Predicting the 49ers’ 2017 O-Line Starting Lineup
A lot could change between now and Week 1 of the regular season. Injuries play a significant role, and the Niners could wind up grabbing players let go by other teams’ roster cuts.
But based off what we know now and how the roster looks, who winds up starting at each position?
Let’s start off with the easiest prediction, left tackle.
Left Tackle — Joe Staley
Staley is the only shoo-in player all but guaranteed a starting spot along the line this season. The 10-year pro earned five consecutive Pro Bowl nods between 2011 and 2015 before missing out last year.
As Staley will turn 33 years old this August, it’s probably safe to say his best playing days are behind him. But the 49ers have few realistic options right now, which ensures Staley gets his job back.
Left Guard — Daniel Kilgore
Yes, Daniel Kilgore is looking to earn his starting job back at center. But it’s important to note Kilgore doubled as a guard earlier in his career, and he might be the best option to occupy this space between Staley and Jeremy Zuttah, who wins the starting center job.
Kilgore ranked second on the team behind Staley, with a 72.8 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus. This makes Kilgore a favorite over Zane Beadles (40.2), who started at left guard last year, and Brandon Fusco (52.8).
Center — Jeremy Zuttah
While Zuttah may not be the ideal long-term solution at the position, he’s probably an upgrade over Kilgore. If anything, PFF handed Zuttah an 82.7 overall grade in 2016, so do the math on that one.
But the bigger reason here is Zuttah’s understanding of an outside-zone scheme. As noted earlier, centers are of extreme importance to head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. And the fact Zuttah was one of the biggest offseason pickups for San Francisco gives the veteran an edge here.
Right Guard — Joshua Garnett
The Niners worked former first-round draft pick, Joshua Garnett, at both guard spots earlier this offseason, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. Garnett primarily played the left spot at Stanford, which helped him earn the Outland Trophy in 2016. But his NFL debut was less than stellar.
While the 49ers may possibly exercise a little more patience with Garnett than other options, considering his draft status, it’s likely 2017 is a bit of a “prove it” year.
Right Tackle — Trent Brown
As Niner Noise’s Rich Madrid pointed out, right tackle Trent Brown isn’t exactly the ideal fit in this kind of O-line alignment. Brown’s pass protection is good, as his 78.7 PFF grade suggests, but run blocking is far from adequate.
The thing is his primary competition, Garry Gilliam, is nothing close to an adequate replacement.
Brown wins out, but expect San Francisco to look for an upgrade as soon as possible.