The 49ers had the NFC's best rushing attack last season, but their best offensive lineman has since retired. Consequently, they'll be a worse rushing team without Joe Staley, right?
Not so fast.
Staley was a standout performer throughout his entire tenure with San Francisco, and there are extremely few offensive tackles who could be considered in his same tier. One of those few, though, happens to be the player who will be replacing him.
Trent Williams is uniquely qualified to take over for Staley. The latter went to six Pro Bowls. The former has made it in each of the last seven seasons he has played, and he's four years younger. Williams sat out all of last season amid a dispute with Washington, but his reputation precedes him.
NFL Network's Brian Baldinger holds Williams in extremely high regard.
“If he’s healthy,” the former NFL offensive lineman told The Athletic's David Lombardi, “he’s the best left tackle in football.”
Though you'd be hard-pressed to find any sort of weakness in Williams' game, he is particularly tremendous as a run blocker. As Lombardi points out, the last season in which Williams had a clean bill of health, he posted the second-best run-blocking grade in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Given the fact that he just took a full season off -- and appears to be in fantastic shape -- there is every reason to believe he should enter the 2020 season the same way. Williams has said as much in his own words.
And, if Williams is fully healthy, Baldinger believes slotting him in for Staley will be an upgrade for the 49ers' rushing attack.
“Joe Staley -- everybody knows who Joe Staley is: the ultimate, consummate pro,” Baldinger said. “With Trent Williams, there are maybe two or three other players in the league who can run block like that. That’s why I think this team, as good as they were running the football last year, if Trent is on his game -- and with a year off, there’s no reason to think he won’t be -- if he’s on his game, they’ll be a much better run-blocking offense.
“I just remember one time against the Giants, he had to go in and play guard, since they had nobody else there. So he went inside and at guard, he’s quick like [Indianapolis Colts’ All-Pro Quenton] Nelson, he’s just that dominant inside. I mean, he’s just a dominant run blocker. And so the run game, with the way that they influence blocks, could be so much more with what he can do.”
So much more?
Staley set a high bar, posting the ninth-best run-blocking grade among all qualifying tackles last season.
But if anyone is capable of clearing it, it's Williams.
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