Rookie Ronald Blair Gives 49ers Options on Defensive Line
Fifty-one starts in four seasons. Ronald Blair wore many hats in those appearances for Appalachian State, and he was quite productive while being a versatile defensive lineman in college. The San Francisco 49ers fifth-round selection slid across the defensive front for the Mountaineers to record 221 tackles, 21 sacks, 53.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. Blair, 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and earned First-Team All-Conference honors for his 71-tackles, 7.5-sack campaign.
Even with the tremendous production, Blair had to wait until the 142nd overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft to find out where he’d be playing professional football. The 49ers, however, proved to be a perfect landing spot. “I wore (number) 49 in college,” Blair said. “My phone number has 49 (in it). My dad’s favorite team is the 49ers. It must have just been destiny. I’m grateful to land here. “To go to a great organization like San Francisco with all they’ve done and all they’re trying to do and build right now – I’m just grateful to even have the opportunity to put on those colors.” In an appearance on KNBR last week, general manager Trent Baalke elaborated on what made Blair an attractive option in the fifth round. “He was one of my personal favorite players as we went through the process, and the coaching staff really liked watching him play,” Baalke said. “The scouting staff that went in and did the evaluation of him was really high on him as well. He’s just a young man that has a lot of energy and a lot of raw, natural ability.”
Baalke cited Blair’s eight-tackle, two-sack performance this past season against Clemson in which the standout defender lined up at four different defensive line positions and recorded tackles at all four techniques.
“He was a guy a lot of people had valued to go higher off the board than he did. Why he was still there?” Baalke said. “I don’t have that answer, but I know we were glad to see him.” The GM added that the 49ers view Blair as a high-energy, high-octane player with A-plus character. At 6-2, Blair’s height has not been a hindrance to his on-field production. If anything, Blair uses his low leverage and 34-inch arms to emphasize his fundamentals. “I just have to make sure I’m technique-sound,” Blair said, “because I’m not one of those 6-7 guys that can tower over people.”
Prior to the team’s rookie minicamp last weekend, a reporter asked where the Appalachian State product would have been selected if he were taller. “I probably wouldn’t play the same way I play if I was three inches taller,” Blair said. “You learn how to play the game through what you’re given. That’s my thing. I learned how to play with my 6-2 height, and I think that really helped me.” Blair’s exact role and playing weight in Jim O’Neil’s 3-4 defense will be determined over the course of the offseason. Blair said he’s comfortable bulking up or playing at his current weight of 270 pounds. One thing the rookie has in his advantage is familiarity lining up in different spots along the line. This includes playing over the center in Appalachian State’s “NASCAR” package. “It’s a possibility I could really be everywhere on the d-line,” Blair said, “We’re going to see how that goes. (Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro) said he has a plan for me.”