Dorsey reshapes 49ers D-line prior to draft

The 49ers' defensive line has been a staple of the team's very good defenses over the last two seasons. But San Francisco lost two key members of that unit in free agency and elected to bring in former top pick Glenn Dorsey. We continue our free pre-draft preview series by evaluating how Dorsey addresses the team's needs at defensive line heading into the draft.

Glenn Dorsey, unrestricted free agent, signed with San Francisco

The News

San Francisco inked Dorsey to add to a talented group of defensive lineman a day after losing tackle Isaac Sopoaga to the Philadelphia Eagles and a day before Ricky Jean-Francois signed with the Colts. The former fifth-overall pick of Kansas City agreed to two years and $6 million, with $2.285 million in guaranteed money, according to reports. The five-year veteran has played at least 15 games in each season prior to last year, when he appeared in four games while dealing with calf injuries. His most productive season was 2010, when he made 51 tackles and had a pair of sacks.

The Analysis

Dorsey became a hot name prior to the 2008 draft thanks to his dominant career at LSU. When the Chiefs drafted him in the top-10, the expectations were sky high as onlookers believed he would become one of the NFL's better defensive tackles. But for a variety of reasons, Dorsey never lived up to that billing and became somewhat of an albatross in Kansas City.

The 6-foot-2, 316-pounder struggled as the Chiefs transitioned schemes from the 4-3 – where he was most comfortable in the interior – to the 3-4 in his second pro season. He excelled against the run but didn't produce much against the pass, netting four sacks in his five years.

Many wanted more sacks from Dorsey given where he was drafted, but the 3-4 system called for him to occupy blockers and create lanes for linebackers more so than rushing the passer. It should be noted linebacker Derrick Johnson went to two Pro Bowls and earned all-pro recognition in 2011 while playing behind Dorsey.

The 49ers rarely used three down linemen last season, instead going with Smith and McDonald while Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith set the edges. That allowed them to keep five defensive backs on the field to cover three-receiver sets or put a corner on a tight end against base packages.

San Francisco saw a considerable drop in production from the defensive line after Justin Smith, a second-team all-pro selection, suffered a torn triceps tendon in Week 14 against New England. Although Jean-Francois filled in admirably, the former seventh-round pick was often overmatched and Aldon Smith was unable to get to the quarterback as he did when Justin Smith was healthy.

As of now, Dorsey is slotted to be the primary backup to both McDonald and Justin Smith, and should get a decent number of snaps as the team will look to keep its defensive linemen fresh as the season wears on. He has the versatility to play both end and tackle, and could also play the role Sopoaga left behind in short-yardage and base packages.

Going Forward

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula should be excited to have another talented defensive lineman to work with, despite Dorsey's perceived lack of production with the Chiefs. After seeing the drop off last year when the team was forced to field backups, it became clear adding talent to the group would be a priority with the departures of Sopoaga and Jean-Francois.

If the team is able to get the most out of Dorsey – much like it did with Carlos Rogers, another disappointing top-pick of another team – then he could represent a significant upgrade to the depth department.

Dorsey's versatility could make him the Swiss army knife of the defensive line, but he doesn't solve the team's need for a true nose tackle. That makes it likely San Francisco elects to use one (or more) of its 13 picks to find that player. It's also likely the team will pursue multiple defensive linemen that excel in rushing the passer.

The 49ers were third in the NFL in rushing defense, a strength Dorsey will help the team maintain. But San Francisco was also 20th in sack rate, which isn't an area he's likely help. And although the defense was sixth in passing yards allowed per game, improving the pass rush will add another dimension to an already elite defense.

That means the team will also be in the market for pass rushers to supplement the Smiths and Brooks, who could come in the form of defensive ends or outside linebackers.

Tackles that could be available when the 49ers pick 31, 34, 61 and 74 include John Jenkins, Jonathan Hankins, Jesse Williams, and Brandon Williams. Defensive ends and outside linebackers to keep one eye on might be Margus Hunt, Datone Jones, William Gholston, Quinton Diai, Damion Square and Kapron Lewis-Moore.

National Recruiting Analyst Jamie Newberg contributed to this article.

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