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49ers Guards and Center Fail to Make the Grade, According to PFF

Jun 14, 2024 at 11:25 AM

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In the run-up to the NFL draft, 49ers fans were clamoring for the team to select a right tackle, which many considered to be the position of greatest need. Yet, grading and projections by Pro Football Focus (PFF) suggest the Niners' interior line needs improvement equally or more, especially in pass protection.

PFF recently released its rankings of centers and guards ahead of the 2024 season. None of the San Francisco guards cracked PFF's top 32 ranking, and Jake Brendel was ranked a pedestrian 21st best center in the league.

Pro Football Focus writer Thomas Valentine noted Brendel's pass-blocking grade suffered greatly in 2023, but he "recorded a career-high 70.5 run-blocking grade, which ranked 15th among centers."

Valentine said there is "hope and optimism that Brendel, who recorded a 71.9 pass-blocking grade in his rookie season, can improve his all-around game next season."

According to PFF, a 71.9 pass-block grade would have ranked seventh-best among centers this past year, better than the grades given to the Eagles' recently retired, future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kelce, or the Lions' Frank Ragnow, considered to be among the league's best centers.

PFF graded all the Niners' interior linemen better in run-blocking than pass protection.

Right guard Jon Feliciano ranked fourth-best among guards in run-blocking (87.0) but 29th in pass-blocking (66.5) despite yielding zero sacks and allowing only two quarterback hits.

Left guard Aaron Banks allowed just one sack in 2022 and yielded none this past year. Yet, PFF graded Banks a lowly 54.9 in pass-blocking this past year, ranking his pass-protection grade 84th among all guards.

The editors of Pro Football Focus state, "In a 'fault-based' system, the best pass protectors are expected to avoid losses, and each play is assigned a different level of difficulty or expectation based on down, distance, quarterback depth," and a host of other factors.

In the Super Bowl, Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo confounded the Niners' interior offensive line with a heavy dose of well-timed six-man blitzes. The Chiefs blitzed on 51 percent of Brock Purdy's dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate since Spagnuolo joined the team in 2019.

Collectively, the Niners' interior line yielded four quarterback hits and ten pressures and earned its worst overall pass-blocking grade of the season:

  • Aaron Banks (23.1)
  • Jake Brendel (67.6)
  • Jon Feliciano (37.3)
  • Sencer Burford (44.7)

Only in the Week 16 game against the Ravens did the interior give up more pressures (11).

The 49ers selected Kansas tackle Dominic Puni, one of the best collegiate pass protectors, in the draft's third round. Puni has been plugged into the depth chart at right guard and will be given an opportunity to earn snaps immediately.

Click here to view PFF's rankings of NFL centers.

Click here to view PFF's rankings of NFL guards.

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