The San Francisco 49ers already have a plan for the defensive line position regardless of whether Justin Smith retires or not. The veteran lineman has been contemplating his decision since the season ended, but the team will let Smith make his choice on his own time.
In the middle of last season, the 49ers terminated Ray McDonald’s contract after off the field behavior resulted in trouble with the law. The team previously played him after he was under investigation of alleged domestic violence.
For free agency, the 49ers signed Arizona Cardinals’ veteran Darnell Dockett and extended Glenn Dorsey prior to the 2014 season. Dorsey and Ian Williams are coming off injuries that sidelined them for most of the 2014 season with the latter missing the entire year.
The 49ers drafted defensive linemen for the long term in 2013 and 2014, where Tank Carradine, and Quinton Dial were selected two years ago. Last year, they took Kaleb Ramsey, who is coming off a torn ACL and 2014 was treated as a “redshirt” year where he rehabbed with the hopes of making the roster for 2015. Rounding out the depth chart is the versatile Tony Jerod-Eddie, who was originally an undrafted free agent.
With the uncertainty at the defensive line position and no proven starter outside of Dockett who is coming off a torn ACL, the 49ers need a DL immediately. They can take one as early as the first round.
Arik Armstead (Oregon) 6-7, 292 pounds:
Armstead has been linked to the 49ers by most mock drafters and draft gurus. He has the size and physical tools to make an immediate impact, but is still too raw as a pass rusher. Even with the media believing the 49ers take him, he might not be the best system fit. Armstead is projected as a first round draft pick.
Danny Shelton (Washington) 6-2, 339 pounds:
Shelton would be everything the 49ers would want in a nose tackle and could start right away. He has great upper body strength and could disrupt the interior of the line as a pass rusher. Shelton is projected as a first round draft pick.
Eddie Goldman (Florida St.) 6-4, 226 pounds:
Goldman could be a solid two-gap nose tackle who is explosive with upper body strength. He can easily shred blocks if needed and fits the bill for a 3-4 defense. The 49ers brought him in for an official visit and Goldman is projected as a late first round draft pick.
Mario Edwards Jr. (Florida St.) 6-3, 279 pounds:
Edwards would be a good run stopper and a DE in a 3-4 defense. He lacks the ability to be a pass rusher in the short term. Edwards is projected as a third round draft pick and the 49ers brought him in Santa Clara for an official visit.
Tony Slater (West Georgia) 6-5, 290 pounds:
Slater is a physical specimen who is raw on the field. He doesn’t have the technique to be a pass rusher nor run stopper in the short term, but has the tools to be an interesting project for Jim Tomsula and would be a DE for a 304 defense. The 49ers hosted Slater for an official visit and he is projected as a late round draft pick.
James Castleman (Oklahoma St.) 6-2, 300 pounds:
Castleman is a NT who has good pursuit, but he might be one dimensional on the defensive line. He could be a rotational lineman to be used on running downs with the 49ers. Castleman is projected as a late round draft pick who could go undrafted.
Travis Raciti (San Jose St.) 6-5, 285 pounds:
Raciti had a strong sophomore season, but faltered under the new coaching staff in 2013 and 2014 at SJSU. He’s an athletic who has a durable motor, but might be undersized for an NFL lineman. He could be viewed as a tweener between OLB and DE as he will need to gain or lose weight to reach the desired size for either position. The 49ers spoke with him at their local Pro Day and he could be either a late round pick or go undrafted.
49ers Draft outlook series: