Fooch's note: While I think there is some optimism in here, it's a fun piece looking into the 49ers decision not to draft an offensive tackle early on. John Theus and Fahn Cooper will likely compete at right tackle, but I can see where Ramon is going with this FanPost. I meant to move this to the front page last week, thus the reference to "last night".
It was clear that Trent Baalke, in drafting both the top rated 3-4 defensive lineman and interior offensive lineman of the 2016 NFL draft, conducted a master class in talent evaluation and selection last night. This point was especially made obvious to me when John Schneider embarrassed himself again by reaching for another raw offensive tackle with his first draft choice as he had in back in 2013 by picking Justin Britt. Such gross incompetence in turn made me wonder about the 49ers tackle situation and why Baalke didn’t invest first round capital to draft a quality tackle to bookend the right side of his team’s porous offensive line. After reviewing the evidence, it became abundantly clear to me the reason Baalke had not made acquiring an offensive tackle a priority this draft was because he already found a very promising one in the seventh round of last years draft in selecting Trenton Brown, a 6’8" 355 lb. offensive lineman from the University of Florida with raw but freakish potential.
After playing the last five games of the season at right tackle last year for the 49ers, the final two of which he started, Trent Brown proved a rare bright spot in what was a dismal 2015 campaign under then head coach Jim Tomsula. Despite being the largest man ever to put on a Florida Gator football uniform, Brown slipped down in the 2015 draft due to concerns regarding his relative inexperience as a starter and conditioning problems that saw him play just 43 percent of his team’s offensive snaps in 2014. But after being taken 244th overall last draft Brown underwent a serious diet and training regimen which saw him gain muscle and shed body fat to the point that, by December of 2015, Atlanta Falcons coaches who scouted him didn’t recognize his appearance on film. As a result Brown showed promise from the beginning, amassing Pro Football Focus’ highest pass blocking grade amongst preseason offensive tackles while holding his own against worthy opponents the likes of Vick Beasley, Carlos Dunlap, and Chris Long to the point that I can honestly say, without trace of hyperbole, that after looking at some video, its very possible Brown could be a perennial starter at RT for the San Francisco 49ers.
The first question many 49ers fans have wondered about Trenton Brown is whether or not a man of his heavy weight will be able to effectively play tackle in Chip Kelly’s zone block scheme (ZBS) that prizes agility and mobility over brute power to open open zones for backs to navigate in the in the running game. And the answer is yes. Looking at the video from last season, when the Chryst offense incorporated aspects of the ZBS, we can definitely see that Brown has the athletic ability play to blend speed and power. Example, look at Brown (#77) in this vine. See how quick Brown bursts off the snap against the Lions defensive front? He absolutely mauls his man back and opens up the hole which DuJuan Harris uses to run for 10 yards and a first down. This isn’t some slow fatbody like Anthony Davis but someone who knows how to make use of his nimble feet, powerful legs and long arms to quickly occupy a space, pin whoever’s there and blow him off that spot.
And there’s more! Here is Brown sealing the edge with sheer authority against the Rams defensive line on a run play. Look at him quickly double, pin back and then shed off Chris Long only then rush to the second level to rag doll Laurinaitis back five yards back from the ball carrier: Brown was so ahead of the play he would have been able to block off any DBs had the ballcarier managed to catch up with him in the third level of the Rams defense. Obviously, this is no normal 340-ish lb. man. This is someone with a background in athletics who credits his nimble feet to experience playing point guard, QB, WR, RB, and even DB. Someone with the athleticism to be able to windmill dunk at 350 lbs.
All of this athleticism shouldn’t distract us from the basic fact that Trenton Brown is a 6'8" 343 lb. man with an 87 ⅜" wingspan, the longest among OL in the 2015 draft. Such a brutal combination of size, quick feet, and arm length also allow him to easily fan out edge rushers wide enough to generate good space for QB to step into in the passing game. For example look at how #77 handles #96 Carlos Dunlap, a veteran pass rusher with 13.5 sacks last season, in deep pass protection when the 49ers played the Bengals. Nice, fundamentally sound blocking despite the fact that Captain Checkdown 2.0/Blaine Gabbert can’t even nail a pass to his outlet out of the backfield. Now look at how poorly Dunlap fares again. Notice two things. First, doesn’t 6’6" 280 lb. Carlos Dunlap look puny and insignificant when lined against against the Man Mountain he’s assigned to beat? Second, you can see that Dunlap - who was a Pro-Bowl pass rusher last season - doesn't have a clue about how to get around Brown. He didn't lay a finger on Gabbert when Brown was in the game.
Nor was Dunlap the only causality. #44 Vic Beasley, a speedy edge rusher extraordinaire, learned that its near impossible to bend the corner against Brown and his massive arms. And even when Beasley could manage to fake a step inside Brown can still use his massive arms to angle the former away from Gabbert to the point that a simple side step evades the pass rush.
In closing, its apparent that the 49ers got a steal last year in Brown who is already showing great talent and promise. Chances are Baalke won’t find another tackle with the same freakish attributes, experience, and capability to dominate Pro-Bowl defensive lineman like Chris Long and Carlos Dunlap as rookies in the second day of this year’s draft. And while its probable Baalke has drafted another two tackles on the third day of this draft, its a given that Brown’s place as starting RT for the 49ers is rightly secure. Team captain and All-Pro LT Joe Staley already admitted as much a few weeks ago when he said it was "expected" #77 would be taking over Anthony Davis’ ex-spot.
Though Brown’s still plenty raw, the sky’s the limit if he can continue to physically develop while learning the nuances of his position and scheme. Word from Matt Barrows two days ago is that he already looks "lighter" than the 343 lb. weight achieved during December. While a recent vine of his footwork drills show #77 already has the fastest feet among our linemen, and that includes #74 Joe Staley. And that prospect signals bad news for the rest of the NFC West because, even though he’s a seventh round draft choice, Trenton Brown is already a better offensive tackle than former second round pick and newly converted guard Justin Britt, first round benchwarmer D.J. Humphries, and whatever turnstyle Jeff Fisher will use to endanger the career of the latest quarterback he overpaid for.