It seems inevitable that the San Francisco 49ers will part ways with OLB Ahmad Brooks after June 1. A scenario that is likely considering Brooks’ cap number is a shade over $7 million for the upcoming season, makes it unlikely he’ll return in 2015.
So with Brooks likely a cap-casualty where does that leave the 49ers outside linebackers unit? Luckily for them they have promising second-year pass-rushing phenom OLB Aaron Lynch in their backpocket.
Lynch, who was by far the team’s second best pass-rusher, made huge strides during the course of the season as he recorded five sacks in a six-game stretch from weeks 7-13. However, the team could still use help at the position and one player who may be a fit is Florida hybrid DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler is arguably the most versatile defensive player in this year’s draft as he played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme while lining up at defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. And while Fowler lacks elite pass-rushing skills as he has trouble converting speed-to-power, he more than makes up for it with his run-stuffing instincts, athleticism, and high-motor.
Fowler, who finished the 2014 season with 60 tackles and 8.5 sacks in the powerhouse SEC conference will likely wow scouts at the NFL scouting combine, leaving him to be a top 10 value pick. However, if there’s an early run on wide-receivers and/or defensive lineman, Fowler may fall through the cracks at No. 15 and the 49ers just might take him.
You can never have too many pass-rushers and with the NFL being a pass-happy league, they will need all the help they can get. Fowler may not have elite pass-rushing skills but he has shown to get under the pads of offensive tackles. A true technician that displays violent hands and a very powerful upper-body makes Fowler a very intriguing prospect. At 6-3, 271, what’s not to like?
And with backup OLB Dan Skuta scheduled to become an unrestricted free-agent, what depth is left at the position? Can we really depend on under-achieving OLB Corey Lemonier to get the job done if Lynch goes down? I don’t think so. 49ers GM Trent Baalke is all about versatility which leads me to believe Fowler is high on their list.
Fowler, is considered a tweener which means he can also play defensive end and has done so at Florida. And while some may say he’s not big enough, think again as he has the frame to expand as he’s built thick. Remember, Lynch gained 30 pounds since coming to San Francisco so it’s not like it can’t be done.
The 49ers who are also in need of adding depth at defensive end due to the uncertain future of DE Justin Smith will likely draft one or two players. This makes Fowler even more intriguing simply due to his versatility. If he’s projected to be a 3-4 outside linebacker but can also reduce to a defensive-end that would give new 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini a unique skill-set to work with, basically killing two birds with one stone.
And speaking of uncertain futures, it remains to be seen if OLB Aldon Smith wants to remain a Niner once his contract is up after this season, so having a back-up plan isn’t a bad idea when looking at the big picture. Sure, they could franchise tag Aldon and probably will but what will happen after that? Will he re-sign and stay or test the free-agent waters for the first time in his career?
With the 49ers trying to remain a top five defense in the NFL, they will need to shore up the pass-rush as there will be many unknowns beyond 2015.