The San Francisco 49ers have dealt with a multitude of injuries on their defensive line this season. It has forced them to not only rely on their depth but also look elsewhere for reinforcements. Their newest addition is Takkarist McKinley, who became available again only after failing his physical with the Cincinnati Bengals. McKinley was waived by the Atlanta Falcons on November 9, just over three years after they selected him 26th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Takkarist McKinley claim is yet another move to help try to shore up a depleted defensive line.
What the Takkarist McKinley Claim Means for the 49ers
Although their defense is still among the most formidable in the league, the 49ers have taken a step back this season due primarily to injuries. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas are out for the season, and it is still unknown if Dee Ford is going to return. The pass rush has suffered as a result of these developments, and not getting to the quarterback with the same frequency as last year has had powerful ramifications for the rest of the defense.
A fierce pass rush can help disguise deficiencies in the secondary, as receivers do not have as much time to gain separation downfield. With less pressure applied, the quarterback has more time to stand in the pocket and wait for a receiver to separate.
Last year, when the defensive line was fully healthy, they were able to apply adequate pressure from just the lineman up front. Their defense has turned to the blitz more often this season to apply adequate pressure, putting further stress on the secondary if the quarterback can pick up the blitz and deliver the ball out quickly.
Not San Francisco’s First Outside Signing
During this unlucky season, this is not the first time the team has looked elsewhere to try to combat their significant losses to the defensive line. They signed Ezekiel Ansah after the Bosa and Thomas injuries, but Ansah ended up tearing his bicep after just two games with the 49ers. McKinley is only with the 49ers now because he failed a physical with the Bengals, and that’s not an encouraging sign in terms of him being able to help shore up a unit decimated by injuries. However, McKinley was enough of a touted prospect to be a first-rounder just a few years ago, so there’s hope that he can contribute to this 49ers defense.
McKinley tweeted after the NFL trade deadline that he had requested a trade away from the Falcons both this season and last season. As punishment for airing out his grievances on Twitter, the Falcons decided to waive McKinley, officially ending a relationship that appeared irreparable. In four games with the Falcons this season, McKinley registered one sack. He has 17.5 sacks in 49 career NFL games. Throughout his time in the league, McKinley averages about six sacks in a full season of playing time, and he’s still only 25 years old.
Reasons for Optimism
There are reasons for optimism that Robert Saleh can get more out of him if he’s ready to play and locked in mentally.
The drop in sack production for McKinley last season doesn’t tell the full story of his relative effectiveness in harassing quarterbacks, though. He tied for 35th with 11 QB hurries in 2019, and only Jadeveon Clowney and Leonard Floyd had 11 or more QB hurries but registered fewer sacks than McKinley that season. Hurries can still force the quarterback into errant throws and disrupt the rhythm of the opposing passing game, and McKinley was adept at that despite the lower than usual sack totals. Due to their numerous injuries, the 49ers can all the help they can get on that defensive line, and if McKinley can suit up for them, he has a fantastic opportunity to make an impact.
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