No conversation about the needs of the San Francisco 49ers goes off without mentioning the Offensive Line. It's no secret that the offense lives, and dies by success, and failure of its blockers. With David Baas being the only notable possible free-agent departure, the current line has no ceiling on how good it might be next year. One more summer of running Hamstring Hill - or whatever it's called - and these guys are going to be carved out of wood.
The bad news is that even wood breaks.
The other good news is that it's almost time to start overhauling that leaky dam that caused so much third-down frustration last season.
As always there are three main ways to acquire players for any given position: trade, draft, or free-agent signing. Because no team in its right mind would trade away lineman talent in this league, anyone thinking SF have a shot at acquiring Michael Oher this off-season can put the dunce cap back on and go sit in the corner. Seeing 'The Blindside' in theatres does not make you an expert.
Many fans seem snagged on the idea of drafting talented offensive tackles and guards. There are no problems with this as long as other options are not missed.
The Saints, for example, have numerous restricted free agents this year, and in spite of the bliss surrounding New Orleans between the Superbowl and Ash Wednesday, it's doubtful all of them will return to attempt the repeat. Notable linemen from the champs include Jahri Evans, Jermon Bushrod, and Jammal Brown.
One of my favorite front office tactics is to attack division rivals by making offers to their players, which would either take talent away from them, or at least drive up the price they pay for that talent. Deuce Lutui, for instance, will be on the market, and could make one heck of a guard in SF.
Another way of looking for O-line talent is position-specific. Right tackle is the most pressing need currently, and Willie Colon from the Steelers might be available.
"After catching a lot of heat after last season’s wildly inconsistent performance, Willie Colon has made an improvement at right tackle for the Steelers. He’s done an okay job keeping Roethlisberger clean and turning in a season that may not beg for an upgrade this seasoned in one of the better seasons for a right tackle in pass protection this year. Though Colon hasn’t been able to blow people off the snap in run-blocking, he’s done an average job for a line that has done a nice job allowing Mendenhall to become a good, young runner." -- Footballsfuture.com
Free Agents are generally lower risk aquisitions than Drafting Rookies, but they don't give you the potential future that drafting linemen does. And so we move on to...
There are many, many talented offensive linemen in this year's draft. Dare I say, however, several of the best will be gone by the time San Francisco makes its first pick. If one of those guys drops to the 49ers pick they can grab 'em. It's important though, for SF not to jump on the first tackle the have a shot at, just because it's a need. They need to NOT pass on a talent (like Spiller, for example) in favor of a tackle who will be there at 17.
The Combine may end up sorting out exactly who goes where but most experts have already decided the general order Linemen are going to be drafted in.
Here is a sampling the favorite linemen in this year's draft:
These guys should be gone before SF picks
1 Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
2 Bruce Campbell, Maryland
3 Anthony Davis, Rutgers
These guys should be around for the 49ers to consider in the first
4 Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
5 Trent Williams, Oklahoma
6 Mike Iupeti, Idaho
These guys are up in the air, from the second round on
7 Vladimir Ducasse, U-Mass
8 Charles Brown, USC
9 Selvish Capers, West Virginia
10 Jason Fox, Miami
11 Jon Asamoah, Illinois
12 Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
13 Mike Johnson, Alabama
14 John Jerry, Mississippi
15 Brandon Carter, Texas Tech
Now the list could go on, and on, and on but the point I'm driving home here is that, with the exception of a few early players, offensive linemen in this years draft are plentiful, and not too likely to make an immediate impact on a contending team.
The important thing to keep in mind about an O-line on the upswing is that they function as one unit. I've compared offensive lines to Voltron or Devastator (of Transformers fame) as one giant machine derived from 5 individual machine, and if one component doesn't run smooth, the whole system gets a bumpy ride.
New offensive-line coach Mike Solari has some work to do in order to keep this unit improving it's function over the next year, and it starts with making sure you have all the parts for the big machine.