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One position battle no one is talking about

Niner Nate and Leo Luna dive into the offensive line with Brad Graham in today’s podcast.

San Francisco 49ers Off-Season Workout Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Shanahan/Lynch 49ers have made no secret of the fact that they believe in building the team outwardly from the line of scrimmage. There has only been one draft in the Kyle/John era that didn’t see an offensive or defensive lineman taken in the first round (and it was this year with Trey Lance). With such an importance placed on the lines and two more offensive linemen drafted this year, is it possible that there’s a position battle we’re overlooking?

Brad Graham joined Niner Nate and Leo Luna on today’s Niner Nate-tion podcast, and it’s no surprise where the former NFL lineman saw a potential position battle:

“I think the guard situation becomes extremely interesting. You look at the contract situation of Laken Tomlinson...He wasn’t extended and the 49ers drafted two guards. The two guys that they brought in were studs. There’s a lot of conversation about the running back competition, the quarterback competition. I think those guard spots, moreso the right guard, but I think Laken might be heading into an open camp battle this year. Both guards could be heading into a battle with both Aaron Banks and Jaylon Moore. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to watch it play out.”

After spending a second-round pick on Aaron Banks, it would be disappointing if he isn’t the Week 1 starter at right guard. Unfortunately, things aren’t as clear on the left side of the line, where Laken Tomlinson has played almost every snap since he was acquired for a fifth-round pick in 2017.

“I think 49ers fans should be thrilled with the future,” Graham said, “Even though we kind of perceive Laken as being the ironman that’s not going to get beat out, if both [Banks and Moore] play to the level that I think they can play too, I won’t put it as being so crazy.”

You can check out the entire episode below or anywhere you get your podcasts.

Tomlinson is set to be a free agent after this season. While many thought he was a prime candidate for a contract restructuring in a tight salary cap year, that never happened. Now, with most of the roster-building done, the 49ers sit in an advantageous position. They can give Moore and Banks plenty of run this summer. If they flash, the team upgrades at guard in 2021, has affordable interior offensive linemen for the next few years, and someone else can pay Laken Tomlinson in 2022. On the other hand, if Banks or Moore struggles, the team knows Tomlinson is a dependable, high-floor option at left guard for at least this season.

It won’t get as much attention as quarterback or running back this preseason. Still, the improvement of the 49ers' interior offensive line will be massively important for the success of this team in 2021. If some combination of Tomlinson, Brunskill, Banks, Moore, and Alex Mack give the team high-quality play for 17 games, the sky is the limit for San Francisco’s offense, regardless of who is under center.