The offensive line, also known as the big guys up front, can make or break an offense. Nothing happens without the big uglies. With the 2019 season now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to review the roster, position group by position group. We will discuss the regular-season performance of each group with a brief afterword, mentioning the postseason. Today we take a look at the 49ers offensive line.
*Italics denotes Rookie
Week 1 Starters:
LT – Joe Staley (7 starts)
LG – Laken Tomlinson (16 starts)
C – Weston Richburg (13 starts)
RG – Mike Person (14 starts)
RT – Mike McGlinchey (12 starts)
Other Players with Starts:
LT – Daniel Brunskill (7 starts)
C – Ben Garland (3 starts)
RT – Justin Skule (8 starts)
Pass Blocking – C
Football Outsiders place the 49ers in the middle of the pack for pass blocking. On the season, San Francisco’s offensive line surrendered 36 sacks, with an adjusted sack rate of 6.9 percent. By the same numbers, the league average for sacks was 40, with the average adjusted rate at 7 percent. The adjusted rate factors intentional grounding penalties. ESPN Advanced Stats uses the stat, Pass Blocking Win Rate, a look at which linemen can sustain their blocks for a minimum of 2.5 seconds. As a team, the 49ers turned in a rate of just 55 percent, placing them in the bottom 10 of the league.
According to PBWR, the best pass-blocking offensive lineman for the 49ers was right tackle, Mike McGlinchey. The former Notre Dame lineman ranked as the fifth-best offensive tackle in the league with a win rate of 93 percent. No other 49ers offensive linemen finished in the top-10 of their respective position. This is not to say that none of the other linemen had terrible seasons. Rookie Justin Skule saw significant playing time following injuries to McGlinchey and Joe Staley. Joining Skule in replacing the starting bookends was Daniel Brunskill. The veteran tackle had played in the AAF just six months prior. The aforementioned Staley also turned in one of the best seasons of his career, although he missed half of it with a broken fibula.
Run Blocking – B+
This was the obvious strength for the San Francisco offensive line. Raw numbers place the 49ers as the second-best rushing team during the regular season, with an average of 144.1 yards per game. The 49ers accomplished this task without a single running back eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. What aided San Francisco in the ground game was the athleticism of the offensive line. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has never favored the plodding big-man for his offensive line. Instead, Shanahan looks for mobile blockers who can be taught proper technique.
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Both Person and Tomlinson, linemen who struggled in pass protection, were much better in the ground game. Tomlinson’s length and ability to pull in either direction allowed Shanahan to mix power run plays to the arsenal. Against some of the toughest defensive lines, the 49ers ground game continued to churn out yards. It took injuries to multiple linemen, the starting fullback, and starting tight end, for the running game to stall. It was a solid season for the big guys upfront.
Unit Grade: B
The 2019 group performed at a higher level than the previous two seasons. This was the best group of the Shanahan era, although there remains much to be desired, primarily in pass protection. The starting five from the season opener are all scheduled to return for the 2020 season. Ben Garland is a free agent although there is a solid chance that general manager John Lynch and the front office make a strong push to keep him in Santa Clara.
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With a lack of second and third-round picks in April’s draft, it would be surprising to see the 49ers select an offensive lineman on either of the first two days. Some intriguing prospects are projected for the later rounds which should garner significant attention by the coaching staff. It will be interesting to see what moves are made along the offensive line with the relative success in the 2019 season.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada