The offensive line is undoubtedly the focus for 49ers fans considering the loss of Mike McGlinchey and possibly Jake Brendel. Oh, and the injuries to FOUR quarterbacks in the 20 games played by the 49ers. Free agency isn’t as deep with options in 2023.
Colton McKivitz just inked a two-year deal worth $5.8 million at $2.9 million annually. The newly signed contract puts McKivitz firmly in the competition for the open RT spot.
Nick Zakelj is a possible Brendel replacement, but the 49ers will always build in the trenches and held meetings with eight different offensive line prospects at the combine.
Let’s highlight three that the 49ers have met with:
Juice Scruggs, C, Penn State
Scruggs profiles as a solid starter for many years in the NFL and is versatile in man and zone-blocking schemes. Remaining patient and balanced off the snap is another strength for the PSU senior. During Scruggs’ junior year, he made the transition from right guard to center. In 836 snaps as a senior, Scruggs allowed ten hurries and three QB hits.
Coming out of Cathedral Prep High School, Scruggs was rated a four-star prospect. At 6’3”, Scruggs is great at keeping his pads at a good level, which allows him to win at the point of attack.
While not having elite traits, Scruggs will have to work on lateral movement in the NFL. Hand placement, particularly in pass protection, is one of his most valuable skills.
Walter McClendon, Jr., OT, Georgia
The 49ers love the flexibility to play multiple positions from their linemen. McClendon may be able to play either guard or tackle at the next level. Playing for Georgia, who has won back-to-back national championships, McClendon displayed a high motor and football IQ. Playing with a solid anchor and ready hands with an awareness of stunts and twists is a big part of his game.
Pad level can be a problem at times, and change of direction isn’t elite, but McClendon has shown he can get to the second level, which is huge in the 49ers’ run game.
During his junior year in 2022, McClendon allowed only seven hurries, one QB hit, and no sacks in 720 snaps at right tackle.
Blake Freeland, OT, BYU
This pick is a bit of a dream at the moment. Per Next Gen Stats, Freeland has the highest athleticism score (88) of all offensive tackles. Standing at 6’8”, Freeland has incredible length with a chance to add on muscle in the NFL.
Someone this tall should be as fluid as Freeland is. The 49ers identified his talent before his workout and met with him in Indianapolis.
No prospect is perfect, and Freeland will have to work on his pass protection. The traits are all there for the young man from BYU. The ability in the run game is unmistakable. Freeland shows a great burst off the snap and the athleticism to consistently make it to the second level.
Unfortunately, his showing at the combine means he may be out of the 49ers’ reach unless they decide to trade up.
The 49ers have shown patience with linemen in the past. These prospects aren’t plug-and-play, but reinforcements and in line for development. Aaron Banks was solid in his first full year as left guard, and the 49ers were rewarded for their patience and evaluation. A similar approach will be needed with any of these prospects.