First, there’s Joey Bosa, a 6-foot-6 defensive end from Ohio State who’s been a dominant pass rusher and force for the Buckeyes since starting 10 games as a freshman. NFL scouts project him as possibly the best pass rusher in this year’s draft, capable of playing end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4.
But as the 49ers search for players to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this coming season, Bosa isn’t the only player who will catch their attention at this week’s NFL Combine.
In the next tier behind Bosa are Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky, Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson of Clemson, Leonard Floyd of Georgia and Emmanuel Ogbah of Oklahoma State. Linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA also is an all-around talent with pass-rush capability.
One of those prospects, Spence, a 6-foot-2, 254-pounder, is an interesting hybrid who had 22½ tackles for loss this past season and 13½ sacks. He’s had off-the-field issues that caused him to be booted from the Ohio State roster after his sophomore season there, but according to analyst Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, Spence has talent that will be hard to pass.
Wrote Brooks: “Evaluators will have a hard time ignoring his dominance at the Senior Bowl as an explosive pass rusher off the edge. He was nearly unstoppable in one-on-one drills and team drills, which suggests he could blossom as a 'closer' at the next level.”
Certainly, the 49ers will use a draft pick – or two – on players who can boost their pass rush in 2016. The Niners ranked just 29th in the NFL in 2015 with 28 sacks. Young outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who tied with linebacker Ahmad Brooks for the team lead in sacks in 2015 with 6½, has the potential to grow into a top NFL pass rusher, but he needs help.
This week, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke told reporters at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that it’s a priority need. The Niners' rush hasn't been the same since linebacker Aldon Smith's career was derailed.
“You can never have enough pass rushers,” he said. “We obviously didn’t generate a lot of pressures or sacks last year. But it’s always an area you’re going to look to improve in. I don’t care if we have five of them, if there’s a sixth one, we’re going to take him. You’re going to try to upgrade that ability on your football team.”
The 49ers have the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, and could use the top choice to grab a pass rusher. But many mock drafts have the 49ers taking an offensive tackle, quarterback, defensive lineman or wide receiver at that spot, meaning a pass rusher might come in the second or third round.