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49ers Draft Discussion: Interior Offensive Line Needs

With the passing of the latest CBA, (See this article for a breakdown of some of the changes) things started to move fast in free agency. When I started researching this article I was wondering if San Francisco would be drafting an interior offensive lineman later in the draft to learn behind Mike Person or if they might go after one of the bigger names early (possibly after a trade back). Either way, Person was generally seen as the weakest link of last year’s o-line and a prime candidate for replacement. The quality of Person’s play has declined since 2018 and that seems to have been apparent to the front office as well, as the 31-year-old guard was cut on March 19th. No matter where else he might go, his photogenic contribution from the Washington game will be a highlight for The Faithful for years:

Image Credit

San Francisco has been clearing as much cap space for the 2020 season as they reasonably can, leading to at least one painful move (but cheers for having the 2nd least dead money on the books, though!). They currently have $12,390,816 projected for last year’s interior offensive line starters and primary backups. The starters for the majority of the 2019 season were LG Laken Tomlinson ($5,750,000), C Weston Richburg ($4,390,141), and RG Mike Person (Cut, $0 in dead cap). Ben Garland (Signed for 1 year, $2.25M) filled in at both Guard and Center at times this year and Daniel Brunskill ($675,000, signed as ERFA for 2020) filled in at both Guard and Tackle. Shortly after cutting Person on Thursday, they agreed to a 1 year $3M deal (likely incentive-laden) with former NY Jet, Tom Compton. Brunskill already has a year in the system and has filled in at Guard already, so he would be the favorite to get the starting nod; Compton will probably compete for a roster spot with either a pick or a UDFA. Compton was also statistically worse than Person in pretty much every metric.

Weston Richburg hopes to be ready by the start of training camp and Ben Garland will be there to back him up, so this isn’t necessarily the year to address the Center position (unless they land a G/C prospect). Brunskill had a strong season as a back-up, but will that translate into a full-time starter role? I think it will be his job to lose this season and I also think San Francisco will bring in more competition for the position this year. The question is, how much draft capital might they spend? I think it’s safe to assume that the 49ers will NOT be taking IOL with the #13 pick this season. Many mock drafts have no IOL taken during the first round, and those that I’ve seen do so are recommending one of the available OTs switch to guard. This projections assumes that San Francisco is involved in some type of trade-back so they have picks available prior to round 5.

Day 2

Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
Height: 6’3” Weight: 307lbs
Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projections for Cesar Ruiz tend to result in him being selected as an early 2nd-rounder and he is often the first non-tackle off the board. Ruiz has experience playing both guard and center in college and has the potential to become a starter at either in year one. He has the lateral quickness needed to successfully execute pulls and to move up to block at the second level. Ruiz uses his strength to sustain blocks and has the tenacious mentality to play from whistle to whistle. He needs some work on his technique and his arm length isn’t ideal but he projects to be a long-term starter in the league.

Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU
Height: 6’3” Weight: 312lbs
Image Credit

Lloyd Cushenberry III is another IOL prospect who could line up at either guard or center. Not only is he a contender for best name in this year’s draft, his combination of athleticism and technique also serve to set him apart from the others. He’s strong in pass protection but could use some work on his balance and coordination as a whole. He’s willing to find action on every play but this sometimes results in a tendency to over-pursue his blocks at the second level. He’s got the drive that Shanahan likes to see in a player and was also awarded the honor of wearing LSU’s No.18 Jersey, demonstrating his character on and off the field. He projects as a round 2 or 3 selection.

Day 3

Yasir Durant, Missouri
Height: 6’6” Weight: 331lbs
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Jumping a bit further down the list of prospects to day 3, we find Yasir Durant. The Mizzou product is someone that could still be there in the 5th round that would offer some upside over some of the other linemen still available in that range. Durant spent much of his college career as a tackle but also has experience at the guard position. Having that kind of versatility in a prospect would allow him to be molded into the position of greatest need. It would also be helpful given that San Francisco’s 2019 swing tackle is likely going to be their 2020 starting guard. Durant pulled plenty of times in his tenure at Missouri and has experience with a zone scheme. He moves well for his size and can throw his weight around when needed. Durant will need some technical development when it comes to his hand work and positioning to succeed in the NFL.

Gage Cervenka (#59), Clemson
Height: 6’3” Weight: 325lbs
Image Credit

Towards the end of the draft, the 49ers have picks 217 and 245 and could look to fill their IOL need with a late flier. Gage Cervenka projects as a physically powerful lineman who has played as both center and guard. He’s a great mover and his play shines when blocking for the run game. Cervenka converted from defensive tackle in 2016 and is still learning his position; consequently, he’s considered a project due to his limited technique in pass protection and poor hand-work. That being said, the former Tiger has the right physical abilities to give him a chance to succeed at the NFL level if he lands with an organization willing to coach and mentor him.

These are a few of the options that I like as fits for the 49ers offense. Half of these options would require a trade-back and I think the only way John Lynch doesn’t trade #31 is if the right prospect in a critically needed position falls to them. What’s most likely to happen? As much as I like Ruiz and Cushenberry III, Shanahan and Lynch don’t spend a lot of capital on guards, and I think it is unlikely they start doing so now. It is much more likely that San Francisco ends up with a late day 3 guy or a UDFA. For example, Washburn G Kyle Hinton fits that mold and reportedly had an official visit scheduled with the 49ers prior to everything getting canceled.

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With Mike Person getting cut and the 49ers only signing a depth piece to replace him, do they look to the draft for their next starting Guard?

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