Shanahan Sees Edge Rusher as 49ers' Top Priority - NBC Bay Area
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Shanahan Sees Edge Rusher as 49ers' Top Priority

San Francisco's head coach believes an elite pass rusher for next season can make a huge, turnaround difference for his team

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    Shanahan Sees Edge Rusher as 49ers' Top Priority
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    Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan sees a pass rusher in the distance for his team, via the draft or free agency. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    As the 49ers get ready to face the Denver Broncos Sunday, head coach Kyle Shanahan is already being asked about next season.

    It makes sense, in a way, San Francisco is 2-10 and still in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft. This Sunday’s game against the Broncos means nothing but Game No. 13 of a lost season.

    So, this week, a reporter asked him what positions can be impactful enough to turn around a bad team (this season) into a good one (next season).

    “It’s a quarterback on offense and an edge rusher on defense,” Shanahan said. “I mean, a quarterback can hide a lot of problems and so can a pass rush. You can do different things in coverage. You can be more aggressive. You can have some holes and vulnerabilities you can see as a coach … and pass rushers can eliminate all that.”

    So, when the 49ers’ spot in next spring’s draft comes up, it’s likely Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will go for the best edge rusher available, because Jimmy Garoppolo will be back at quarterback after missing most of this season.

    So, the pass rush – a definite weak spot on this 49ers team – must be addressed.

    This year’s 49ers rank tied for 20th in sacks, with 29 this season. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner leads the team with nine, followed by Ronald Blair (4), Cassius Marsh (3.5) and Arik Armstead (3.0).

    Sunday’s opponent, the Broncos, rank tied for fifth in the NFL, with 37.

    The 49ers have promoted Pita Taumoepenu, a sixth-round pick from 2017, from the practice squad for this week’s game, to replace the injured Dekoda Watson. The former Utah outside linebacker’s strength in college was as a pass rusher. He had nine sacks in 12 games as a senior.

    Even if Taumoepenu has a strong final four games, however, the 49ers need impact pass rushers in the draft and free agency.

    The 49ers-Broncos game at Levi’s Stadium Sunday is set for a 1:05 p.m. kickoff. Oddsmakers have the Broncos as 4-point favorites.