Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
Obviously, the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line has a few more question marks today than it did a few days ago. San Francisco came into this offseason knowing they had to find a starter at left guard and center, with the potential to need a new right guard next offseason. It's possible they also considered the possibility that right tackle Anthony Davis would call it a career given he did explore the possibility around the time of his concussion last season.
Whatever the case, the 49ers have a lot of question marks, a lot of spaces to fill with a lot of unproven guys. Of the players who could be new starters on the offensive line heading into next season, at least one of them was possibly the best player on San Francisco's offensive line before he went down with an injury last season: Daniel Kilgore.
That sentence didn't come out as elegantly as I'd liked, but I think it gets the point across. Kilgore is still somewhat of an unproven player, but in seven games last season, I thought Kilgore looked great in all but one of them. Over the past few seasons, Kilgore has been the first guy on the field as an extra blocker, and he didn't look anything like a first-time starter from the center position last season.
I gave Kilgore positive grades in run blocking in all but two games (versus Philadelphia, versus Chicago) and in pass blocking in all but one game (versus Philadelphia). I thought he looked exceptionally aware, he did his job to keep a clean pocket and didn't buckle against any of the stronger nose tackles he faced. I thought he did better paired with Alex Boone than Mike Iupati as far as double teams go, and that's supported by the fact that Iupati wasn't great last season.
If you want a good game from Kilgore, go back and watch the first game against the Arizona Cardinals. In that game, Kilgore was about the only guy who looked good run-blocking (49ers running backs only had nine carries in the game, however) but he was also very, very good in pass protection. Colin Kaepernick was sacked once in that game, a 9-yard loss, but Kilgore effectively anchored the line on every other play.
Where we go from here is interesting. The 49ers have several interior linemen and several spots all up for grabs at this point. But it seems to boil down to a Kilgore vs. Marcus Martin battle at center, and a Joe Looney vs. Brandon Thomas battle at left guard. If things get weird and Alex Boone shifts to the right tackle spot, then the loser of one of those battles probably mans the right guard spot (though Trenton Brown is in the discussion as well).
I'm pretty certain that what Kilgore showed is enough for him to be favored in the center battle next season. That, of course, depends on his health. He's recovering from a broken fibula and recovery has been slow. Getting him healthy for training camp is the first step. If he can't go full speed at that point, Martin could easily surpass him and take the starting role. I think that would ultimately lead to a worse product on the field, however.
Why he might improve:
Kilgore, given his very first starting opportunity, rose to the occasion and turned the center position from a question mark into a strength. He did a lot of things right and few things wrong, and given his relative inexperience that means the sky is the limit. It's a new system, a new season and given Iupati's struggles last season, potentially a stronger player next to him. Kilgore is versatile and eager to compete -- he should show improvement.
Why he might regress:
Obviously, the injury is the big question mark here. By all accounts, Kilgore's recovery is going well, but slow. We don't really know how slow and we don't know when he'll be able to go 100 percent in practice. That includes training camp -- there's a new system to be learned, and if Kilgore isn't around to pick it up but still winds up winning the starting job, that's potential regression. Heck, if he doesn't win the starting role, that's regression as well, right? It's also possible he's simply not the same after the injury, that his first season as a starter was just a flash in the pan and any number of potential things working against him. I don't think that's particularly likely, but it's possible.
Odds of making the roster:
Provided Kilgore makes a full recovery, his spot on the roster is totally safe. Obviously, complications can arise with any serious injury and that could jeopardize his spot, but barring that he's going to be on the roster next season. If Kilgore isn't the starter -- at center or either guard spot -- then he's a utility lineman who is the first on the field when the 49ers need an extra blocker. I don't know if the team will be utilizing extra blockers with the same regularity they did under Jim Harbaugh, but Kilgore has plenty of value.