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Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports


49ers Roster Breakdown: Trent Williams the Key Domino for the Run Game

Justin Wong
Mar 14, 2021 at 1:14 PM0


The zone-blocking run scheme has been a Kyle Shanahan staple for several years with an emphasis on athleticism in his offensive linemen to highlight the running backs. What could we expect from the offensive line and running backs this season?

Regardless of who goes under center, the 49ers only have two starting offensive linemen heading into the offseason with right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Laken Tomlinson. Oft-injured center Weston Richburg is set to retire while there should be an open competition for the right guard spot. Versatile offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill is an exclusive rights free agent and was tendered to a one-year contract. The biggest question this offseason lies in the 49ers' ability to re-sign unrestricted free agent tackle Trent Williams to an extension.


The initial approach by the 49ers' front office to the running back position was to aggressively target free agents. While full back Kyle Juszczyk ended up paying dividends despite the high price tag, the same can't be said for running backs Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman. All three are free agents, with Juszczyk as the most likely candidate to be retained; running backs Jeff Wilson Jr. and Austin Walter were given one-year deals. With Wilson, Jr., Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert - all undrafted running backs - achieving success in Shanahan's system, it seems the head coach now puts less emphasis on the individual player and more on the scheme fit. The 49ers seem content with a running back-by-committee strategy, having Mostert as the presumed starter.

49ers OL Free Agents


  • Trent Williams — UFA
  • Tom Compton — UFA
  • Ben Garland — UFA
  • Tony Bergstrom — UFA
  • Hroniss Grasu — UFA
  • Daniel Brunskill — ERFA

49ers RB Free Agents


  • Tevin Coleman — UFA
  • Jerick McKinnon — UFA
  • Kyle Juszczyk — UFA
  • Jeff Wilson Jr. — RFA
  • Austin Walter — ERFA

Initial Outlook


With just two starters set to return on the offensive line, is it time to panic? It could be depending on one key domino—Trent Williams.

The initial reports concerning the 49ers retaining their prized left tackle have been positive; Williams has enjoyed his stay with 49ers but is curious to see his value on the open market. The 49ers aren't looking for a hometown discount for Williams as his projected annual salary could range between $20-25 million.

It's encouraging that the 49ers retained Brunskill because his versatility will have a pivotal role in how they address the interior spots. Brunskill's proven ability to play both center and right guard are key, as the 49ers need to figure out who takes over at both positions.

Between their current pool of Brunskill, Colton McKivitz, and Justin Skule I think they'll be able to fill the right guard spot internally.

The center position is a more critical piece to the Shanahan offense as I would expect them to be more aggressive in upgrading that department. Once again, the caliber of free agent offensive linemen the 49ers can target will depend on their impending free-agent left tackle.


Between the two position groups, priority goes to the offensive line over the running backs. The 49ers seem content with their current stable of running backs, but they could add a couple of late free agents to compete in training camp.

Free Agency


If the 49ers are unable to re-sign Williams to a long-term deal, there aren't many great options for a plan B. Williams is in a tier of his own for this free agent class; the next best options would be the Steelers' Alejandro Villanueva, the Chiefs' Mitchell Schwartz, and the Vikings' Riley Reiff. It's a steep drop-off in talent that gives more leverage for Williams at the negotiating table.

It would be ideal if they can keep it in-house and re-sign Garland to a reasonable deal to compete for a starting role. Both Garland and Brunskill have played center in the past but given the importance of the position, I'd like to see the 49ers get a more established player.

If the 49ers are unable to re-sign Williams, they could potentially shift their budget towards the interior. The center free agent class is highlighted by the Packers' Corey Linsley but there could be some value with the Patriots' David Andrews and the Falcons' Alex Mack; both carry injury concerns (gasp), but have enough upside to justify the move. While I think the 49ers are content at filling in their guard spots internally or through the NFL draft, it would make sense for them to find some value in the Giants' Kevin Zeitler and the Bears' Kyle Long. After seeing prized free agent Richburg level off due to injuries, I can understand the level of caution by 49ers fans when it comes to injury concerns.

As mentioned earlier, I would not expect the 49ers to make any notable additions at the running back position via free agency. A couple of notable names that would be good fits for the 49ers' running scheme are the Colts' Marlon Mack, the Panthers' Mike Davis, and the Broncos' Phillip Lindsay.

Draft


If the 49ers are unable to figure out their tackle situation between Williams or free agency, it becomes almost certain that the 49ers invest a Day 1 draft pick on the position. Aside from Penei Sewell, a project top-five pick, the 49ers should have options in Northwestern Rashawn Slater, Virginia Tech Christian Darrisaw, Alabama Alex Leatherwood, Michigan Jalen Mayfield, and Oklahoma State Tevin Jenkins as tackle prospects.

The top guard prospect in this year's draft class is USC Alijah Vera-Tucker, but I would expect the 49ers to look at the interior spots in the later rounds. The 49ers have seven draft picks in Day 3 and could find some value in this department.

Unless Shanahan falls in love with a particular running back prospect (circa 2017 Joe Williams), I would not expect the 49ers to draft a running back this year. They'll likely venture into the undrafted free agency pool similar to last season when they signed Austin Walter, Salvon Ahmed, and JaMycal Hasty.

Overall Outlook


If the 49ers' front office feels like it is a win-now team with the current roster, it cannot afford to blink on the Williams' situation. The plan B scenario is not a pretty one with a weak free agent tackle class along with uncertainty to trust a rookie at left tackle. The rest of the depth concerns have feasible alternatives with free agent signings and/or mid-round draft picks to round out the group.

The running back group looks to be in good shape as long as the offensive line is solidified. There's always going to be a concern with the viability of Mostert for a full-season slate but I'll give the 49ers the benefit of the doubt in their ability to find production from whoever takes carries in the backfield.

Next: Roster Breakdown: Secondary
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.


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