It’s disappointing that we’re halfway through the 2017 NFL season and it’s already over for the San Francisco 49ers. I don’t like it, but it’s the hand the San Francisco 49ers have been dealt. Now, fans and the sports talking heads are already looking to the 2018 season, with speculation running wild on possible free agents and draft picks.
With the addition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the need to draft a quarterback with the 49ers’ first draft choice has become less critical. They can wait until the second or third round, or seek out another grizzled veteran to compete for a roster spot. Indeed, the 49ers will need to acquire other positions, notably at defensive back and wide receiver.
But if the NFL Draft was held tomorrow, should the 49ers restock their defensive line or rebuild their offensive line?
It’s a distinct answer. The 49ers need an offensive lineman.
You see, I’m a football fan of simple tastes. I enjoy a B-gap blitz, flanker drive, and a stout offensive line.
The 49ers have a linebacker corps that can make that B-gap blitz to stop a run. Rookie wide receiver Trent Taylor was born to run the famous flanker drive route. What’s missing from the puzzle is an offensive line that resembles a brick wall.
Some of my frustration with this year’s team is how the front office ignored building the front five. They didn’t select an offensive lineman in the draft and did not sign a quality veteran in free agency.
Coming into the 2017 draft, I was high on University of Indiana guard Dan Feeney, who was available at the start of the third round. Feeney’s put together a solid rookie season for the LA Chargers; in fact, Pro Football Focus gives him an overall 79.5 grade, which outranks every current 49er Week 9 starting lineman.
Looking back and playing the “They should have…” isn’t a proper headspace for sports junkies, but in this instance, it’s a fair criticism of the 49ers’ front office. They did an excellent job building a defensive line, but deserve poor marks for treating the offensive line like the bastard eldest brother.
Take an Interior Lineman With the First Pick
I’m a little shocked that veteran center Daniel Kilgore hasn’t played well for the 49ers this season, so I would not be surprised to see the 49ers pass on resigning him this offseason.
If the team wanted to rebuild from the center position outward, I’d start with center Frank Ragnow from the University of Arkansas. Ragnow is 6’5, 317 pounds, found himself on 11 preseason All-America lists and is on the Outland Trophy watch list. According to his biography, he hasn’t allowed a sack in 41 games and has played 1,242 snaps in pass protection; for the record, I love his experience and his size.
I watched some tape from Arkansas game against Texas A&M this year to get a better feel for Ragnow. Right away, I noticed his mobility and how quickly he got to the second level. During one pass play, he stood up the nose tackle and then bent him to the ground for a pancake block. It was quite lovely.
On a handful of run plays, he played a tad too tall but made up for it with violent, aggressive engagements with the opponent. Arkansas asked him to pull on a few run plays, which is a bonus for Ragnow. Overall, Ragnow would be an ideal first selection for the 49ers wherever they land in the draft.
Another quality pick would be 6’5, 330-pound guard Quenton Nelson out of the University of Notre Dame. Pro Football Focus gave Nelson a 94.3 grade for his run blocking, which is tops in the nation. Nelson is a senior and was named to the AP Second Team All-American in 2016. He also played 12 games at left tackle in 2016, which could also help the 49ers in the future.
Notre Dame has another lineman, tackle Mike McGlinchey, who the 49ers could consider with a first-round pick. He’s a beast of a player, standing 6’8 and 315 pounds. Like Ragnow, McGlinchey is on the Outland Trophy watch list this season.
Nelson and McGlinchey have helped Notre Dame rush for 2,543 yards on 369 attempts this season, placing the team fifth in the FBS (I-A).
Though, if they choose to draft McGlinchey, I’d trade down a few spots. He seems like a player who’d be available later in the first round. Plus, the strategy allows general manager John Lynch to hoard a few more draft picks.
When the 49ers made Super Bowl XLVII, many people gave credit to the defense for that season’s overall success. That’s a fair assessment for that squad, but what some forget is how well the offensive line played in 2014. In fact, those five players – Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis – played all 16 games together. Not one of them missed a start.
Rebuilding starts up front, and once the 49ers enter the 2018 offseason, that’s where Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan need to lay the foundation.