The NFL has suspended San Francisco 49ers defensive end Jordan Willis for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
The suspension will span the first six games of the season, according to an announcement from the team on Twitter Thursday, June 17. The substance Willis is alleged to have used was not specifically named.
League officials will allow Willis to take part in all preseason activities, including scheduled preseason games. The suspension will take effect in Week 1. Due to an early bye week, Willis will not be eligible to return to the Niners’ active roster until Week 8 when San Francisco travels to Chicago to play the Bears.
Willis is a Meaningful Part of Niners’ Rotation on Defensive Line
Willis is not the worst loss the 49ers could have suffered to the position group, but his absence from roster will register with the team.
He came over to San Francisco in a trade with the New York Jets midway through last season, appearing in seven games for the 49ers and tallying 13 total tackles, including two for loss.
Throughout his career, which began with the Cincinnati Bengals as a third-round selection in 2017, Willis has appeared in 50 games. He has largely been a rotational player, starting in only two of those contests but making a quantifiable difference on the stat sheet. He has registered 65 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries during his time in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference.
The 26-year-old struggled mildly with health and injury concerns during his time with the Niners in 2020, missing one game in accordance with league coronavirus protocol as well as the final contest of the season with an ankle injury. Willis signed a one-year deal to return to San Francisco in March.
Niners’ D-Line a Key Factor in Return to Relevance in 2021
San Francisco has a roster that is theoretically good enough to find its way back to Super Bowl contention, assuming it can remain healthy throughout the lengthened NFL regular season schedule, which now spans 17 games in 18 weeks.
A big part of the equation that puts the 49ers back on the top of the NFC West Division, let alone the entire conference, is a healthy defensive line.
Elite edge rusher Nick Bosa went down in Week 2 against the Jets last season with a torn ACL. However, video evidence posted to social media in recent weeks shows Bosa working out vigorously on what appears to be a healthy knee. How much time he will spend taking part in on-field activities during the offseason remains an open question, but the team has said it expects Bosa back at full strength for the season opener.
Fellow pass rusher Dee Ford, who missed all but one game last season with back and neck injuries, is also expected back at some point this year, though the timeline appears less certain than the one for Bosa.
Pro Football Focus described the Niners’ defensive front as “borderline unblockable” in 2019, when San Francisco played its way into the Super Bowl. With all of its edge rushers back, the D-line could be that again. But if Ford misses time at the beginning of the year, his absence will make the loss of Willis to a suspension hurt that much more.