Jon Durr-Getty Images

Jon Durr-Getty Images



The San Francisco 49ers' trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has taken a huge need off the board heading into 2018. While plenty of other needs remain in the NFL Draft, the Niners should be inclined to focus on the offensive line first before worrying about other positions.


It's not the sexy way to go, per se, but the San Francisco 49ers should use their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to select the best offensive lineman available.

The Niners are likely to secure one of the top three picks in April's draft. After landing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo via a trade with the New England Patriots, trading down from whatever high-level spot San Francisco ends up in is a real possibility. And wherever the 49ers wind up, their No. 1 priority should be their offensive line.

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Sure, the lofty pick would be someone like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley if he was available at the Niners' first selection. But going with an albeit-talented tailback in Round 1 doesn't jive with head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner's way of doing things. Even with incumbent running back Carlos Hyde hitting free agency in 2017, Shanahan and Turner are much more likely to wait until later rounds to find a running back like they tried to do with Joe Williams this year (Round 4).

Unlike last year, the 2018 O-line draft class is a bit heavier stocked towards the top. Even a trade down towards the bottom of the top 10 could result in additional draft capital and the landing of a high-profile O-line talent.

Let's explore why this should be the route taken.

According to Football Outsiders, the Niners' current O-line ranks 16th in run blocking and 22nd in pass protection. Granted, this is up from the 32nd and 30th rankings, respectively, from a year ago. But it's still pretty bad. The problem areas, of course, have been along the interior positions, especially left guard Laken Tomlinson and center Daniel Kilgore, as shown in the Pro Football Focus season grades below:


The graphic doesn't show left tackle Joe Staley (77.5 overall) or right tackle Trent Brown (76.8 overall), but that doesn't mean tackles should be ruled out of the draft equation. Remember, Staley will turn 34 years old next season. It's time to start thinking, at least, about a possible long-term replacement. Perhaps Brown switches over from the right side, but that leaves a void at his spot.

Back to the interior play, though. Free agency is a way the Niners could look for some help. One potential target is free-agent-to-be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, who is having a solid season in offensive coordinator Mike Shula's system and a possible target I broke down over at Niner Noise earlier.

But if Norwell is re-signed or signs elsewhere, this remains a critical need for San Francisco. There are two Notre Dame O-linemen worth considering in Round 1. The most notable, of course, is offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey -- a player worth considering in the top 10 and someone who could anchor a line for years. Offensive guard Quenton Nelson is another player seeing his draft stock rise this season, although he might be more worthy of a target later in Round 1, if the Niners can maneuver further down in the order and maximize the draft value.

Regardless, going after upgrades along the O-line is as smart a move the Niners could make this April.

Just ask former 49ers and Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan (h/t Fourth & Nine's Dylan DeSimone):


If the 49ers go this route, it certainly won't generate the same kind of buzz the Niners made with last year's two first-round selections, Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. But remember, the Niners could start imposing their will up front with some solid selections to beef up the O-line. Doing so would set the tone for a still-rebuilding offense and ensure much better protection for the team's newest big investment, Garoppolo.

Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @PeterPanacy on Twitter.