ESPN Rankings: Five 49ers crack the Top 10 at their position on defense

Jul 14, 2023, 2:30 PM | Updated: 2:59 pm

Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after forcing a fumble during the fourth quarter in...

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after forcing a fumble during the fourth quarter in the game against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL, featuring numerous Pro Bowl players on the roster. So it should be no surprise that many of those standouts have made the top 10 in positional rankings leading into next season. 

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler released positional rankings put together by NFL executives, coaches and scouts from across America this week. While all positions have not been released yet, much of the defense has, including the defensive line and linebacker groups. 

With that being said, here are where some 49ers rank in this year’s standings. 

Pass Rushers

No surprise here as Nick Bosa is the No.1-ranked pass rusher by his peers.

The 25-year-old was the most dominant defensive player last season, racking up 18.5 sacks and 48 quarterback hits. He earned his first Defensive Player of the Year honors for his play in 2022. 

“Size, strength, power, speed, quickness, solid length, repertoire of moves and high motor,” a high-ranking NFL official said. “He’s got it all.”

“He’s just so fast and twitchy,” an NFC executive stated. “He turns the edge so well and has a knack to get the ball back. [He] seems to make a game-changing play every week.”

Bosa’s best games last season include a three-sack performance against the Miami Dolphins and two-sack efforts against the Washington Commanders and Seattle Seahawks. The Ohio State alum is in line to receive a massive contract extension this offseason, likely making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.


Another selection that isn’t very surprising: Fred Warner is your No.1 off-ball linebacker heading into next season.

The BYU alum solidified himself as the best middle backer in the game in 2022, showcasing his ability to be everywhere on the field. The 49ers’ defensive leader, Warner racked up 130 combined tackles, 10 pass defenses, and two sacks en route to his second All-Pro selection of his career.

“He’s the perfect new-age linebacker, great against the pass but can handle himself against the run, a big athlete with plus leadership and communication,” an AFC scout said.

Joining Warner in the rankings is Dre Greenlaw, sliding in at No. 10. 

The Arkansas alum made major strides in Year 4, becoming a defensive force opposite of Warner. Greenlaw snagged 127 combined tackles and six pass defenses for the 49ers last season. 

“[He] made a huge jump. Relentless, extremely physical and took a big jump in coverage,” an NFC executive said. “Obviously benefits from the guys around him, but he made so many big plays this year.”

The linebacker duo is arguably the best in footballs, and thanks to long-term contracts, should be in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future.

Defensive Tackles

Standing alone in the defensive tackle rankings for the 49ers is the newly-acquired Javon Hargrave, slotting in at No.5.

“He has natural leverage, quickness and power,” an NFL personnel director said. “That combo makes it hard for offensive guards and centers to really have a chance because he can vary his rush toward their weaknesses.”

The former Philadelphia Eagle wreaked havoc on the NFC last season, coming up with a career-high 11 sacks. He also added 60 tackles and 16 QB hits to his name. The top-ranked free agent in the 2023 class, Hargrave signed a 4-year, $84 million deal with the 49ers, adding to their stellar unit of last year.

Still only 29 years old, “Gravedigger” will look to add more tombstones alongside Nick Bosa next season. 


A first-time member of the rankings, Talanoa Hufanga checks in as the No.9 safety according to NFL personnel.

The USC alum uses his instincts to blitz the backfield with ferocity and relentlessness, racking up five tackles for loss in 2022. Despite it being his first year as a starter, “Huf” recorded 97 total tackles and two sacks on his way to an All-Pro selection. He also had nine passes defended, but it was his instinctual play that earned him his flowers.

“Instincts — he gets the ball, doesn’t run fast but is smart, in the right position,” an NFC executive said. “In that defense, that goes a long way.”

Playing opposite Tashaun Gipson, the 23-year-old secondary member is only getting started for San Francisco. 

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ESPN Rankings: Five 49ers crack the Top 10 at their position on defense