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With Smith hurt, a look at 49ers' DL drafting

12/29/2012

The San Francisco 49ers have not drafted a true 3-4 defensive lineman since 2009.

They've taken outside linebackers such as Aldon Smith. They've taken a college defensive end and turned him into a fullback (Bruce Miller).

2005-2012 49ers Drafted DL

But when it comes to drafting and developing depth behind what was the NFL's oldest starting defensive line entering this season, the 49ers have taken their chances.

The subject is relevant now that the team is waiting to see whether Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith can play through a partially torn triceps tendon at age 33. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points over their past five-plus quarters, nearly all without Smith. The defensive end's absence wasn't the only factor in the struggles, but his absence has hurt.

Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round choice in 2009, is starting in Smith's usual spot. The 49ers think Smith will be able to play in the postseason, but they don't know whether his injured triceps will hold up. They also cannot know to what degree the injury will diminish Smith's effectiveness.

Smith's dominant play against New Orleans in the playoffs last season proved critical to the 49ers' success. His absence leaves the team with Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, Jean Francois, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie on the defensive line. Tukuafu has been playing fullback. Jerod-Eddie signed from the practice squad.