We've talked quarterbacks almost non-stop since the 49ers traded up for the No. 3 pick, and for good reason. The quarterback the 49ers pick will have a gigantic impact on the outcome of the 49ers' 2021 season.
But there's someone else who's extremely important: first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. He's in charge of the entire defense, and he takes over for Robert Saleh, who was the best defensive coordinator in the NFL.
Saleh learned on the job as the 49ers' DC the past four years and improved tremendously each season as the 49ers defense grew with him. He was an inexperienced linebackers coach who took over the worst defense in 49ers franchise history, so expectations for him were low at first.
Not the case the Ryans.
Ryans is an inexperienced former linebackers coach, like Saleh. But Ryans is taking over a defense that ranked top 5 in the NFL last season without Nick Bosa, and ranked No. 2 in the league the season before that when it had Bosa. Now Bosa is returning from a torn ACL, so the expectation is another elite defense.
Maybe we should temper our expectations.
Saleh was not a great defensive coordinator his first two seasons on the job. He showed promise, built a system and a culture, but his weekly game plans weren't particularly sophisticated, nor were his in-game adjustments. He perfected that part of his job in Years 3 and 4, when his game plans became effective and opponent-specific.
It's unfair to expect Ryans to coach any better than Saleh did at first. Unfair to expect expert-level plans and adjustments. Unfair to expect the defense to remain the same without a drop off.
And yet, those are his expectations. The 49ers are in win-now mode and they believe their Super Bowl window is still open for the time being. They cannot afford him to flounder.
Lots of pressure on the first-year defensive coordinator.