Offensive Priorities for the 49ers to Crush Free Agency

February 11, 2020

 

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

 

 

 

 

Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism.

- Hunter S Thompson, Hey Rube

 

 

There is nothing worse than an NFL offseason. It’s overly slow, with the airwaves and telescreens filled with saccharine predictions about who or what will happen with a team.

 

The NFL is now a 365-day per year money machine, an ever-starved symbiote with a twenty-foot tapeworm dictating its every direction.

 

Despite the noise, this is a critical time for NFL teams – specifically your favorite, the San Francisco 49ers.

 

Today, the free-agent pool for all positions has as much depth as a flooded street gutter. If 49ers’ general manager John Lynch were smart, he’d trim some of the fat from his current roster and resign critical players like defensive lineman Arik Armstead and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

 

In case you don’t know, I’m the resident offensive line junkie. The game starts and stops up front, so expect to see and hear me chirp about the need to continue to build the front five.

 

If that doesn’t seem like your particular brand of vodka, there are thousands of other selections on the liquor store shelf.

 

Right Guard

 

Lynch has one upside coming into the 2020 season: He has a solid offensive line.

 

Over 16 regular-season games, the 49ers gained 2,305 rushing yards on 498 attempts. The team averaged 144 yards rushing per game and scored 23 ground touchdowns.

 

The 49ers rushed 263 times to the right side, for 1,459 yards or 5.54 yards per rush. Ninety-eight of these attempts came off the right end, and the 49ers put the ball in the end zone 15 times, gained 33 first downs, and had 20 runs of 10 yards or more off the right edge.

 

On the left, the team ran 237 times for 1,162 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns and running for 44 first downs.

 

Somehow, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers overlooked these stats coming into the playoffs. The 49ers gained 471 yards rushing in two dominant playoff games.

 

Give credit to the offensive line, which finished 4th overall in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus.

 

If you take nothing further from these statistics, note that the 49ers are not dying to sign a veteran offensive lineman in the next few weeks. Additionally, it hopefully means they won’t go out and experiment on bad talent to fill a roster.

 

Assuming the starting five men from 2019 show up to camp healthy and ready to rage, along with back-ups Daniel Brunskill and Ben Garland, the 49ers will be fine at offensive line.

 

Further, it forces general manager John Lynch to address the tackle and guard position in the draft – which is a far better long-term option for the team.

 

However, there’s always room for improvement, and it starts at right guard.

 

Last March, veteran right guard Mike Person enjoyed one of the most magnificent breakfasts of his life. His black coffee, perfectly hot and with the consistency of velvet, was something that even Juan Valdez would envy.

 

After all, Person signed a three-year extension with the 49ers worth $9 million. The 49ers guaranteed Person $3 million dollars, which was a thoughtful way of rewarding his 2018 performance. Person had some of the lowest numbers on the offensive line in 2018, allowing only one sack and seven hurries.

 

But that was 2018, and Person did not have a memorable 2019.

 

In Week 6, Person notched a 36.6 overall grade and a dismal 11.5 pass blocking grade from PFF. He allowed one sack, two quarterback hits, four hurries, and seven pressures.

 

It wasn’t just one game. I noted Person out of position, making the wrong block or getting turned around and embarrassed by his defender throughout the season.

 

Week 15 – 2nd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the ATL 45 (4:26)

 

 

 

The 49ers would be better off cutting Person and signing guard Brandon Scherff from Washington.

 

Scherff is a Pro Bowl guard from the University of Iowa. He’s young and can be a top ten guard in the NFL if he can stay healthy.

 

He has suffered season-ending injuries over the last two years. He tore his pec in Week 9 in 2018 and finished the 2019 season on injured reserve due to injuries to his shoulder and elbow.

 

Signing or drafting a guard will remain a distant fantasy. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has not put a value on his interior linemen as much as other coaches. In his outside zone run scheme, he does not need a mauling guard or center. He needs someone with enough agility to move the defender out of the way or make a block at the second level.

 

Though, I cannot help to think what the 49ers would look like with a stronger interior offensive line. Scherff would be the first step in realizing that dream.

 

Back-Up Quarterback

 

Look, if some paid talking head on a sports show can prognosticate about how well the 49ers will do this fall, I’m entitled to a wild card move for the team.

 

Quarterback Nick Mullens has the most excellent job in sport. He gets paid well to play football, but not take a beating.

 

He’s a capable back-up, but he’s probably itching to see if he can become a starter in the NFL. Indeed, Mullens probably called his agent after the Super Bowl and is demanding twice-daily updates of possible landing spots.

 

Enter New Orleans Saints utility player Taysom Hill.

 

Hill played in 37 collegiate games and had 1,047 pass attempts. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes, threw 43 touchdowns, and rushed for over 2,800 yards.

 

However, Hill’s college career reads more like the chart of a morgue corpse than a world-class athlete. He suffered a season-ending injury each year. 

 

Hill hurt his knee, broke his leg, fractured a foot bone, and hyperextended his elbow. It’s probably one reason he went undrafted in 2017.

 

Of course, when the Saints picked him up, head coach Sean Payton found a way to use a man with Hill’s talents. It started with snaps on special teams, and Hill has evolved into a real NFL utility player.

 

Recently, Hill noted to the Associated Press that he viewed himself “as a franchise quarterback.” He also added, “I want to play quarterback in this league, and if New Orleans don’t view me that way, well then I have to leave. That’s really where we’re at.”

 

I respect the man’s belief in himself and his skill. However, the statement holds no water.

 

In two full NFL seasons, Hill has thrown six completed passes on 13 attempts for 119 yards and one interception.

 

He’s one of the few men in the NFL that can play multiple positions, which is the downside of a utility position. Hill can play nearly anywhere, but he’s not a starter anywhere on the field.

 

Hill would be an exciting cog in Shanahan’s system, playing a slot receiver or coming in to add a new element to an offensive series. He’d be more dynamic than Mullens, and possibly a better fit as well. It’s a long-shot signing, and Hill will probably demand far too much than the 49ers would be willing to pay a possible back-up quarterback.

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