non-existent. Despite playing 46% of the snaps, Carradine didn’t bring much punch from the pass rush department. No quarterback hurries or hits were in his stat line. He needs to do a better job, as does the unit as a whole, despite playing mainly in base as the team’s run stuffer. 

Week 1 statistics: 2 tackles (including a one-yard stop) 

Run Grade: 10/10

Pass Rush: 0/10

DT DeForest Buckner (3-technique)

Analysis: The second-year player showed why the team took a chance on him in last year’s draft. He led the team in tackles of three yards or less (3) while being disruptive in the run game. Lined up in the team’s base as the 3-technique, Buckner one-gapped to perfection in run support. He did miss one tackle but that can easily be cleaned up. 

The same couldn’t be said of the pass rush. He was a non-factor. 

Week 1 statistics: 6 tackles (3 tackles of three yards or less) 

Run Grade: 10/10

Pass Rush: 0/10

DT Earl Mitchell (1-technique)

Analysis: Mitchell was one of only three defensive lineman to miss an assignment in run support. Other than that he played admirably as the team’s run-plugger while picking up a PBU. He did have one missed tackle but again, no biggie. 

Mitchell does not warrant a pass rush grade, as his weekly assignment calls for being a plugger not rusher. 

Week 1 statistics: 2 tackles, 1 PBU

Run Grade: 5/10

DE Arik Armstead (LEO) 

ESPN

Analysis: It’s become clear as day to me that Armstead is not what the 49ers had envisioned. A cornerstone franchise player who was supposed to create havoc up-front that never came to fruition. Armstead continues to play with a very high pad level. You can’t win in the NFL if you’re a waist-bender. At 6-7, it’s a blessing and disguise. 

In college, Armstead was never known for his pass rushing skill set. One Pac-12 NFL area scout said this about the behemoth Oregon product:

“I see the power in his hands and all of his tools, but I don’t see the production or the consistent push that I feel like I should see from him. He could end up being a monster, but you have to understand that what you get right now is just a big athlete with some upside.”

Fast forward to today and not much has changed despite transitioning to a 4-3 one-gap defense. The 49ers pass rush was non-existent. That falls a lot on the LEO defensive end responsible for trimming the corner, dipping that inside shoulder and pressuring the quarterback. 

Armstead failed to maintain gap integrity leading to a five-yard run while whiffing on a tackle later. This is unacceptable in my opinion. I hate to say it, but it appears that Lynch may have to move on from another GM Trent Baalke holdover, especially if the pass rush continues to be as woeful as it was last week. 

Week 1 statistics: 3 tackles

Run Grade: 6/10

Pass Rush: 0/10

DE Elvis Dumervil (LEO) 

Analysis: Dumervil continues to prove why Lynch added him to the team’s 53-man roster. His veteran leadership and knack for rushing the passer has proven to be invaluable. By my count he was the only player to push the pocket racking up a quarterback hit and quarterback hurry. 

If the 49ers want a pass rush it starts with this guy. Dumervil doesn’t warrant a run grade since his sole responsibility is to get after the quarterback.

Pass Rush: 6/10

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of NinerFans.com, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at ryan@NinerFans.com or call him at (408) 622-0996.

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