Niner Noise’s 2017 “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players this season takes a look at offensive tackle Trent Brown and how he fits along the O-line this year.
On one hand, San Francisco 49ers starting offensive tackle Trent Brown was a gem of a find in the 2015 NFL Draft.
But on the other, he’s not exactly an ideal fit in the Niners’ new offensive line scheme.
The former seventh-round pick has earned plenty of praise, including the most noteworthy from Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller prior to 2016.
San Francisco 49ers
Miller cited Brown’s excellent pass-protection abilities, which have certainly kept the now third-year pro as a part of San Francisco’s O-line plans this season.
Yet Brown isn’t particularly good in run support. And his massive 6-foot-9, 376-pound frame doesn’t exactly possess the agility to thrive within head coach Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone blocking scheme.
Pro Football Focus backs this up. Brown’s 2016 pass-blocking grade was 78.7 — highest among all starting 49ers offensive linemen. But his run-blocking grade was a lowly 39.0 — lowest among the same group.
While Brown may not be the best fit, San Francisco doesn’t exactly have a lot of options to replace him on the right side.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at how Brown fits into the 2017 grand scheme of things.
Why He’ll Improve
Brown will get every chance to retain the starting job at right tackle. Backups Garry Gilliam and John Theus aren’t going to unseat him, so it’s Brown’s job to lose.
There isn’t any doubting Brown’s power, and this is an attribute that should stay relevant for a while.
Provided his footwork improves, and his ability to block at the second level gets better, Brown may actually work better in an outside-zone scheme. These schemes call for linemen to block defenders away from the sidelines. The bottom clip illustrates Brown doing this exceptionally well:
49ers offensive line coach John Benton will likely try to focus more on Brown’s engagement after the initial block, as well as making adjustments to the offensive tackle’s footwork.
If these two areas improve, Brown could see his stock rise this season.
Why He’ll Regress
Prior to the 2015 draft, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein pointed out the obvious — Brown is only suited for a power-run scheme.
San Francisco hasn’t run this scheme since that year, so Brown’s drafting makes sense.
Size is obviously a problem when being compared to agility. And Brown isn’t exactly the most nimble on his feet.
This clip, courtesy of Niners Nation’s Oscar Aparicio, illustrates how Brown’s problematic footwork and lack of agility in run support are a major issue:
It’s easy to see how Brown pushes too far off the defender’s left shoulder and is unable to recover.
This could easily wind up being the mark against Brown when Niners runs head to the left side. Inside cutbacks won’t be easy here, which will leave San Francisco hoping for an upgrade at some point down the road.
What to Expect in 2017
A weak offensive tackle class in the 2017 NFL Draft prevented the Niners from making any moves here.
While San Francisco brought in added competition in the interior O-line positions — Jeremy Zuttah, Brandon Fusco, Tim Barnes, etc. — it’s not likely Brown ends up losing his starting job.
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Unless a clear-cut winner simply overtakes Brown during training camp.
In all likelihood, Brown still winds up being the starter at right tackle throughout 2017. It’s not the most ideal scenario, but the 49ers couldn’t have possibly addressed all their weaknesses over the course of this offseason.
As such, look for the Niners to make an upgrade here in 2018 — one that better suits Shanahan’s offense.