The San Francisco 49ers have lost their most consistent contributor in the pass rush, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, for the first four games of the 2016 season due to a violation of the NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
The suspension hamstrings the 49ers already meager pass rush, which ranked 30th in the league last season with 28 sacks on the year. The third-year player out of South Florida was tied for team-leader in sacks with 6.5 in an impressive sophomore showing last year.
General manager Trent Baalke had this to say about Lynch’s suspension on Friday afternoon:
“While disappointed to hear the news regarding Aaron today, we support and respect the league’s decision. We are confident that he will learn from this matter and that he understands what is expected of him moving forward.”
The 49ers now find themselves relying on linebacker Ahmad Brooks to pick up the slack in Lynch’s absence. Brooks was tied with Lynch for sacks last season, but was largely inconsistent while dealing with character and conditioning troubles.
After failing to address the pass rush in the draft and free agency, Lynch’s suspension leaves the 49ers thin at options to replace him along the line.
One player to watch for is second year linebacker Eli Harold, who bulked up to a hulking 270 pounds at the start of the team’s minicamp. Harold, a third-round draft pick last year, entered the season at 247 pounds, thin for his position. But the sophomore out of Virginia made it a priority to put on the necessary weight this offseason, which may put him in line for an opportunity to start opposite Brooks.
Defensive tackle Tank Carradine remains an interesting option as well. The second-round draft pick from 2013 has had a hard time finding playing time among the defensive line since entering the league.
But the 49ers may continue an experiment started by former head coach Jim Tomsula, where they tried to shed weight from the defensive tackle in order to utilize him more on the outside. While not necessarily an outside linebacker, Carradine could see work as a defensive-end pass rush specialist, which may see the 49ers go to more four-man lines.