As the big free agency money begins to dry up, fans and pundits alike have begun to evaluate the billions of dollars handed out to players across the NFL and define which teams landed the best deal or, better yet, the best player. On March 22, ESPN’s NFL experts set out to do just that in a round table interview, and of the 12 employees surveyed, four of them named the San Francisco 49ers‘ decision to sign Javon Hargrave as the single best signee of the free agent period, including Seth Wickersham, an NFL writer for the Connecticut-based company.
“Hargrave to the 49ers,” Wickersham wrote in the ESPN free agency roundup. “San Francisco got even deeper and more talented at a key position. And not only can the Niners potentially make a Super Bowl run, they also hurt a main rival (Philadelphia, Hargrave’s old team) with the signing in the process.”
On paper, it’s hard to argue with Wickersham’s thought process; San Francisco did get deeper and more talented at the 3-technique defensive line spot and hurt one of their main rivals in the NFC in the process. Fortunately, Wickersham isn’t alone in his assertion, as two of the company’s top draft analysts, Jordan Reid and Matt Miller, also felt as though Hargrave is the exact right player to fill in arguably the biggest hole on the defensive line.
Javon Hargrave Fills the Hole Left by DeForest Buckner
When the 49ers traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 14th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft and then used that choice to select Javon Kinlaw, the 3-tech defensive tackle out of South Carolina, the transition was supposed to be seamless.
Sure, it’s unrealistic to expect a rookie to play at a Pro Bowl level, which Bucker did during his third season in San Francisco, but when healthy, Kinlaw has ranked among the worst defensive tackles in the NFL, and unfortunately, he just isn’t healthy all that often.
In the option of Reid, a draft expert for ESPN, Hargrave’s addition fills the hole Kinlaw was supposed to and gives the team a third Pro Bowl-caliber lineman to attack the quarterback with alongside Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa.
“Hargrave to the 49ers,” Reid wrote. “After struggles from Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco quickly pivoted to find another solution up the middle. Pairing Hargrave with Armstead and Bosa gives the 49ers one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL, and he will provide an anchor up front and produce constant pressure from the interior.”
Miller to appreciated the addition of Hargrave to Steve Wilks’ unit, declaring that the 49ers have struck gold and that the “rich get richer.”
“Hargrave to the 49ers,” Miller also wrote. “The rich get richer, and the defensive line in San Francisco is the league’s best with Hargrave joining Bosa and Armstead up front. With one of the league’s most explosive offenses, the 49ers’ defense is now poised to tee off on opposing quarterbacks when teams are forced to throw to win.”
With Hargraves set to line up next to Bosa and/or Kinlaw in 2023, the 49ers truly have added explosivity to their defense that complements their offense nicely. Assuming the 49ers remain as effective as ever at putting points on the board, there should be plenty of opportunities for Hargrave and company to rush opposing quarterbacks and rack up sacks once more.
The 49ers’ Defensive Line Just Got Even Scarier
Last but not least, Stephania Bell, an ESPN fantasy football analyst, also named the Hargrave signing as her favorite of free agency, as it provides one of the best defenses in the NFL – in fantasy football or otherwise – with an explosive rusher capable of “dishing out punishment” against even the best offensive game plans.
“DT Javon Hargrave to the San Francisco 49ers,” Bell wrote. “You have to give the 49ers credit for absorbing the punishment Hargrave dished out in the NFC Championship Game and then signing him in free agency. The defense was already a force to be reckoned with, given the talents of Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, but Hargrave secures the Niners as the best defensive line in the NFL and guarantees more problems for opposing offenses up the middle.”
Is there a chance Hargrave doesn’t work out as all of these experts hope with the 49ers? Potentially so; Hargrave is already 30 and might not be the same player in the fourth year of his contract as he was during this past season in Philadelphia. Still, when this many experts like a move, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospects of a 2023 season with Hargrave, Bosa, Armstead, and a fourth rusher – like second-year, second-round pick Drake Jackson – attacking the quarterback.