San Francisco 49ers

49ers strike deal with pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass as San Diego Chargers linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (97) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in San Diego.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass as San Diego Chargers linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (97) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in San Diego.

The 49ers on Thursday struck a one-year deal with pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, a candidate for the so-called "Leo" position that's been so hard to find for the San Francisco defense.

“Jeremiah has been quite disruptive during his career despite his limited opportunities playing behind some top tier defensive ends,” general manager John Lynch said in a statement. "He is a wonderful fit for our scheme and our locker room. We expect Jeremiah to be productive on defense, while also providing us an exceptional player on special teams. He’s another guy who fits the mold of a 49er.”

Attaochu, 25, was a second-round pick by the Chargers, who traded up to acquire him in 2014. So far he hasn't lived up to his draft status. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound linebacker had six sacks in 2015 but only two the last two seasons. He missed eight games in 2016 with a high ankle sprain and a broken foot and suffered a hamstring strain in the run up to the 2017 season. He was a healthy scratch for most of the Chargers games last season.

Attaochu played behind starters Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who are considered two of the top edge players in the NFL. But he also lost ground last season to Chris McCain, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent.

Still, the 49ers could use some pass-rush burst off the edge. They cut ties with their sack leader from 2017, Elvis Dumervil, last week. Arik Armstead, Eli Harold, Cassius Marsh, Pita Taumoepenu and now Attaochu are among those who will compete at the spot this year. The 49ers ended 2017 with only 30 sacks and sharpening the edges of the defense -- cornerback and pass rusher -- have been a priority in the offseason.

Attaochu said he played Leo with the Chargers, who run the same defense as the 49ers, and that the familiarity was one of the things that drew him to Santa Clara. His combination of size, long arms -- measured at 33 inches -- and explosion off the line of scrimmage make him perhaps the most prototypical Leo rusher the 49ers have on the roster.

"Knowing what I can do and what my skill sets are -- it's basically to make the quarterback step up (in the pocket)," he said. "The guys on the inside are plenty talented enough. So I think my skill set fit right into what I'm trying to do."

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