The defensive line unit has been one of the strengths of the ‘Niners regardless if Robert Saleh or DeMeco Ryans was the defensive play-caller — proven by the linemen crew snatching 99 of their combined 123 team sacks since 2019 according to Pro Football Reference.
ALL the latest 49ers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on 49ers newsletter here!
Unfortunately, the 49ers will be facing a significant offseason dilemma: Which ones can they keep? Which ones hold the best value moving forward? Lastly, which ones could drift off elsewhere?
To piggyback off the latter question: Which 49er could bolster a defensive-needy team that happens to have some past 49er representation?
Out of Kentavius Street, Jordan Willis, Arden Key, Kevin Givens, Maurice Hurst and D.J. Jones, I chose the one who, I feel, has become somewhat lost in the 49ers’ defensive line rotation this season.
Defensive Tackle Could be Option for AFC East team
To let the cat out of the bag, I went with Hurst. And I went with the belief that Hurst joining the ex-49ers defensive coordinator Saleh in the Big Apple could benefit both parties.
On the Monday, January 3 edition of Heavy’s I’m Just Saying, the question was asked on the New York Jets‘ side: Who will replace Jets run stuffer Foley Fatukasi?
His name is mentioned among the 25 listed free agents on the Jets. At 6-foot-4, 318-pounds and with a salary of $658,563, the Jets could decide to allow the unrestricted free agent Fatukasi to walk.
That’s where I believe Hurst could come into play for the Jets. Here’s why:
Value: The 26-year-old Hurst has a deal worth $1,045,000 currently with the 49ers. But it’s only for one year. He signed with the team during the 2021 offseason after three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Production: Hurst hasn’t factored much with the 49ers statistically. The 6-foot-2, 291-pounder has been limited to just two games according to PFR and has just two solo tackles. Granted, he did miss two months with a calf injury. But still, losing that much time loses out on playing time, which leads to the next point.
Fit: In examining the 49ers’ front four closely, Ryans and in the past, Saleh, have often employed four defensive ends across the trenches even on run downs. Inside, Arik Armstead mans the “B” gap, but he’s naturally a defensive end. The new guy from the Texans Charles Omenihu is another who has kicked inside, but is another natural defensive end. With their tall frame, they create matchup problems with opposing guards especially the ones heavier in stature. Again, injuries and overall fit have limited what Hurst can do for the 49ers this season.
Hurst can Still Provide Trench Disruption
Now Hurst doesn’t have the massive girth that Fatukasi has. But, he’s made plays like this against the run where he quickly penetrates up the “A” gap:
Though he’s undersized as a seven-technique or “wide-9” option, he did win some one-on-one battles when paired against left tackles during his 2019 Raiders season seen below. He also got one of his sacks up the “B” gap:
But still, a shortened 2021 season has limited what Hurst could’ve brought in a 17-game schedule. Again, the 49ers have become a natural defensive end-heavy defense, proven by the fact that the top seven sack leaders are rush ends.
Hurst being on a one-year deal with his injury also speaks to a vague future with the ‘Niners. Too often, free agents who deal with both aren’t back the following season. If he does come back to the Bay, it’ll likely be because a majority of the 49ers’ trench free agents sign elsewhere and he comes back with a similar value.
But in looking at the Jets’ pass rush and defensive line production, they could certainly use some offseason bolstering. A Saleh and Hurst pairing, given their 49ers connection, could be an option.