Image Credit: Icon Sportswire
Each position group of a professional football team plays a role for its fan base. The typical quarterback resembles a John Hughes heartthrob. This young man would have been a centerfold in Tiger Beat magazine who later grew up to be a suave political campaign spokesman.
The wide receivers are the speed, grace, and flair of the team. These men make catching a 13-ounce leather spheroid look second nature. Millions want to mimic Jerry Rice throwing his arms in the air as he crossed the goal line – but only a select few are indeed cut out for the position.
Offensive linemen are the plug tobacco chewing, grizzled warriors who never shy away from protecting the skill positions from the frost giants roaming the gridiron. They are the last to be thanked and often ignored; after all, nobody puts a bloodied and broken 300-pound man on the cover of a magazine. Yet, their absence is evident if one succumbs to an injury. There is nobody left on the squad with the grit and power to pull the iron plow.
Indeed, the San Francisco 49ers need a rookie wide receiver to add to its wide receiver corps. While Deebo Samuel was the NFL's unsung smash in 2019, the team needs reliable intermediate and deep threat. Head coach Kyle Shanahan can call an end-around, or “dagger,” play for Samuel only so many times before the opposition gets wise.
Frankly, I'd be pleased if the 49ers took a guard with the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft, but equally as important is finding a replacement for veteran tackle Joe Staley.
Call it old-man stubbornness, but I do not believe championship football teams are built through even the most gifted group of wide receivers. Championing a top tier offensive line is an isolated hill I will happily die on, should the millions of 49er fans disagree.
Even with three possible heirs to Staley's throne, the time is now to shore up the left side of the offensive line.
You Forget About Shon Coleman!
Veteran tackle Shon Coleman is one of the chief reasons the 49ers need to take a tackle at the 13th spot a week from today.
Lest we forget, on August 31, 2018, the 49ers sent its 2019 seventh-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns to acquire Coleman.
And then, 49ers did not place Coleman on the active roster for a single game in 2018. I've yet to find a reason why the team refused to play Coleman but continued to allow Garry Gilliam to don the hallowed 49er red and gold. I was looking forward to seeing Coleman in play in Shanahan's offense during the 2019 preseason, especially after the executive brass dumped Gilliam onto the free-agent trash heap.
Unfortunately, four snaps into the 49ers' first possession of the preseason, Coleman fractured his fibula and dislocated his ankle. He was on injured reserve for all of 2019.
I wasn't shocked to see the 49ers sign Coleman to a one-year extension on March 6, 2020, but I was disappointed the team didn't cut its losses. Coleman hasn't played a regular-season snap in two full seasons, and his contributions to the 49rs have been next to nothing. His numbers with the Browns were gruesome, allowing 49 hurries, 64 pressures and six sacks over 1,043 snaps in 2017. Also odd, Coleman has not experienced an NFL win as an active player. He's played in 22 straight losses.
These are not the statistics of a starting left tackle for the 49ers and are a glaring reason why taking a tackle like Ezra Cleveland from Boise State at the 13th spot makes sense.
But the 49ers Drafted a Tackle Last Year.
The 49ers did draft a tackle in the sixth-round last season – Justin Skule from Vanderbilt. I try to keep an open mind on late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents, mostly because there are too many unknowns about those players. Plenty of men have gone undrafted and had wildly successful NFL careers, while just as many have gone in the first three picks and flamed out like a 1970s rock star on a cocaine and cheap whiskey binge.
Skule had a rough preseason, but outplayed veteran Willie Beavers and ended up on the team due to Coleman's season-ending leg injury.
Before we get any further, I want to make clear my high praise for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. These men have turned around a storied franchise and turned it into a juggernaut in just a few years.
However, both men seem to go into the regular season with far too much hope that nothing will happen to their offensive linemen. Once Coleman went down, Lynch should have been on the phone trying to acquire a quality tackle, not hoping that Beavers or Skule would be able to fill in if needed.
Of course, in typical 49er fashion, both Staley and tackle Mike McGlinchey suffered injuries during the 2019 season. Lynch and Shanahan continue to try and defy the Great Magnet's energy and prove him otherwise. It's almost become the third labor of Hercules to convince either that the first- and second-string offensive linemen need to be above par players.
Some might want to give offensive line coach John Benton a chance to develop Skule into something useful for this season or into the future. That's a legitimate request, but I've grown tired of the 49ers acquiring linemen who have no business being on an NFL roster and hoping something good might come from it.
Daniel Brunskill Can Start at Left Tackle.
Hopefully, you're keeping track of how often I'm wrong about players because you can add tackle Daniel Brunskill to that list. He proved to be an integral reserve player last season, taking snaps at left tackle, right guard and right tackle. Brunskill excelled in the pass block, only allowing two sacks and drawing one yellow flag.
Brunskill is a rare find for the 49ers, worth his weight in gold due to his ability to play inside and outside line positions. Lynch needs to find a way to ensure Brunskill remains on the roster for seasons yet to be.
Despite superior numbers, Brunskill is not a cornerstone left tackle. His technique, footwork, and punch are all well below what's needed to be a starter in today's NFL. Often, he found himself out of position on a run or skunked by a superior defensive lineman.
The question Lynch and Shanahan have hopefully already answered is if Brunskill can play 1,100 snaps and keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo upright and injury-free. Brunskill can play a few hundred snaps a year and be a successful NFL player, but the odds of him succeeding Joe Staley for the next decade are low.
The 2020 college tackle class is rich with talent and possibilities. Taking a tackle like Cleveland, Jedrick Willis, Jr., or Tristian Wirfs on April 23 allows one of these lucky young men a chance to learn from both Staley and McGlinchey this season. There is almost no pressure to perform at a high level immediately and allows for Shanahan’s system to sink in over a full season.
You can follow Bret on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers coverage and analysis!