Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN names 49ers offensive line the worst pass-blocking unit in the NFL, thanks to its interior

Jun 7, 2019 at 11:07 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers offensive line was left mostly untouched this offseason. The same five starters from 2018 will be returning in 2019, and that's potentially a problem according to ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder.

Walder recently handed out NFL pass-blocking awards (because it's the offseason) and named the 49ers' big men up front as the worst pass-blocking offensive line in the NFL. He notes that a big focus this offseason was bolstering the team's struggling pass rush, but the lack of offensive line upgrades could be a mistake.

Walder wrote that the 49ers are solid at the anchor points with tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. While good tackles are important when it comes to pass blocking, that doesn't mean as much if your interior linemen do a poor job at it.

"We know this because that's the problem the 49ers faced a year ago with the same set of offensive linemen we're expecting them to play in 2019," wrote Walder.

That could be a problem for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is returning from an ACL injury suffered last season.

"Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan must be banking on continuity resulting in interior O-line improvement," Walder adds. "Otherwise, Garoppolo's return to health will be for naught."

Staley on Wednesday discussed the continuity of the offensive line heading into the 2019 season.

"That is very rare in the NFL, especially in this day and age with free agency, and guys leaving, coming, and going, and everything, to keep the same group of five guys year after year," Staley said. "Hopefully we can do it not just this year but years forward.

"We feel very confident. The guys are working really, really hard right now to build on what we did last year. Last year was not perfect for us, but we have a lot to improve on. We're doing that right now. We're doing the little things right now in practice that we can do."

McGlinchey agrees with Staley.

"It's extremely important to have the five guys back in the same positions as we were last year," McGlinchey said. "It builds a lot of chemistry moving forward."

Center Weston Richburg was among the significant free agent signings last year. While he put up a career-worst Pro Football Focus grade of 51.9 in 2018, he played through much of the season while dealing with ongoing knee and quad injuries.

Richburg sustained his knee injury during a Week 4 contest against the Los Angeles Chargers but still managed to start 15 games. He underwent offseason surgery to take care of the injury but has missed the entire offseason program while rehabbing.

"I think it affected his play late in the year," general manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area in January. "He was having trouble anchoring. We decided to go in there and get the thing cleaned up. It's going to be an extensive rehab. He'll be right up until training camp. We feel comfortable that the end result is it will allow him to perform to the great ability that he does have."

While guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person had adequate Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grades of 74.1 and 71.9, respectively, Richburg came in at 61.6. It was actually run blocking where each interior offensive linemen received their lowest grades (Richburg — 50.3, Tomlinson — 59.8, Person — 61.2).

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