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Offensive Line Roster Prediction: The Five Mortal Men Protecting Garoppolo

Bret Rumbeck
May 11, 2018 at 10:31 AM

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The 2018 NFL season formally started on March 14, 2018, though the day following the NFL Draft feels more like the unofficial start to an upcoming season of professional football.

Since January, a possible 53-man roster for the San Francisco 49ers has been over-analyzed, over-thought and over-mocked. Every scenario, even those crafted before the team signed a new player or extended a veteran, was right or wrong, depending on your view of how to build a championship football roster.

Today, we're in a better place to view the roster and determine who may or may not make the final 53-man squad. Over the next few weeks, I'll review each position and provide thoughts on who is starting, who's in reserve and who will not don the scarlet and gold this fall.

Left Tackle

Here's the coldest of cold takes: Joe Staley will be the 49ers' starting left tackle this season.

Staley has been a consistent, dominant player since the 49ers drafted him in 2007. The challenge for Staley this season is remaining injury-free. Fortunately, Staley has only missed 18 regular season games during his career.

Here's where things get interesting: Who stays around to play swing tackle for the 49ers?

At first, I thought veteran Garry Gilliam was the clear choice to remain in Santa Clara. However, tackle Darrell Williams, Jr. was on the active roster for the 49ers last fall, and in January the team signed tackle Pace Murphy to a reserve/future contract.

Gilliam has game experience, though it hasn't helped him become a better player. In fact, he only played 38 snaps for the 49ers last season before suffering an injury. The backup spot is probably Gilliam's to lose, but I'm feeling the 49ers keep Murphy, cut Gilliam and move Williams to the practice squad.

Left Guard

If you're into offensive line position battles, then ice a case of beer and rip open a bag of chicharrónes because the starting job for the left guard is wide open.

As we know, the 49ers moved veteran Joshua Garnett to injured reserve on September 2, 2017, due to his knee surgery. The unfortunate circumstance forced the team to keep Zane Beadles, one of the worst offensive linemen in the NFL, and trade for Laken Tomlinson, a far below average guard.

Lest we forget, Tomlinson's first four games for the 49ers were particularly awful, and he played terribly against Arizona in Week 9. For reasons known only to the universe, Tomlinson improved his play between Weeks 12-17. During Weeks 16 and 17, he earned two of his top three grades from Pro Football Focus.

Do not be fooled by five weeks of above-average performances, fellow Faithful. What we witnessed during these games was the apex of what Tomlinson can do in the NFL.

Enter Joshua Garnett.

I'm unclear why some fans think Garnett is not a good player and/or feel he's a draft bust. Garnett's only played one season and started 11 games, which isn't enough to determine if he's reached his professional potential or has more to offer. According to reports, Garnett's in the best shape of his life, dropping nearly 20 pounds since last fall.

The wildcard in the left guard competition is veteran Jonathan Cooper, who the 49ers signed on March 20, 2018. Cooper was a first-round draft pick in 2013 but ranks below average as a lineman. Against the 49ers last season, Cooper played one of his better games all season and did not allow a single pressure.

As I've said before, the 49ers have a bad habit of signing and starting sub-par offensive linemen. Lynch and Shanahan may keep Tomlinson around this summer and through four preseason games, but he will not make the 53-man roster. Cooper may be the competition Garnett needs to jumpstart his career and remain on the roster as a backup guard.


Before the start of free agency, anytime someone would say the 49ers needed an edge rusher, I'd politely respond with how God awful the interior offensive line played in 2017.

Like some of you, I expected the 49ers to offer a vault of gold bullion to Andrew Norwell or Josh Sitton. So, when the 49ers signed center Weston Richburg, especially after extending Daniel Kilgore's contract on February 14, 2018, it came as quite a shock.

Currently, there isn't another center on the roster who has a chance to beat Richburg out for the starting role. Expect recently signed veteran Mike Person to be assigned to the practice squad in case Richburg sustains an injury.

Right Guard

There's only one name on the roster that makes sense playing right guard, and that's Erik Magnuson. He's been in the system for a year, started two games, and from what I can tell, he seems like a player who Shanahan and the coaching staff can mold into a quality right guard.

However, it's possible Shanahan moves Cooper to right guard and keeps Magnuson as a reserve lineman to play either guard or tackle.

Right Tackle

For all the talk of drafting an edge rusher, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan decided to protect their $137.5 million quarterback and selected tackle Mike McGlinchey.

Choosing a tackle in the first round was based on two factors: the 49ers' strong desire to a move away from a patchwork offensive line and a response to league rules that favor a high-octane offense.

A blindside sack from the edge may have the crowd roaring like a wall of speakers at a Slayer show, but the league knows a game a high scoring game is what brings an audience to the stadium.

Initially, I thought the battle for the right tackle would be the best position competition when training camp started. Veteran Trent Brown had a good season, but his shoulder injury and reports that he showed up for offseason workouts out of shape may have been the last straw for Lynch and Shanahan.

Once the 49ers sent Brown packing, it was clear McGlinchy is the new crown jewel of the offensive line. Unless something crazy happens between now and Week 1, there's no reason he won't be the starting right tackle this season and for years to come.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Greg
    Team is high on Tomlinson so he is starting LG. Team will give Garnett a shot to beat Cooper whom looked pretty decent playing for Dallas last year. Magnuson will be groomed to be a back up center, Guard and emergency tackle.
    May 20, 2018 at 7:24 PM
  • mbniner
    A couple of comments. First, as noted by other posters, an 8 year veteran cannot be assigned to the practice squad. Second, don't be too quick to judge players on past performance with other teams. Shanahan is very scheme oriented in selecting talent (i.e. Goodwin) and, throughout the league there are many examples of "mediocre" players going to another team and excelling. Tomlinson did indeed improve as the season went on but just maybe he was put into a position to maximize his skill-set, a thing that Shanahan is noted for. I choose to wait until these players have at least have gone through a full off-season before discounting any of them. I trust the coaches.
    May 11, 2018 at 2:06 PM

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