EDITORS NOTE: This was written prior to the news that the San Francisco 49ers plan to sign former Giants C Weston Richburg. He is a Center though, so that signing does not impact these thoughts. We expect a healthy competition between Richburg and Kilgore. The NFL version of Spock v. Kirk.
“And one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a reason. I don't know whose reason, or whatever the reason is... Maybe it's because... uh... I don't know. But I do know one thing. It's not to score touchdowns.” Pa Kent to Clark. Superman. 1978.
Pa Kent, as usual, was correct when he told Clark that he was not sent to earth to score touchdowns. However, if the Kents had a biological son, and he grew up bailing hay, wrangling cattle and snapping fence posts over his knee, Pa Kent may have had a different bit of sage wisdom for his boy.
“One thing I do know, son, is that you are here for a reason. It’s not to score touchdowns, but to play guard in the National Football League.”
Men with light feet, quads the size of redwood trees and an upper body able to change the course of mighty rivers are made for two jobs: playing guard or hauling two-ton steel I-beams across a construction yard.
The San Francisco 49ers need interior linemen. One can argue team needs talent at nearly any position, but after investing $137.5 million in a quarterback, the idea of building an offensive line based on hope and ignored prayers that bad players (i.e. Zane Beadles) can turn a lead career into gold is long over.
Andrew Norwell – Carolina Panthers
It’s clear the best guard in free agency is Andrew Norwell from the Carolina Panthers. However, early reports have him already headed to play for the New York Giants, a decision he’ll probably come to regret.
Norwell has everything a coach wants in a guard: light feet, a solid lower body, flexibility, aggressiveness, and speed to the second level. Indeed, Norwell will command a price tag that drops a general manager’s stomach to his toes.
Assuming the reports are true, and general manager John Lynch has no interest in meeting Norwell’s monetary request, the 49ers have option in the draft for a comparable guard.
Enter Quenton Nelson from Notre Dame. If Nelson is still on the board when the 49ers are on the clock, even though one can make a solid argument for an inside linebacker, they’d be fools not to select him.
Josh Sitton - Chicago Bears
As the past week has progressed, it does look more like guard Josh Sitton is a likely – or at least a favored – choice among fans and experts to join the 49ers. He’s a cheaper option than Norwell with a similar skillset.
Pro Football Focus ranked Sitton the fifth best guard in the NFL, giving him an overall 86 grade. His run blocking is also graded high, a top-five 87.2. Just as a reference point, Pro Football Focus ranks the current guards on the 49ers’ at 21st (Brandon Fusco) and 32nd (Laken Tomlinson – who mysteriously earned at 70.7 grade from Pro Football Focus).
If Sitton does not come to join Jimmy Garoppolo in the warm Bay Area sunshine, the 49ers should not hesitate to draft Will Hernandez from UTEP. Hernandez wowed the football world with his combine numbers: 37 reps on the bench press, 7.59 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.7 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.
Hernandez has the strength of a rhinoceros and a dedicated work ethic. Additionally, I think Hernandez can flourish under professional coaches and trainers. He plays a little stiff and could use more flexibility in his hips (read: a Bay Area yoga class would do him wonders). According to his combine numbers, he weighs 327 pounds, and I’m willing to bet if he lost 15 pounds, he’d play much faster.
Jahri Evans – Green Bay Packers
It would behoove the 49ers to find long-term help at the guard position, but the best laid plans often do not go the way fans or a general manager wishes.
If long-term solution is not possible, a possible one-year patch at guard is Jahri Evans. Now, Evans is 34 years old and probably doesn’t have a lot of football left in the tank. However, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 30th best guard in the NFL, two spots above Laken Tomlinson.
But Evans has a lot of upside. He’s been named a first-team All Pro four times, a second-team All Pro once and has made 183 starts at guard during his career. That resume has me interested to challenge Tomlinson, who hasn’t put up numbers anywhere near Evans and played soft for the bulk of the 2017 season.
Evans has size – he’s 6’4” and weighs 312 pounds – has flexibility and is a durable player. The only rookie that jumps out to me with similar numbers and physical comparisons is Frank Ragnow from Arkansas.
Ragnow’s been tops on my mock draft for months now, and I’ll continue to sing his praises until the 49ers draft him or miss out on his talent. He’s coming off a high ankle sprain that ended his college career last October, so some teams may have concerns that the injury has yet to heal. Ragnow didn’t participate in any on-the-field drills at the Combine.
His injury should not frighten the 49ers, as they can trade the ninth pick and drop back into late in the first round. Ragnow will still be on the board – and possibly Hernandez – which would make a fantastic pair to build around for years to come.
There’s no wrong way to build a championship team, that is, unless you’re the Cleveland Browns or the Matt Millen-led Detroit Lions. Rebuilding the interior line through free agency or the draft is the right place to start.