Defensive line appears to be an embarrassment of riches for the San Francisco 49ers, but appearances can be deceiving. While there’s no shortage of both quality and quantity on paper, injuries during training camp have created holes among a previously deep rotation.
Any deficiencies were compounded by the recent decision to release a former first-round pick who struggled to get onto the field. Ironically, another ex-first round draft choice could help the Niners patch some of the holes up front.
This one-time top-15 pick has been well-travelled during nine nomadic years in the NFL and remains on the free-agent market. The veteran is capable of dominating in the trenches when at his best and would take to the 49ers’ attacking defense without too much trouble.
Veteran of 4 Teams Makes Sense for 49ers
Sheldon Richardson’s career has taken in stops with the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. He’s shown flashes of brilliance at every stop but hasn’t always played up to the billing as the 13th-overall of the Jets back in 2013.
Despite his up and down career, Richardson makes sense for the 49ers, according to NFL.com Analyst Marc Ross. He pointed out how there’s room for Richardson after a plethora of injuries: “Training camp just started last week, yet the 49ers have already taken multiple hits along the defensive line. Starter Arik Armstead suffered an MCL sprain just two snaps into camp, while Hassan Ridgeway has a minor quadriceps strain; both players will miss the next several weeks. Maurice Hurst was also lost for the season after tearing his biceps Friday.”
Richardson is also described as a “steady presence” by Ross, but he could be more in the 49ers’ scheme. Coordinator DeMeco Ryans loves his linemen to attack gaps rather than absorb blocks, something an aggressive tackle like Richardson would welcome.
He’s logged 30.5 career sacks, including 2.5 with the Vikings in 2021, including this one against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14, highlighted by Nick Olson of Vikings Territory:
Richardson’s always been a downhill, attack-minded defensive tackle. He’s certainly a more dynamic presence than Akeem Spence, who joined the 49ers on Monday, August 1, per the team’s official website.
Ryans needs active linemen at the interior to help free his edge-rushers to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. The options on the edge remain strong, despite the recent release of Dee Ford, who floundered during three seasons in San Francisco after being drafted 23rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014.
Those still manning the edges could use somebody as disruptive as Richardson.
Interior Linemen Crucial to Success of 49ers’ Defense
Winning on the inside is essential to the success of the 49ers’ scheme. While most, if not all, defenses rely on the men in the middle, a unit dependant on its line for pressure, is particularly tethered to game-wrecking D-tackles.
Nick Bosa wins on the outside often enough to be the one member of the San Francisco defense opponents have to plan specifically to stop. Yet, Bosa doesn’t operate in a bubble. He and the rest of Ryan’s defensive front became dominant once Arik Armstead moved inside to tackle last season.
Richardson could have a similar impact as somebody capable of flushing quarterbacks toward rush ends Bosa, free-agent arrival Kemoko Turay and rookie Drake Jackson. That’s how it sometimes worked for Myles Garrett when Richardson was a member of the Browns, something highlighted by DLineVids in 2019:
Adding Richardson to the depth chart while Armstead and Hassan Ridgeway recover would ensure the 49ers enter the season with all the strength in depth they need at the vital area of their front seven.