Once upon a time, there was rampant speculation that the offensive line was the main thing holding back this otherwise stacked 49ers roster. While it’s a mistake to speak in such definitives before we had a chance to evaluate what the group would look like, I think the uncertainty was more than fair given all the moving parts on the reworked offensive line.
There were so many moving parts on the line, with Trent Williams being the only starter starting for the 49ers in the NFC Championship just a few months prior. You had two first-time starters at each guard position and a journeyman center that was getting his first opportunity as a Week 1 starter in his seventh season in the NFL.
Even Mike McGlinchey was far from a lock to be the same player he was before suffering a brutal injury that prematurely ended his season the year prior. As a result, the 49ers were in a situation where they had the best left tackle in the game, who would now be surrounded by four extremely unknown commodities.
Fast forward to Week 18, and the 49ers' offensive line has performed well beyond the majority of expectations that people had heading into this season. They have been one of the best units in the entire NFL this season, ranking in the top ten in both pass-blocking and run-blocking grades. The only other teams who have accomplished that this season are the Eagles, Falcons, and Ravens.
The 49ers are currently fifth in pass-blocking grade, which is a remarkable achievement when you consider that they entered the year with three new starters on the interior who had never played with one another before this season.
Jake Brendel, Aaron Banks, and Spencer Burford have each allowed just one sack this season and have also given the 49ers an optimistic outlook that this trio could be middle the of their offensive line for years to come.
Burford has been everything you could have asked for from a player who had to change positions upon entering the league. Banks has also performed admirably in his debut season as the starting left guard, flashing an extraordinary ability to move both laterally and to the second level in the run game. Brendel’s stellar play this year was rewarded with him being named as an alternate for the pro bowl.
Perhaps the most encouraging development along the offensive line has been the recent play of McGlinchey, who has not surrendered a sack since Week 8 against the Rams. In addition, McGlinchey has taken his game to another level since Brock Purdy was thrust into the starting role, not allowing a single QB hit and only four total pressures during that span.
Combine all that with the Hall of Fame level play that Williams provides week in and week out, and it becomes easy to see how the 49ers have been graded so favorably this season. Football is won and lost in the trenches, and right now, the 49ers have a bonafide top-five unit on their lines on both sides of the ball, something that always plays well into January as we transition to playoff football.