The San Francisco 49ers offensive line has emerged from a massive liability to one of the more promising units in the NFL nearly the halfway point of 2018. And thank goodness.
No longer do the San Francisco 49ers have to field the likes of Jordan Devey and Erik Pears along their offensive line.
Yeah, the 2015 and 2016 crops were about as bad as it could get. And while 2017 looked more promising, head coach Kyle Shanahan still wasn’t quite happy with his blockers up front. It didn’t appear the expert analysts were either, as San Francisco’s O-line last year ranked 10th in run blocking but 18th in pass protection, according to Football Outsiders.
That prompted Shanahan to push for some serious changes along the line during the offseason. San Francisco switched out center Daniel Kilgore with free-agent acquisition Weston Richburg, elected to sign a journeyman lineman, Mike Person, to play guard.
And San Francisco capped it off by taking offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey at No. 9 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Grabbing McGlinchey that early, especially when there were other high-impact players available, might have been seen as a reach. But the results have started to speak for themselves. Now, according to Football Outsiders, the Niners O-line is second in run blocking.
Pass protection has taken a slight hit (San Francisco is 26th here through six weeks). But take away the six sacks on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — most of which were his own doing — that number would be substantially better.
Despite that one performance, the pure mettle from the Niners O-line was on full display against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football in Week 6, climbing all the way up to Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 spot in their O-line power rankings:
"If you watched Monday Night Football this past week, you’d know this ranking is more than justified. The 49ers are another team where the weak link isn’t all that weak. Free agent addition, Weston Richburg has the lowest grade, but only because Kenny Clark handed him his lunch to the tune of six pressures this past week."
Back to the run support. As a prime result of San Francisco’s reconstruction efforts, the Niners are now ranked No. 3 in the NFL in total rushing yards (855) and average yards per carry (5.1). This unit has helped turn second-year running back Matt Breida into a household name, and he’s averaging 6.8 yards per rush.
Yeah, that’s pretty solid.
The 49ers still have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball. They’ll need to hit on more than a handful of players in both free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft this offseason.
Aside from an eventual long-term replacement for Staley (or McGlinchey, assuming he moves over to the left when Staley retires), the Niners appear to have the offensive side of the trenches in place for the long run.
And if a team is going to start a lengthy rebuild, getting this area up to par is always a good way to start.
The 49ers are well on their way by having addressed this unit.