Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90" (well, last year was the first!). The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. We'll have more in-depth reviews on these players, but this is to help give everybody a basic understanding of the roster. The 49ers 90-man roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
San Francisco 49ers left guard Mike Iupati has been one of the best run blockers in the NFL since having his name called in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He's also been a solid pass-blocker, and has been named to the Pro Bowl twice and was named an All-Pro in 2012.
He started 60 consecutive games prior to injuries in 2013, which unfortunately forced him out of four games. In addition to that, he was banged up for much of the season and his play was at a noticeably lower level than it was in previous seasons. He also broke his fibula in the NFC Championship loss to the Seattle Seahawks. For what it's worth, he's expected to be ready for training camp in late May.
Last reason was really the first season I ever had issues with Iupati's play. He's always been solid as a pass blocker and ridiculous as a run-blocker, but we saw that play deteriorate last year. I noticed he was making simple mistakes, the kind of mistakes you don't need out of a left guard. He was missing assignments and didn't look quite as quick getting out there in space blocking for Frank Gore and the other San Francisco running backs.
Of course, Iupati's "lacking" play is still better than half of the leagues' starting left guards. Make no mistake about it: Iupati is a starter and at 27 years old, if he can make a full recovery (all indications suggest he already has), he'll find himself back in the Pro Bowl in the near future. I'm only being negative because I expect the best out of this offensive line and Iupati in particular, but as of last season, he's the second-best guard on the team.
There's also significant concerns that the 49ers won't be able to keep him around. But we'll talk about that more later. Suffice to say that Iupati is looking to stay healthy and bounce back, as he enters his fifth full season as a starter.
Why he might improve:
As we already talked about, Iupati's 2013 campaign was somewhat lackluster in comparison to his 2012 year. And, again, at 27 years old, there's plenty of room for improvement. He should be healthy and if the 49ers have really found themselves a new center in Marcus Martin, improved play along the interior in general could go a long way in helping Iupati. There's no reason to suspect he can't improve, especially given that this is the first time we'll see him in a contract year.
Why he might regress:
Maybe the injuries from last year catch up with him and he misses some more time. To be clear, he's not this injury-prone player with a long history or anything like that -- he's been banged up in seasons past but always played through it -- it's just that four missed games and a broken fibula in the playoffs is pretty significant. I don't think he's going to wake up one day and just be bad, so this would be the only way to see him really "regress."
Odds of making the roster:
Of course he'll be on the roster. He's the starting left guard, and while I do think the 49ers will have trouble getting him signed to a reasonable extension, that's a bridge to cross when 2015 rolls around. Iupati is the guy and he'll be there to contribute to the NFL's best offensive line.