Ezekiel Ansah seems like an excellent free-agent target for a 49ers team in need of a consistent edge rusher.
He had 12 sacks last season, he’s stout enough to be a three-down “Leo” defensive end and, perhaps most important when millions of dollars are at stake, he has someone in the organization who knows him well: Senior Personnel Executive Martin Mayhew was the Lions’ general manager when Detroit drafted Ansah No. 5 overall in 2013.
But, beginning Tuesday, the Lions can place the franchise tag on Ansah. If that happens, the pass-rush options beyond him in free agency aren’t as obvious. In that scenario, the 49ers might have to improve their edge presence via the draft, where the prospects are just as fuzzy.
A look at some of the options who will be on display at the upcoming scouting combine, which begins next week.
Bradley Chubb, N.C. State – He’s big, physical and productive. He finished with 10 sacks and 23 tackles for loss last season. The problem when it comes to Chubb and the 49ers is that he’s so solid as a prospect and plays such a hard-to-find position that it’s difficult to see him dropping to the 49ers, who will pick No. 9 or 10.
Harold Landry, Boston College – Based on his 2016 numbers – 16 1/2 sacks, 22 tackles for loss – Landry would be an easy pick for the 49ers. He has the prototypical elasticity and quickness the defensive scheme calls for at the Leo position. But those numbers fell to five sacks and 8 1/2 tackles for loss last season. He was injured but wasn’t playing as well even before those injuries struck. One of the questions for Landry – he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds – is whether he’s big enough to be a three-down player. His weigh-in next week will be significant.
Marcus Davenport, UTSA – At nearly 6-6 and 260, and with a wingspan of 81 3/4 inches, Davenport would be big for the Leo, but he has the athleticism to move his frame. If the 49ers took him in the first round, he’d probably be a situational rusher as a rookie – along with Arik Armstead and Elvis Dumervil – with the plan being that he takes over the position in Year 2, when the other players presumably are no longer under contract.
Arden Key, LSU – He’s a combination of the two players listed ahead of him. He has a long, athletic frame like Davenport, but his numbers fell from 2016 to 2017, like Landry. He had to take time away from LSU last season for personal reasons. With Reuben Foster already a question mark on defense, the 49ers likely would be wary of investing another high draft pick on a defensive player with reliability issues.
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State – He has the motor and relentlessness the 49ers are looking for at position, but perhaps not the athleticism. The question the 49ers would have to ask if Hubbard were available with, say, their pick late in the second round is how much of an upgrade would he be over players currently at the position.
Others the 49ers could consider are Hercules Mata’afa of Washington State, Okoronkwo Ogbonnia of Oklahoma, Kemoko Turay of Rutgers, Jeff Holland of Auburn and Kylie Fitts of Utah.