When you watch Kyle Shanahan’s offensive lines throughout the years, the unit is greater than the sum of its parts. As a result, the 49ers have gotten by with players that have little to no upside, especially along the interior.
The lack of talent doesn’t bite them until the worst possible moments. Aaron Donald is an easy name to remember, but the line had no answer for defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons if you think back to the Titans game on Thursday night last year.
Bleacher Report went through each team to determine what their biggest need was. For the 49ers, it’s guard:
The San Francisco 49ers have enjoyed the success they have the past few years in large part because of one of the league’s most effective rushing attacks. The names of the running backs may change, but the Niners just keep chewing up yards on the ground.
And the Niners keep doing so because one of the league’s best offensive lines wins consistently in the trenches.
That line is facing some adversity in 2022. The team lost a pair of quality starters when right tackle Tom Compton and left guard Laken Tomlinson departed in free agency. The team is hopeful Mike McGlinchey can step back into the starting lineup at tackle after an injury-shortened 2021 season, but there are questions at guard.
Aaron Banks (who is slated to replace Tomlinson) was a second-round pick last year, but he also played all of five snaps as a rookie. Right guard Daniel Brunskill was far and away the lowest-graded starter on the 49ers front last season at Pro Football Focus with a 62.2
As goes the line, so goes the entire offense in San Francisco. And those guard spots appear shaky.
There’s a bit of blind faith on our end if you’re hopeful that Aaron Banks and Jaylon Moore turn into competent starters in 2022. On the one hand, if you can get by with Daniel Brunskill starting multiple seasons, you’d expect higher draft picks to provide more to the offense. On the other hand, inexperience shouldn’t be ignored.
I disagree with the last line, though. There’s enough talent at the skill positions to overcome any breakdowns along the line. If Lance provides a big-play threat that we’re all assuming, the line won’t be an issue.
The Bengals finished 11th in EPA per play. The Chiefs, Chargers, and Rams all fielded offensive lines that left a lot to be desired. But that didn’t stop either team from finishing in the top-8 offensively in EPA per play.
While it may sound like that puts more pressure on Lance, I think it shifts to Shanahan. This is still his show. With a healthy supporting cast and the way the Niners like to get rid of the ball quickly, it would take an egregious performance from the line to hold the offense back in 2022.