The 49ers' offensive line (OL) has been inconsistent to say the least this season. They've struggled mightily early, then put together a string of nice games in the middle, and now have gone back to having issues again. Some of this current mess is due to injuries, one would assume, but it raises the question of what the plan should be going-forward into next year.
Mike Iupati is about the only guy on the OL that most can agree is completely locked into his position...and even HE has struggled at times this year. Joe Staley has been with the team the longest and was, for a long time, the best offensive lineman on the team. Still, he's shown weakness in the pass game this year against some good opponents and doesn't seem to be a pro-bowl caliber left-tackle.
Jonathan Goodwin started off very slow and was looking like a guy I'd like to replace THIS year...but as did most of his line-mates, he turned it around with a nice couple of games. This past Sunday, however, he didn't look particularly good handling the pass-rush.
At one point it seemed that Adam Snyder's insertion into the lineup was the lynch-pin tying the whole thing nicely together. Anthony Davis always seems to play best with Snyder by his side, too. But Snyder is dealing with a hamstring injury that seems to be affecting his play, which has affected Davis' play too, if you are willing to give Davis that excuse.
In my worst fits of rage I feel like everyone but Iupati should be competing for a job next season (as they probably should). Staley isn't a top tackle, Goodwin is inconsistent and we need to start planning for the future at the center position. Snyder is versatile, smart, and seems to help his teammates play better, but I'm not convinced he's the best we can do at RG, either. Then there's Davis, who has all the upside in the world (and is only 22 years old) but still has head-scratching performances from time to time. Davis had an ankle sprain a few games back that could also be affecting his play, though, too.
So what's the magic answer? The team drafted Daniel Kilgore and Mike (I almost wrote "Chuck") Person this past off-season, but neither were top picks who will be expected to immediately contribute and both have been inactive all season during games.
If the team drafts some tackles, centers, and guards higher in the draft they'll have to compete with the aforementioned guys above, most of which were either recent draft-picks, or high draft picks. Can the team really swallow the idea of benching guys like Davis or Staley if they find someone better? Heck, Alex Boone looked pretty good last Sunday, despite being an undrafted free-agent.
Moving Davis to Guard is a compelling idea...but we've rarely seen position changes (other than Bruce Miller) happen with this front-office. Also, how would he handle the change to a less prestigious (and lower paying) position? With Boone and Staley as LT and RT, who are the backups?
Sure, Harbaugh and Co. say "the best players will play", but we've all seen high draft picks stay in the lineup for several years before they are replaced by someone who turns out to be better. It's hard to say goodbye to your draftees, I guess.
So what shall we do? Is all of this just part of the growing pains of an offensive line coming together, or do we need a serious injection of talent?
One thing is for sure: something has to be done about the OL if the offense as a whole is expected to improve and reach their full potential. And THAT is the level they'll need to play at if we want to start talking about Championships.