When the San Francisco 49ers acquired offensive lineman Jonathan Martin from the Miami Dolphins for a conditional seventh-round pick, general manager Trent Baalke was hoping Martin’s collegiate coach, Jim Harbaugh, could help rehabilitate his image and boost his ego.
After three months time in the Bay Area, Baalke’s gamble is already paying off. Martin is pleased with his place in San Francisco’s locker room and is enjoying the company of his new teammates.
“It’s been great. I’ve got no complaints,” Martin said after Tuesday’s organized team activities, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s a competitive environment but everyone takes care of each other.”
Being in a competitive environment where everyone takes care of each other is an obvious plus, yet the same can’t be said for Martin’s potential position switch.
Despite playing both left and right tackle during his first two seasons in the NFL, Chris Biderman of Scout.com believes San Francisco has the expectation that Martin can learn to play guard for the 49ers.
Biderman didn’t specify which guard position the 49ers reportedly want Martin to play. But it really doesn’t matter considering San Francisco is making a huge mistake by moving Martin inside to guard.
Jonathan Martin talks about playing guard, and learning the Classics. He a penny stock worth investing in http://t.co/3XGZtyYW4l— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) March 14, 2014
When you evaluate Martin as a player and break down his past, the one thing that stands out is the fact that he has always been an offensive tackle. At no point in his career has he ever played offensive guard.
Shoot, coming out of Stanford, Martin was compared to D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the New York Jets. That’s quite the comparison, given that Ferguson had already been selected to three Pro Bowls by the time Martin entered the 2012 draft.
With that being said, one has to wonder how Martin went from being compared to Ferguson to possibly making a position switch in his third year.
Even though we don’t have all the answers as to what went wrong in his development with the Dolphins, the one thing we do know is the numbers never lie.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Martin has amassed a minus-28.9 grade overall in 23 career games. That is by far one of the worst two-year stretches of any offensive tackle in the league.
Yes, Martin made some progress in his second season, but that doesn’t change the horrific numbers he has turned in to date. Per PFF, Martin has surrendered 13 quarterback sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 62 quarterback hurries in 894 pass-block snaps.
This, in turn, means Martin allowed a quarterback pressure once every 10 snaps. Simply put, that number is way too high for a blindside protector.
Here’s what Matt Miller of Bleacher Report had to say about Martin’s disastrous pass-protection skills when he evaluated him at the end of the 2013 season:
The Stanford product struggled after being handed the left tackle position heading into the season. He displays decent footwork and an ability to slide well enough for the position, but he will let defenders initiate contact with him. He often lets pass-rushers get underneath his pads and knock him off balance without displaying much of a punch upon first contact.
Miller’s right: Martin does let defenders initiate contact with him way too often. It’s something that jumps off the tape when you analyze his game. And it also explains why defensive ends who weigh 70 pounds less are able to beat him like a drum.
If Martin would step up and initiate contact, smaller defensive ends would find it difficult to get underneath his pads and knock him off balance.
Clearly, his strength isn’t where it needs to be.
Coincidentally enough, David Levin of Bleacher Report questioned Martin’s upper-body strength when he called it “average” prior to the 2012 draft. Moreover, Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders noted that Martin has shown a lack of strength at the NFL level.
@Cianaf his functional strength is really lacking.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) June 12, 2014
Josh Norris of Rotoworld expanded on Fahey's assessment of the 312-pound offensive lineman, saying that he thinks Martin’s “functional strength is really lacking.”
If Martin’s functional strength is lacking at offensive tackle, why in the world would the 49ers want him to play offensive guard? The move would put him at a distinct disadvantage and wouldn't make sense since he would have to square off against 300-plus pound defensive tackles on every play.
Additionally, let’s not forget, blocking 300-pound defensive tackles is a lot tougher than blocking a 250-pound edge-rusher. If Martin struggled with ends like Mario Williams and Chris Clemons in the past, just imagine what tackles like Kyle Williams and Calais Campbell would do to him.
In the end, I like what the 49ers are doing with Martin. They are trying him at every possible position on the line with the hopes that he will stick at guard.
The move, from a positional standpoint, is logical. San Francisco is preparing for the worst in the Mike Iupati situation next year, Alex Boone is holding out and third-round pick Brandon Thomas is slated to miss the entire season with a torn ACL.
It’s not like the 49ers have a ton of depth behind those three guys, so someone has to fill in for Boone and Thomas while they are absent from OTAs.
The bad news is Martin isn’t Harbaugh’s long-term solution at guard, and he never will be. Miller of Bleacher Report feels Martin is best suited to play left tackle in the NFL:
Martin has the tools to be a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. He’s played both tackle positions in Miami, and while he struggled on the left side, giving up six sacks in just six games, he doesn’t possess the physicality to anchor the right side of an offensive line in the run game. He’s best suited for the left side, but he will need a lot of work before he can be trusted with a starting position.
Sure, Martin will need a lot of work before he can transform into a starting-caliber left tackle, but that’s okay because the 49ers already have an All-Pro left tackle in Joe Staley.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).