Projecting the 49ers Right Guard Situation
With former starting right guard Mike Person gone, the 49ers have their first opening along the offensive line in two seasons. Person, Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey were locked for the starting lineup in 2019, and the latter four remain that way heading into next season.
Person’s 2019 impact will not be difficult to replace. He registered 61.8 grade from Pro Football Focus, which isn't anything to boast about. What does matter in replicating is the cohesion and camaraderie on the line is very important for this team’s identity.
As the roster currently stands, the 49ers have three possibilities for right guard. Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton both logged time at the position last season, while Ben Garland has played there throughout his career.
Of course possible future additions could turn this into a four-man race.
Brunskill was one of last season’s saviors. He filled in all over for injured 49ers, and stabilized a hobbled line. He played tackle for most of his games, but started at right guard the final two games of the regular season.
Starting Brunskill would also not limit his versatility. Teams have often utilized a starter at one position as the backup at another. If a tackle is injured and Brunskill is forced to slide down the line, the 49ers know he’s more than capable at doing so (73.0 PFF).
His worst game came in a tough matchup with Aaron Donald and the Rams, but he held his own in his other games. In fact, Brunskill played so well at tackle that some fans (prematurely) clamored for him to remain in the starting lineup instead of Staley or McGlinchey. It’s not everyday you see fans argue in favor of an undrafted free agent over a franchise left tackle, but it happened last season.
Fortunately for the 49ers, the “Brunskill or Staley?” conversation should take a back seat as Brunskill fights for the right guard spot.
The former AAF lineman entered last offseason just trying to make an NFL team. One year later, he’s the front-runner at starting for a Super Bowl favorite.
If interior line-play proves too much for Brunskill, or the 49ers opt to use him as their swing tackle, Garland becomes the favorite.
The journeyman was a huge part of the 49ers’ late-season surge. He stepped in without missing a beat and often led the charge in San Francisco’s “run it down their throats” offense.
Counting playoffs, Garland’s six starts were a career-high. His 59.1 PFF grade is not indicative of how important he was to the offense. He was possibly the unsung hero of the 49ers’ season. Center is a very important position, and he gelled perfectly with the rest of the line.
If Garland does win the right guard job, that would create another problem. The 49ers would have no experienced backup center. But then again, just as Brunskill could move from guard to tackle in a pinch, Garland could slide over to center.
All in all, Garland is an established reserve interior lineman that is best suited for high-quality reserve play in the event of an injury.
Right after San Francisco cut Person to save some cash, the team redirected some money toward signing a possible replacement. The 49ers are Compton’s fifth team in five years, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a valuable asset.
Like Garland and Brunskill, Compton is a versatile piece of the offensive line puzzle. He’s a true guard, something the 49ers don’t have outside of Tomlinson, but has also logged time at right tackle.
Unlike Garland and Brunskill, however, Compton is fresh off a poor season in New York (49.7 PFF). Of course, the entire Jets’ offensive line was abhorrent (52 sacks allowed), so that could have inflamed his poor season.
Although Compton provides experience and fresh blood, he’s really more of a depth-piece.
This all depends on what the 49ers do at picks 13 and 31. If an elite offensive line prospect is on the board, regardless of guard experience, the 49ers should at least think about it.
Even if that pick, for example Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, is more of a tackle, the 49ers could try to play him at guard for a season or two, then move him back when Staley retires.
Some options at the back end of the first round, or early second round if San Francisco trades back, could entice the 49ers as well. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz, Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland and Houston’s Josh Jones are all quality prospects.
Other options in later rounds include Oregon’s Shane Lemiuex, Fresno State’s Netane Muti, Washington’s Nick Harris and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz. All have starter potential and would infiltrate the starting competition.
If the team once again passes up on interior line help through the draft, expect further free agency scrounging rather than a trade. Most linemen available via trade are out of San Francisco’s price-range and the free agents are more starter/backup than immediate upgrades.