We're about through with our positional grades, and if we've learned anything, it's that the great season made us all a bit more biased, myself included. That being said, I'm pretty happy with the general opinion of most of the players, I still believe Niners Nation is one of the more level-headed sports blogs out there, though I'm not sure that's saying much, given the nature of fandom in general.
Either way, we come to Joe Staley, after looking at (most of) the rest of the offensive linemen, including Adam Snyder most recently. Snyder wasn't as well-received as I thought, it seems people can't get over the whole "pressure from the right = right guard and right tackle need to go" thing. Personally, I think Snyder is much more valuable than given credit for, but as I've just spoken about biases not more than a paragraph ago, I should probably move on!
Staley has been the starter at left tackle for some time now and is locked up well past the end of days. He's being paid like a top-flight left tackle and hasn't quite given us that level of play thus far. What he has given us is an improvement in physical ability in each of his seasons as a starter, though he's falling far, far behind on the mental and maturity aspect.
He's never been the most athletic guy in any respect - he doesn't block in space as well as he should and he doesn't lock down the left side with his strength. Those are facts about Staley that aren't going to change outright, but he did show a marked improvement in those aspects in each of the last couple years, and though he had a bad string of games to start the season, Staley played out of his mind the second half of the season and really dominated.
I do mean dominated, too - that's not just trying to make him seem better than he actually was or anything of that nature. Staley dominated in the second half and looked like a franchise left tackle, physically. But mentally? That's where he's disappointing to me. The guy was given a huge vote of confidence, and was supposed to be a leader on the offensive line. He hasn't done that.
Sure, he didn't account for a ton of penalties, but he still hurt the 49ers with them when he had them. Staley should be beyond the guy who gets the false starts and acts as immature as he does. He also still regularly makes mental mistakes in regards to his assignments and run blocking, and as we've seen with Chilo Rachal, improvements in athleticism and the like do not always make up for those kinds of mistakes.
People continue to bring up Alex Boone and potential competition - I think we're far, far far away from that point. That being said, Staley really need to show that he can start a season as opposed to just finishing it. I'm excited about him going forward, but his leash needs to be shorter. Competition should be explored if he can't tighten up his game, especially at his price. But how do you rate his 2011 as a whole?