The 49ers don’t have too many needs in the 2022 NFL Draft, but the ones they have are substantial, and here’s one mistake they can’t afford to make.
From 2018 through 2020, the San Francisco 49ers largely avoided infusing talent for the secondary in the NFL Draft, which led to general manager John Lynch using two picks in the 2021 draft to grab cornerbacks, Ambry Thomas in Round 3 and Deommodore Lenoir in Round 5.
And those two players’ so-so development also led to Lynch spending big money on former Kansas City Chiefs corner in free agency heading into 2022.
Cornerback is still a need for the Niners, yes. But it might not be the most pressing issue Lynch and Co. have to address.
It’s a bit trickier for San Francisco this year, which is without a first-round pick in the wake of last year’s trade-up for quarterback Trey Lance. Slated to pick at No. 61 overall at the earliest, the 49ers will have to wait until day two of the draft to start infusing talent.
And there’s one part of the roster they can’t afford to neglect this time around.
49ers can’t afford to neglect offensive line in 2022 NFL Draft
Early draft picks used on offensive linemen aren’t particularly flashy or exciting. But the O-line can make or break an offense, and it’s not too hard for the best of lines to fall apart relatively quickly. When looking at the Niners’ projected starters who are rostered right now, the only non-question is All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams.
Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson, who started every game since being acquired via trade from the Detroit Lions in 2017, left in free agency for the New York Jets. For now, San Francisco is poised to start second-year guard Aaron Banks in Tomlinson’s stead, yet Banks saw a mere five regular-season snaps his rookie season and hasn’t done much to justify the 49ers using a second-round pick on him a year ago.
Moving one spot further to the right, veteran Pro Bowl center Alex Mack will turn 37 years old this season. While the indications are he won’t retire, the Niners better plan on him being gone as soon as 2023.
Right guard Daniel Brunskill, aside from his twice-a-year showings against Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, is another one of those players who could stand to be upgraded, too.
And then there’s right tackle Mike McGlinchey, the 2018 first-round pick who suffered a torn quad in the middle of last season and is working his way back from subsequent surgery. There’s no guarantee McGlinchey will be back at 100 percent in 2022, and the fact he’ll be a free agent after this upcoming season is yet another reason why San Francisco should be concerned.
A faltering 49ers offensive line could thwart Trey Lance development
It’s basic Football 101 to understand why poorish offensive lines can completely derail a young quarterback’s maturation.
Lance is poised to assume full-time starting duties in 2022. The 49ers’ O-line situation entering the upcoming season isn’t terrible, per se, but there are still some pressing question marks that’ll compound even more the following year if the Niners choose to do nothing.
While the year-to-year carryover isn’t always a great indicator of future success, the lack of depth from the 2021 squad (problems with O-line depth started showing themselves in training camp a year ago) suggests there aren’t too many plausible options waiting in the fold to step in as would-be starters in the not-too-distant future.
Yes, San Francisco has done an admirable job to surround Lance with playmaking weapons, such as wide receiver Deebo Samuel, running back Elijah Mitchell and tight end George Kittle. But keeping Lance protected well enough should be the 49ers’ No. 1 priority.
Particularly in light of so many questions arising within the O-line.
When do 49ers spend NFL Draft picks on O-line?
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Lynch use the team’s top pick on an offensive lineman. And with two picks in Round 3 (Nos. 93 and 105), there’s a chance at least one of those selections winds up being used to find an O-lineman.
The 2022 draft is considered deep enough with O-line prospects for both the interior and tackle spots, meaning the Niners should have plenty of opportunities to find at least one plug-and-play option.
Even at that point, and with six picks on day three of the draft, it wouldn’t hurt San Francisco to identify a draft-and-develop prospect who can upgrade some of the team’s O-line depth.
Adding one O-lineman in the draft will help matters a lot. Adding two would be even smarter.
Not grabbing one at all would be a massive mistake, one which the 49ers can’t afford to make this April.