Breaking Down the New Look 49ers Offensive Line and What They'll Be Capable Of
Image Credit: Chicago Tribune
There are a handful of things that drive me bananas about the NFL offseason: roster predictions before free agency or the draft, endless mock drafts, schedule predictions, and instant post-draft analysis from the so-called NFL experts.
Without seeing a single rookie play a single second in the NFL, Mel Kiper Jr. and all his pals are handing out draft grades like a candy man in a Roald Dahl book. But, this is the era of constant content, no matter if Kiper has never thrown a football or made a block in his life.
Last week, the San Francisco 49ers addressed their top needs, taking quarterback Trey Lance in the first round and guard Aaron Banks in the second.
Please consider the following statistics for anyone claiming the 49ers did not need a guard or reached on drafting Banks in the second: The 49ers' interior line allowed 35 percent of the sacks, 55 percent of the hits, and 47 percent of the hurries last year. Overall, interior linemen were responsible for 86 of 181 total pressures of any kind.
Color me thoroughly impressed for general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan finally making real upgrades to the offensive line and not waiting until a late round to draft another half-star guard with a limited chance to make the final roster.
The additions of Banks and center Alex Mack are both significant improvements to the 49ers' interior. I still don't know why Lynch hasn't brought back Garland, but he might not need to since guard Daniel Brunskill is a serviceable reserve player.
For today's commentary to work, I need to break one of my rules and provide an early starting roster prediction for the 49ers. Let's assume the following five men start in September:
Left Tackle: Trent Williams
Left Guard: Laken Tomlinson
Center: Alex Mack
Right Guard: Aaron Banks
Right Tackle: Mike McGlinchey
I have no foresight or crystal ball to see what the 49ers' offensive will look like this fall. However, I can imagine what could happen if the interior positions cut last year's dismal statistics in half. Forty fewer total pressures of any kind lead to fewer poor throws, turnovers, and injuries. Garoppolo's high-ankle sprain in Week 2 was due to Tomlinson missing a block.
A big reason why the 49ers' offense faltered last year was not entirely on the shoulders of the line but of the inability of Garoppolo and the other quarterbacks to operate the offense efficiently.
The quarterback and his offensive line are a high-speed version of a symbiotic relationship. Both must move in harmony, with an invisible trust in one another. The 49ers lacked this symbiosis last season. Indeed, there were moments of excellent play, but the offense never found a permanent groove or remained injury-free week after week.
Consider that Garoppolo attempted 10 passes of greater than 20 yards last season and only connected on one. He did not attempt a single pass in the middle of the field that went longer than 20 yards.
These are puzzling statistics with reasoning only known to Garoppolo. He could have lost faith in his interior linemen after suffering the ankle injury against the New York Jets, which then cut what Shanahan could call when Garoppolo was in the huddle. Or, maybe Garoppolo hasn't fully grasped the finer nuances in Shanahan's offense.
Two new linemen do not mean that Shanahan will turn to new pages in his playbook or dust of redesign every play to force a quarterback to throw 15 yards on every attempt. Two new linemen can bring confidence to either Garoppolo or Lance to make the second or third read in a pass progression.
Connecting on more intermediate routes, rather than relying on a jet sweep shovel pass, helps keep an offense rolling and dynamic. These are small elements that were absent from the 49ers last season.
Finally, the new offensive line can only be as good as the man with his hands under center. Last week, it felt as if Shanahan made it clear that Lance would be the franchise's future.
If Lance is the starter, his offensive line will ultimately feed on his command of the field and enthusiasm for the moment.
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