49ers & Assistant Called ‘Matchmaker’ for Speedy Ex-Rival Edge Rusher


Getty Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa celebrate a stop on January 14, 2023.

As fans of the San Francisco 49ers know, they’ve dominated the Los Angeles Rams with victories in eight of the last nine contests. And in the last two seasons, they’ve unleashed a former Ram on them in edge rusher Samson Ebukam.

Now, with Ebukam an unrestricted free agent, the 49ers and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek could still have an opportunity to add an Ex-Ram and past Super Bowl champ to the edge rush room in free agency. They were called a “matchmaker” for one speedy and disruptive edge rusher by CBS Sports NFL analyst Jared Dubin on Thursday, March 9: Ogbo Okoronkwo.

While the Super Bowl 56 winner with the Rams Okoronkwo was with the Houston Texans last season, the disruptive edge rusher who once ran a 4.77 40-yard dash time and delivered a 38″ vertical jump at the NFL Combine is an unrestricted free agent himself. He was signed to a one-year, $3.250 million deal to play in his hometown. But given the 49ers and Kocurek’s streak of getting the best out of situational rushers, Dubin believes Kocurek can work some similar magic with the 27-year-old.

“Nobody is better at taking rotational pass rushers and getting more out of them than they have shown previously that they’re capable of, than the 49ers,” Dubin wrote. “Okoronkwo didn’t do much in his three seasons with the Rams, but flashed a bit (5 sacks, 11 hits while playing 44% of snaps) last year in Houston. Let Kris Kocurek get his hands on Obo and go to work.”

Okoronkwo Called ‘Under-the-Radar’ Free Agent

Yes, Okoronkwo isn’t a household name on the edge rusher free agent list. Nor does he have a history of earning Pro Bowls. He’s also unfortunately dealt with injuries in his career with elbow and shoulder ailments.

However, he still received this label from ESPN: An “under-the-radar” free agent.

“On a play-by-play basis, he caused disruption, with a 19% pass rush win rate that ranked 13th on the edge. I think Okoronkwo will receive more money than most are expecting,” wrote NFL analyst for ESPN Seth Walder.

He’s additionally entering this free agency market coming off a career-best season across the board with Houston. Okoronkwo improved his total tackles (44), solo stops (32), tackles for a loss (9) and sack numbers (5) in his one year with the Texans. His QB hits (11) and pass deflections (2) were other career-best marks per Pro Football Reference.

Breakdown of Potential Fit With 49ers

It’s one thing to create a defensive lineman haven in the Bay Area. But the 49ers have also taken little-known pass rushers or defensive linemen and their numbers improve under Kocurek. Just look at Ebukam, Arden Key, Kerry Hyder and most recently former Texan and fellow UFA Charles Omenihu.

And Okoronkwo has the speed and hand arsenal that can appeal to Kocurek, new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and the 49ers.

Here versus the Tennessee Titans from 2021, the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder is working against the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Bobby Hart and beats him with a chop/spin move — forcing Hart to turn and watch the wreckage unfold:

This past season, he beats the even taller 6-foot-8, 304-pound Josh Ball not once, but twice on these disruption plays using his combo of speed and hand extension versus the Dallas Cowboys — the first one forcing a fumble and the next forcing an interception:

He even delivered new career-highs with a Texans line lacking in star power. Just imagine him on a quicker line with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, versatile Arik Armstead and the cat-quick Drake Jackson. He could be the next to witness a career spike as an unknown defender who gets unleashed under Kocurek and S.F.

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