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 you get the idea.
It took Jim Tomsula's coaching staff way too long to insert Andrew Tiller into the starting lineup in 2015. Jordan Devey played terribly from the get go, and now has taken his tuba talents to
S outh B each Kansas City. Despite Tiller grading out as Pro Football Focus' highest rated guard in the preseason, and a bit of chatter from the players, it wasn't until early October that the coaches started to rotate in the 3rd year guard. For the next four weeks Tomsula's staff split Tiller and Devey's plays until week 7, when Tiller finally assumed the starter role for good.
Tiller, a sixth round pick of New Orleans in 2012, was considered a talented bruiser with questionable athleticism coming out of Syracuse. Originally recommended to the Saints by his college coach, Doug Marrone, Tiller bounced around a couple practice squads and fought through some injuries before being signed to the 49ers practice squad in week 6 of 2014. Tiller tore his ACL in April of 2014 before he signed with the 49ers, conforming the fact that Baalke gonna Baalke.
In 2015 Tiller displayed some run-blocking prowess, especially on gap-based runs. In the passing game he was generally average but he did have one move that consistently delivered. Tiller employed a solid opening punch that disrupted oncoming defensive linemen. It was something he specifically worked on, dating back to college when he used a rice bucket to improve hand strength.
Tiller is signed through 2016. He has a base salary and cap hit of $600,000. He was on the 53-man roster for three games in 2014, and then 12 games in 2015. He will be an exclusive rights free agent after this season.
Why he might improve
In-game experience matters and Tiller gained valuable experience after becoming the starter in the final third of the season. The 49ers run game had some decent performances later in the year, especially against Chicago. By late December, Pro Football Focus had Tiller as their fourth rated guard from weeks 6 through week 15. Coupled with his preseason ranking you begin to see a player with a low floor and room to grow into a starting role.
While less quantifiable, Tiller is someone who works on his craft. Coming out of college he was told he needed to work on his pass-blocking so he set out to do just that. He improved his hand fighting and even employed on forearm strengthening exercises to improve his punch. Tiller allowed zero pressures in the second game against Seattle, a game where the 49ers allowed six sacks overall. In
Why he might regress
Scheme fit definitely matters, and in this case Chip Kelly's zone-blocking scheme is not favorable to un-athletic linemen. Tiller did not excel when he had to cover a ton of ground. More of a phone-booth kind of player, Tiller could be a guy with a decent skill set, just not a skill set for the team he's playing for. He was acquired while Jim Harbaugh was still the coach, and Tiller definitely fits more of the Jim Harbaugh mold of guard than the Chip Kelly form of guard.
While the offensive line did perform better later in the year, this is most likely due to the schedule and not some kind of dramatic improvement. The 49ers went from having one of the leagues toughest schedules in the first half of the year, to a league average schedule in the second half. Tiller only faced one top-10 pass rushing team (Detroit) and still did not finish with a spectacular pass rushing grade. And that Bears game where the offensive line played well? That team's defense ranked 31st overall, and dead last against the run, based on DVOA.
Odds of making the roster
Tiller was a definite upgrade over Jordan Devey and he steadied the line once he assumed the starting role. With Trent Baalke focusing both draft and free agent capital at the position, it's clear he doesn't think TIller is the answer. A starting role is unlikely, but even as a backup Tiller still offers value presuming he can handle the demands of Chip Kelly's offense. If Tiller can beat out Brandon Thomas, a 3rd-round 2014 all-ACL pick that wasn't active for a single game last year, for the interior backup role then Tiller is assured a spot. As it stands, I place Tiller's completely non-scientific odds of making the roster at 60 percent.