Proto-typical OL and Options in the Draft
Image Credit: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Watching college and professional football in the 1980s and 1990s forever shaped my football mind. Teams were grinding out victories with split-back sets, power runs, and men with fat neck rolls carving lanes for running backs.
That era of football is long gone. As the professional playbook evolved, the lower levels of football slowly began to adapt. Today, teams need athletes to play the offensive line. Zone schemes and spread offenses are prominent throughout the country.
Teams do not need a hulking beast to play guard or center. Instead, success comes from an offensive lineman who can consistently get to the second or third level of a defense to make a downfield block. This trend has continued for well over a decade now and shows no signs of changing.
The San Francisco 49ers need to improve their interior offensive line, specifically at the right guard. My continued grievance with head coach Kyle Shanahan is his love of picking guards of the scrap heap and trying to win football games behind them.
As the 49ers enter this year's draft, my hope is Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will consider one of the following men to compete against Daniel Brunskill during training camp.
A Second Round Hope - Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater
There's part of me that wants Quinn Meinerz to be a 49er, just because he reminds me of an old-school guard with a big gut and a no-nonsense attitude. Ignore all noise regarding Meinerz playing football at a Division III school – he's going to be a reliable NFL guard for the next decade.
There are men you meet and know their profession by the way they dress or their receding hairline. If you met Meinerz, you'd know he was meant to play guard. He's the ideal weight and size and proved it during his time at the Senior Bowl. I watched plenty of highlights of Meinerz flattening opponents, which is entirely absent from Brunskill's game.
Meinerz is also a fast player, and his times for the three-cone drill, 40-yard dash and 10-yard split are all at the top of his class. Speed and agility are often more valuable in a zone system than a power scheme. Quickly getting to a spot on the field allows a running back to read his gaps faster and hit the crease with greater certainty.
As of writing, the 49ers have the 43rd pick in the second round, and Meinerz might be gone by that point. He is a player a coaching staff wants on the roster to mold into a solid professional.
The Pass Game Improvement - Ben Cleveland, University of Georgia
On paper, Ben Cleveland is an offensive lineman any coach would want as a starter. He's 6'6”, 335 pounds and bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times during his pro day. He's also quite fast, running a 4.85 40-yard dash.
He played nearly every college snap at right guard, except for five snaps at right tackle back in 2018. Cleveland does lack starting experience, notching only 25 starts while at Georgia.
If you're the type of fan who wants a brick wall at right guard, then Cleveland is your man. He's an excellent pass blocker, certainly a welcome skill to shore up some of the 49ers' pass-blocking woes.
Except for Trent Williams, the 49ers' offensive line lacks a nasty streak. Cleveland would bring that to the front five in spades, which might even rub off on right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Some of Cleveland's run blocking film wasn't spectacular. I noted him missing on the second level periodically or using brute force to overpower his opponent. An outside zone system might not be the best fit for him, but Shanahan does call various power, lead, and trap runs.
Pro coaches can fix flaws. I'd instead take someone with slightly inconsistent run blocking skills and slower feet than suffer through another season of mediocrity.
Even with these negatives, Cleveland is my ideal choice for the 49ers in the second round.
Good for the Zone Scheme - Kendrick Green, University of Illinois
While Cleveland would be a great fit to improve the pass game, Kendrick Green from the University of Illinois would be ideal for enhancing the overall run game.
During a game against Northwestern last fall, I watched Green execute an outside zone run similar to Shanahan's 38/39 series and quickly get to the second level. He stood up and stuck with his blocks long enough to allow his backs to find room to run and had a few misses.
My concern is Green's pass-blocking ability, particularly defenders getting too close to him. He lacks the length to keep a defensive tackle or nose guard off his body.
However, Green did not give up a sack last season and made improvements each year at Illinois. He could also back up new center Alex Mack if Lynch decides not to bring back Ben Garland.
Green would be a reach in the second round, especially if Cleveland were still on the board. But if, for some reason, he's still on the board in the fourth round, Lynch and Shanahan need to choose him immediately.
An Obvious Scenario - Jack Anderson, Texas Tech
This year's guard class is a little thin on blue-chip talent, which might make Shanahan excited. And if that's the case, I fully expect him to take Jack Anderson out of Texas Tech late in the fifth round or with the 49ers' sixth-round choice.
It's a winning situation for Shanahan since he'd get to add another cheap guard to the roster. But I'd get to cheer that he drafted a real interior lineman, so maybe everyone wins.
Anderson plays with a wide base, and I noted him missing at the second level. He has excellent footwork on drive blocks but sometimes will do the lineman shuffle, one of my football pet peeves. If the play asks a guard to pull, I want to see a guard open his hip and pull down the line like true death, moving at 400 horsepower.
Often, Anderson would let up and let the defender come to him when he did get to a linebacker or safety at the second level. He must keep moving give the opponent a shove, not wait for the opponent to get into an ideal blocking position.
But, as noted above, sometimes just getting in the way on a zone run can be enough to spring a back for a significant gain.
Anderson might not be an improvement over Brunskill, but it could allow Lynch and Shanahan to make some critical roster moves:
· Move Colton McKivitz back to tackle
· Cut tackle Justin Skule
· Avoid re-signing Ben Garland
· Ensure a player like Tom Compton remains unemployed
I'd be happy with any of these men wearing a scarlet uniform this fall. But I'm prepared for the 49ers to take another punter to twist the knife on the fanbase.
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