In the era of John Lynch as general manager and Kyle Shanahan as head coach, the San Francisco 49ers, who don’t make their first selection until No. 99 overall in 2023, have drafted some inside defensive line help in four of their last six NFL draft classes.
Insiders for The Athletic Matt Barrows and David Lombardi unveiled their lists of 30 prospects to consider on Thursday, February 16 and the first position group mentioned that needs the most help is the defensive tackle spot.
“The 49ers’ interior pass rush was anemic in 2022. The team must provide Nick Bosa with a bookend on the edge, but fortifying defensive tackle might be even more important,” Barrows and Lombardi wrote.
And the first name the duo mentioned who they believe can add the needed girth and power inside is massive 6-foot-4, 358-pound Siaki Ika of Baylor.
“His 2021 season was more impressive in terms of pass-rush production (four sacks), but Ika remains an intriguing prospect thanks to the quickness that he pairs with his massive 350-pound frame,” both insiders said. “Is that too big for the 49ers’ purposes? Probably, but they could ask a player like Ika to cut some weight to fit the role. The D-line needs explosive brawn on the inside.”
Siaki Ika Brings ‘Girthy Interior Force’
The Big 12 Conference standout has drawn comparisons by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein to two-time Super Bowl winner and former NFL first-rounder Danny Shelton, who just won his second ring with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Zierlein adds how Ika’s first strongest traits are his massive palms.
“Girthy interior force with heavy hands and a combative nature at the point of attack. Ika is made for gap control with his wide frame and ready anchor,” Zierlein first wrote in his evaluation. “While he has the potential to become a highly effective block-eater as an odd or even front nose tackle, he’s quick enough off the snap to penetrate and disrupt play design if teams try to block him one-on-one.”
As stacked the 49ers are in the defensive trenches, they’ve lacked a massive space eater inside with the frame and power of Ika. The closest has been Javon Kinlaw, but the 6-foot-5, 319-pounder has never played a full season with the 49ers.
Ika’s combination of powerful hands and a hard-to-move anchor can come in handy when the 49ers’ defense are in a goal line situation. Ika can also take on two blockers with that girth — which only gives Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and others even more of an advantage by drawing more one-on-ones. But what if teams throw the ball?
“While he’s unlikely to see passing downs, Ika does have enough athleticism and hand work to challenge the pocket from time to time,” Zierlein writes. “If he’s able to manage his weight, Ika could become an early starter and help improve a leaky run defense.”
Is Siaki Ika Considered a Reach?
While the 49ers were stout all season long versus the run, their last game witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles gash them for 148 rushing yards and four ground-based touchdowns in the NFC Championship game loss.
Future opponents will no doubt test the interior the next time they face the 49ers. This is especially true with Hassan Ridgeway, Maurice Hurst and Kevin Givens all free agents (the latter is the lone who’s not an unrestricted free agent).
But is Ika worthy of being a top 100 prospect? Or would he be taken too high even at No. 99?
Ika was given a second round grade by NFL Draft Buzz. Meanwhile, CBS Sports has Ika as the No. 2 DL and the No. 18 best overall prospect. And while there will be chatter of the weight issues, the 49ers did help second-round offensive guard Aaron Banks with his weight and went on to deliver a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Overall, Ika would be a gift to the Niners at the 99th spot — which would be in a near-similar fashion of how Drake Jackson fell to them in the second round of last year’s draft. He could be the gap controller bringing needed “explosive brawn” to the NFL’s top defense of the 2022 season.