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?
Recently, I wrote about San Francisco 49ers center Daniel Kilgore, and if you read that piece you'll know that I thought he was the team's best offensive linemen last season. Unfortunately, Kilgore sustained an injury and missed half of the season and the 49ers' center position remains a question mark going forward. That's also the case for right tackle after Anthony Davis retired and left guard after Mike Iupati left in free agency.
But one position that you don't have to worry about (barring surprise retirement) is left tackle, where Joe Staley has been the starter since the team took him with the No. 28 overall pick in 2007. He hasn't always been great and he makes more mental mistakes than a veteran typically does, but when he's on his game he's one of the best left tackles in the NFL.
He's also very durable, despite dealing with injuries over the last few years, he's played in all 16 games in six of his eight seasons in the league. He'll turn 31 before the regular season gets underway, and he's signed until approximately the end of time. His cap hit does get kind of out of control in the coming seasons but ultimately, Staley is here and he's not going anywhere.
So what about last season? Like the rest of the offensive line, sans Kilgore, Staley opened up the season with a string of poor performances. He was terrible in pass protection in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, and again when the Philadelphia Eagles demolished both tackles over the course of the game in Week 4. But aside from those two poor performances, I thought Staley had a reasonably strong season.
More than that, I thought Staley performed quite well in a number of games. He was absolutely mauling defenders in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints, and again was very impressive against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15. He routinely goes up against the opposing team's best pass rushers, and he rarely loses the war, even if he does lose the occasional battle.
Why he might improve:
Staley did have his struggles out of the gate last season, and I think a lot of that could be due to Iupati's own struggles. I noticed most of the times he had lapses in pass protection, it seemed to be due to some kind of missed assignment or a flaw in the offensive scheme as a whole. The 49ers are totally unable to handle stunts, for instance, and that seems more a product of the way the line was called than the individual players' abilities.
In other words, I don't think Iupati set a high bar at the left guard spot last season and think Brandon Thomas or Joe Looney can certainly provide an upgrade there. Staley is a veteran and I don't think learning a new system or adapting to a new teammate is going to be particularly difficult for him. He might have reached his peak, but there's probably some things he can improve on earlier on in the season.
Why he might regress:
As I said above, Staley is turning 31 years old and while offensive linemen can have quite a bit more longevity than other positions, it is still a big deal. He's not going to improve by leaps and bounds anymore -- any jump in production will be a surprise as opposed to him fulfilling some kind of expectation. The NFL is taking its toll on Staley, and it's only going to get worse from here. There's also the possibility that the new offense doesn't click with him. But I think Staley being just about as good as he's been in recent seasons is a good bet.
Odds of making the roster:
I suppose the "making the roster" wording is actually more important than Fooch intended when he started saying that. In some ways, it's much more defined than "odds of being on the team in 2015," given all the ways we've found a player can depart this offseason. So the chances of Staley making the roster are 100 percent, barring aliens or something like that. Those darn aliens.