For the past year or two, the San Francisco 49ers offensive line has constantly been referred to as the best offensive line in the entire NFL. A case could definitely be made for those claims. The 49ers’ offensive line has played very well the past couple of years, and people are taking notice. But if you’re a 49ers’ fan and watch every snap of every game, you would probably also say that there has been times that the line has played very poorly as well.
The offensive line of the 49ers features three first round picks in Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis. The other two spots on the line are filled by tackle-converted-into-guard Alex Boone and an unknown at center. Jonathan Goodwin took the center position that last three years, but is now 35 years old and a free agent. It’s unknown exactly who will fill Goodwin’s spot, but after the 49ers extended Daniel Kilgore, it is believed that it is his spot to lose.
Staley continued to prove that he is one of the best left tackles in the league. The rest of the line struggled a bit throughout the season, most notably Anthony Davis. Davis is extremely young and raw, and it shows in his game. In 2012, he took some steps forward, but in 2013 he struggled quite a bit. Especially in the NFC Championship Game where he allowed Colin Kaepernick to be strip sacked twice, with one of them being recovered by Seattle and turned into points. Iupati also struggled quite a bit. In 2012 he was touted as a top five guard in the leauge, but took a decent sized step back in 2013. Iupati also missed a few games with an injury, but other than that and a couple scares from Joe Staley, the line stayed healthy.
The line has always been highly rated when it comes to run blocking. As a group, there is very few who are better. They took a step back last year, but in 2012, it was a thing of beauty to watch them push back defensive lines five yards off the line of scrimmage. This year they helped guide 30 year old Frank Gore to 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. However, their pass blocking has always been a bit spotty. It’s very common to see them struggle as a unit from time to time. In 2013, Kaepernick was sacked 39 times which was tied for 11th most in the entire league. But are sacks and rushing yards good indicators of an offensive line’s worth?
It’s difficult to rank offensive lines. There is no real concrete stat that can give insight to an offensive lineman’s play. Some people will look at sacks as a way to judge them, but there are too many factors that come into play with each sack. Was it because the quarterback held the ball for too long, or did he run into a defender? Was it a blitz? Did someone miss their assignment, or did they just get beat? Did the receiver fall down? Or how about on teams with less sacks? Does the quarterback get the ball out quick? Did a defender miss a tackle? Was there a penalty that voided the sack? There’s just too much going on during each play without looking at every player on every snap. And that’s only focusing on pass blocking let alone run blocking.
That’s why a lot of analysts and fans turn to advanced stats. Advanced stats aren’t perfect, but they give you a little more insight to how well a player is playing. In this case, according to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers’ offensive line ranked 11th overall in the entire league. And Football Outsiders list the 49ers’ OL 29th in run blocking and 22nd in pass blocking.
There are debates about how effective advanced stats are, and you are free to believe whatever you like. If you take any certain advanced stats as law, then you know exactly where the 49ers’ offensive line ranks. If you would rather rank the lines by giving them the eye test, then you might have a different opinion.
It’s unclear exactly where the 49ers’ offensive ranks in the league. But just think: how many other offensive lines would you take over the 49ers’? It’s probably not many, so that’s a good indicator on where they rank. In my mind, the 49ers offensive line ranks in the top five of the entire league. Advanced stats might disagree, and just regular fans might disagree, but the 49ers passed my eye test. They still are very inconsistent, but when they’re good, they’re great and when they’re bad, they’re still better than most teams’ lines.