Projecting 49ers defensive depth chart for Week 1 at Steelers

With the 49ers’ 53-man roster mostly settled, it’s time to look at what their depth chart might look like heading into their Week 1 showdown with the Steelers. Now we can jump over to the defensive side after projecting the offensive depth chart.

The 49ers defense would have largely the same group of starters as last year save for some major changes on the defensive front.

Inserting Javon Hargrave into the middle of the defensive line gives San Francisco a new, game-wrecking force atop their depth chart. It also put the team in a place financially where they had to let DLs Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu walk in free agency.

Ebukam and Omenihu’s exits left the 49ers thin on the edges, and that’s continued to be exacerbated by an extended holdout by DE Nick Bosa. Bosa is still in the midst of a contract negotiation and hasn’t reported to the team. He’s on the reserve/did not report list with a week to go before the season opener.

With a thin defensive end group and no Bosa at the top for now, we tried to project what San Francisco’s defensive depth chart will look like for Week 1:

Defensive tackle

(AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
(AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

1a: Javon Hargrave
1b: Arik Armstead
3: Javon Kinlaw
4: Kevin Givens
5: Kalia Davis

Almost everyone in this group should see significant time as part of a defensive line rotation. If Kinlaw can stay healthy and productive it would make this an incredibly deep position for San Francisco. If he struggles, their depth looks much thinner and they may need to turn to veteran T.Y. McGill, who is on the practice squad.

Defensive end

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

1a: Clelin Ferrell
1b: Drake Jackson
3: Austin Bryant
4: Kerry Hyder

A backup rotation that features some combination of Ferrell, Jackson, Bryant and Hyder looks much better with Bosa at the top. Bosa’s return would also allow Hyder more flexibility to play inside where he played a lot last season. Regardless of Bosa’s status, the 49ers badly need at least one member of this group to break out this season and provide some edge rush help.

Will linebacker


1: Dre Greenlaw
2: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

3: Dee Winters

The 49ers have a ton of depth at LB, and their preferred backup at the Will spot may come down to matchups. Winters drew Greenlaw comparisons from general manager John Lynch, and it was apparent why during the preseason. For now Flannigan-Fowles gets the nod on the depth chart because he’s a veteran who’s been with the team since 2019.

Mike linebacker

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

1: Fred Warner
2: Jalen Graham
3: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

Graham was really impressive in the preseason and wore the green dot to call the defense. Perhaps the club feels more confident with a veteran there, which might give Flannigan-Fowles an edge. Graham was just too good in the preseason to overlook as a backup Mike option.

Sam linebacker

(Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

1: Jalen Graham
2: Oren Burks

3: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

Graham gets the nod over Burks for the starting Sam job. Burks hasn’t had a ton of success on defense as a pro and dealt with injuries during the preseason. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the 49ers flipped those two, but Graham was impressive enough in his first preseason to get consideration as the starter in base packages.

Outside cornerback

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

1a: Charvarius Ward
1b: Deommodore Lenoir

3: Ambry Thomas
4: Samuel Womack

This group has more depth than it had last season, which is good. Our current iteration is the one where Lenoir doesn’t move to the slot in sub packages. If that winds up being the case then it might be Thomas who starts outside given how often teams are in nickel now. More on the nickel spot shortly.

Nickel cornerback


1: Isaiah Oliver
2: Deommodore Lenoir
3: Samuel Womack

This might change throughout the year based on matchups according to defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Oliver didn’t have a great preseason, but the team has publicly leaned into their need for a bigger slot corner and Oliver certainly fills that role. Chances are he starts there and the team makes a change if need be. It’s important to remember they made a Week 3 change in the slot last year, then did it again in Week 6 when Emmanuel Moseley got hurt. Another year with some changes at the nickel wouldn’t be a surprise.

Free safety

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

1: Tashaun Gipson
2: Ji’Ayir Brown

Keep a close eye on Brown’s usage this year to see if/when the team deploys the rookie out of Penn State. If he’s playing a lot as a third safety early in the year and playing well, he could conceivably surpass Gipson on the depth chart.

Strong safety

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

1: Talanoa Hufanga
2: George Odum

If Brown is playing well he could move Odum down the depth chart with Gipson backing up Hufanga. For now though the veteran Odum is the one behind Hufanga until we see what Brown offers in the way of safety depth.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire