49ers Draft Primer: Offense Part 1

The 49ers finished 27th in points scored with a depressing total of 309. The team totalled 4,930 yards on offense, with 2,911 coming through the air and 2,019 coming on the ground. Their average drive was a measly two minutes and eleven seconds, along with averages of five plays, and one and a half points per drive, per PFF.  Offensive coordinator Cutis Modkins appeared extremely overwhelmed for most the season.

Fast forward to now, April 2017, and the 49ers have a completely different appearance on offense. Newly-signed head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch wasted no time in going out and releasing and signing as many players as they thought fit into what they are trying to build by the Bay. Wide receiver Torrey Smith was quickly released after a tumultuous two-year stint in San Francisco. The team also decided to let offensive free agents such as Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Rod Streater, Shaun Draughn, Quinton Patton walk.

Lynch brought back running back Dujuan Harris and last year’s leading wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. The team also went out and signed former Bears quarterback Bryan Hoyer, who is presumed to start the season under center. Also, they signed former Washington wide receiver Pierre Garçon and former Bills speedster Marquise Goodwin.

Look for the 49ers offense to be a lot more methodical and explosive. Kyle Shanahan has one of, if not the best offensive minds in all of football, so it is only natural that he will serve as the offensive coordinator as well. His reputation most certainly proceeds him, as his most recent work in Atlanta speaks for itself.

The draft is less than a week away, and while it may not be a top-heavy class, it is certainly deep with offensive talent. Shanahan himself noted that too much emphasis is put on scheme fits, as he feels the right player will be great in any scheme.

When considering potential needs and options, one must consider how players on the roster and prospective rookies would fit within the 49ers new scheme.

 

Need levels:

  • 10 – no backup calibre options at the position
  • 9 – poor backup calibre options at the position
  • 8 – average backup calibre options at the position
  • 7 – good backup/poor starting calibre player at the position with backups/average player with no depth
  • 6 – average starting calibre player at the position
  • 5 – good starting calibre player at the position
  • 4 – very good starting calibre player at the position/good player with good backup quality player(s)
  • 3 – Pro Bowl calibre player at the position/multiple good to average starters
  • 2 – All-Pro calibre player/multiple Pro-Bowl to good starters
  • 1 – Likely Hall of Famer/multiple Pro Bowl players at the position

 

Center

 

The center has a very vital role in calling out blocking assignments, making last-second switches, and still blocking the defensive linemen. The importance of a good, all-pro center has increased since the 3-4 defense has reemerged in the league. The running game will not be effective if the center is not able to consistently win against the opposing nose tackle.

 

When Shanahan was in Atlanta, they had an all-pro center in Alex Mack, which allowed Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, & Julio Jones to thrive in their respected roles on offense. However, in San Francisco the situation is a tad bit different.

 

After another injury-filled season for Daniel Kilgore, San Francisco decided to go out and trade for pro-bowler Jeremy Zuttah from Baltimore. They were able to improve drastically and not even give up a draft pick, as they only swapped 6th round picks with the Ravens. In Zuttah, the 49ers gain an experienced center with over 115 starts under his belt. Zuttah has some familiarity in system similar to Shanahan’s, as he played in a zone-blocking scheme in Baltimore under then-offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

 

The signing also allows the team to move their previous starting center, incumbent Daniel Kilgore out further on the line, where he originally played at. Behind Kilgore, the team has former Oregon defensive lineman-turned center Alex Balducci as their 3rd string center.

 

Need Level: 5 (good, starting-caliber player at the position)

 

 

Early round options:

 

  • Ethan Pocic

 

I don’t envision the 49ers using one of their first two picks on an offensive lineman this year. They have too many greater needs at other positions to spend one on a lineman. Pocic a versatile center, performing well at both run-blocking and pass protecting.

 

Mid round options:

  • Jon Toth
  • Pat Elfein
  • Kyle Fuller

 

Although this isn’t a deep OL class by any means, this would be the ideal time for the team to snag a lineman. After using their first few picks on more impact positions, the team can afford to use one of their mid-late rounders on an offensive lineman. Toth has ideal size at 6’4” 308 lbs, and has a very well-developed technique. Elfein exceled at run-blocking while at Ohio State. Pat uses his upper body strength to win at the point of attack. Fuller played well for two seasons while at Baylor, and is very effective at creating holes for running backs in the ground game.

 

 

 

Late round options:

  • Tyler Orlovsky
  • Isaac Asiata
  • Riley Sorenson

 

Orlovsky could go as high as round three, but will most likely fall to rounds four or five. Orlovsky played well in both the running and passing game at West Virginia. Asiata is more polished in the running game than in the passing game. Although he might be a better fit at guard, Isaac has also started at center at Utah due to injuries on their offensive line. Sorenson played extremely well last season, especially if you take into consideration he just had a battle with testicular cancer the summer before his senior season.

 

Guards

Lining up directly to the left and right of the center, the guards are responsible for creating openings for the running backs, puling to block on outside runs, and of course blocking for the quarterback long enough for him to get a good pass off.

Currently, the left guard position is filled by veteran Zane Beadles. Beadles signed with the 49ers in March 2016 and has been a very solid pickup for the team. However, behind Beadles there is very little to no depth at all. The right guard position is filled by sophomore Joshua Garnett. Garnett is a high-powered motor type of guy and while he had some bad moments last season, he is heading in the right direction.

Need level: 7 (good backup/poor starting calibre players at the position with backups)

 

Early round options:

  • Forrest Lamp

Lamp shined brightly at the Senior Bowl prior to an ankle injury cutting his time short. Lamp is exceptionally athletic and constantly wins at the point of attack. Although Forrest played left tackle at Western Kentucky, he doesn’t have ideal NFL size for tackle in the NFL. A move to guard is ideal for his success at the next level. The 49ers would most likely have to use their first or second round pick on Lamp, and I don’t envision that happening.

Mid round options:

  • Dion Dawkins
  • Jordan Morgan

While teams appear to be undecided when it comes to either lining Dawkins up at tackle or guard, I think his best fit is at guard due to his athleticism. Morgan held his own weight at the Senior Bowl, going up against the top talent in the class. Jordan has ideal size and wins often at the point of attack.

Late round options:

  • Nico Siragusa
  • Kyle Kalis

Siragusa is better at creating holes in the running game than blocking pass rushers from getting into the pocket. Although, he does have ideal size at 6’4” 326 lbs. Kalis badly needs to work on his consistency, but the pieces are there.

 

Offensive Tackles

Like every offensive lineman, tackles need to be able to block the best of them. A tackle should be able to power their blocks with quick footwork and great flexibility. Tackles usually match up against defensive ends. Currently, the team has veteran Joe Staley at left tackle, and Trent Brown at right tackle. Joe Staley weighs in at exactly 315 lbs and stands at 6’6”. As for Trent Brown, he weighs in at 355 lbs and a height of 6’8”.

Joe Staley is perhaps one of the two blue chip players left on this talent-derived roster. He has done a phenomenal job for the 49ers blocking the quarterback’s blindside since being drafted. His play did deteriorate a little from his exceptionally high standards last season which will be worth monitoring.

As for Trent Brown, while he was a bit shaky at times last season, he has shown some good traits and has a massive upside. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller said himself that Trent Brown was going to be great one day.

New signing Gary Gilliam as well as second year pro John Theus look to be the backups.

Need Level: 5 (good starting caliber players at the position)

Early round options:

  • Cam Robinson
  • Garrett Bolles
  • Ryan Ramcyzk

Robinson lost about 15 lbs prior to last season, which helped him immensely in pass-blocking. Robinson has played exceptionally well against the elite talent he has gone up against while at Alabama. While Garrett Bolles needs to work his pass protection, Bolles was still a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection after only one season at Utah. As for Ramcyzk, he is strong at both the running and passing game. However, prior injury concerns and a questionable lack of commitment has teams scratching their heads when it comes to Ryan.

Mid round options:

  • David Sharpe
  • Julie’n Davenport
  • Taylor Morton

Sharpe is a far better run-blocker than he is pass-blocker. Davenport has the length, athleticism, and upside to develop into a quality starter in the league, but still needs some major work on his technique. Morton was vital part of the high-powered Western Michigan offense. Taylor is an exceptional pass-blocker. Despite the relative quality that the 49ers have at the position, it would not be surprising to see them take a tackle here, to groom as Staley’s replacement and challenge Brown on the right side.

Late round options:

  • Javarious Leamon
  • Will Holden
  • Jermaine Eluemunor

Leamon is a very athletic tackle coming out of South Carolina State, with a great ability to anchor against opposing bull rushers. Holden would fit in perfectly at right tackle, even with starting 37 games at left tackle. Eluemunor is inconsistent – as he is still learning the sport, but he plays exceptionally well in the running game and has all the tools to become a quality player.

 

Tight End

The tight end position has developed into a hybrid of wide receivers and linemen. It appears the trend started with tight ends like Vernon Davis, but has evolved even more recently with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.

Tight ends need to be able to both block pass rushers and run routes effectively. Currently, the 49ers have Vance McDonald,  Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen and Blake Bell on their depth chart. McDonald had a career year last season, but even that wasn’t impressive when compared to the top tight ends in the league.

Need level: 6 (average starting calibre player at the position)

Early round options:

  • OJ Howard
  • David Njoku

Howard is said to be the best tight end prospect coming out of college since Vernon Davis came out of Maryland. OJ has the size, strength, and speed to become the next elite tight end in the league. Howard could very well be a top-ten, even top-five pick come Thursday. In any other draft class, Njoku is TE1. The Miami product is a dangerously quick tight end who runs routes like a wide receiver. David totalled 8 touchdowns last season, and probably would’ve been more had there not been inconsistent play under center. Njoku is almost certain to go in the first round.

Mid round options:

  • Gerald Everett
  • Evan Engram
  • Adam Shaheen

Everett displays a dangerous ability to create yards after the catch. Gerald will most likely go in rounds two or three. Engram might be one of the smaller tight ends in this class, but has great route-running skills. Shaheen has drawn lofty comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, and at 6’6” 278 lbs, it is easy to see why. Shaheen totaled a whopping 16 touchdowns in 2016, so teams will hope to draft Adam and create mismatches on defense.

Late round options:

  • Jeremy Sprinkle
  • Cole Hikutini

Sprinkle is a tad bit above average at both run-blocking and pass-catching. He has experience in two tight end sets at Arkansas, and at 6’5” 252 lbs, Jeremy could very well present nightmares to opposing defenses. Cole Hikutini totaled 656 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns last season. He could become a true security blanket for whichever quarterback is throwing his way.