The San Francisco 49ers kick off their rookie minicamp on Thursday with player arrivals, and practice follows that on Friday. With OTAs getting started in two weeks, now seems like a good time to start assessing what the 2016 NFL Draft means to the roster. We're going to run through each position on the depth chart and take a preliminary look at how the draft picks might impact it, as well as an initial thought on the bubble watch. Today, we move on to the offensive line.
Offensive tackle: Joe Staley, Trenton Brown, John Theus, Fahn Cooper, Colin Kelly
Offensive guard: Zane Beadles, Joshua Garnett, Erik Pears, Andrew Tiller, Brandon Thomas, Ian Silberman, Jordan Devey
Center: Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin
The 49ers were plenty busy in adding offensive line talent this offseason. One of the few free agent signings was former Jaguars and Broncos guard Zane Beadles. They then traded up into the bottom of the first round to select Stanford guard Joshua Garnett. In the fifth round, they used the third pick of the round on Georgia tackle John Theus, and then the 35th pick of the round on Ole Miss tackle Fahn Cooper. The team has not formally announced their undrafted free agent class, but Baylor guard Blake Muir is expected to be part of that group.
All of these players join a group that has a starting line pretty close to settled, but with a lot of questions about depth. The starting line likely includes Joe Staley at left tackle, Trenton Brown at right tackle, Daniel Kilgore at center, and Zane Beadles and Joshua Garnett at the two guard positions. After that, Erik Pears is likely the current clubhouse leader for the primary utility role.
That then leaves us with a bunch of previous draft picks that have not lived up to expectations for one reason or another. Martin got time at center in 2014 after Kilgore got hurt. However, he struggled and eventually lost the job back to Kilgore last year after the latter returned from the PUP list. Martin can play center and guard, and likely will be competing for the primary utility line role.
Brandon Thomas was one of Trent Baalke's ACL All Stars, but his first two years have not provided anything. He spent 2014 on the NFI list, and was inactive for most of 2015, netting zero snaps on the season. He mentioned a high ankle sprain, but it remains to be seen when exactly during the season that happened.
Andrew Tiller had the biggest breakout year among the offensive linemen. After four weeks on the practice squad, he was promoted to the 53-man roster, slowly moved past Jordan Devey in the right guard role, and then moved over to starting left guard the final three weeks after Alex Boone got hurt. The additions of Beadles and Garnett does not bode well for his starting chance, but he has more to offer than some of these other guys.
We know Garnett will be on the roster and likely starting. Theus and Cooper are competing for backup work, although both could very well challenge Trenton Brown at the right tackle spot.
Where it gets really interesting is what happens with guys like Tiller, Thomas, Martin, Devey, and Silberman. I do not include Pears at this point because the veteran can play four of the five offensive line positions, and I think that's enough to keep him at least at strong bubble. I did not include him on my 53-man roster projection, but I probably should have looked at him as one of the first four off.
Tiller was a starter for the back half of last season, but the offseason additions would not exactly seem to bode well for his future. I think he has the best chance of that group to earn a roster spot, but his starting chances are up in the air. When we get to the formal bubble watch, I'll likely include Tiller as a strong bubble.
Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas are two guys that are tough to figure out with all this potential turnover. Martin has center experience, but it will be interesting to see what other players get time at center through the end of training camp. Thomas has not emerged over two seasons, and is a cut candidate if he does not impress this offseason. For now I think Martin is on the roster and Thomas is off.