Editor's Note: Here is the second installment of a five-part series on the organization’s top offseason priorities.
The 49ers have drafted at least one offensive lineman six years in a row. Five of those years they grabbed two.
Again, the 49ers figure to be on the lookout for linemen this offseason.
It’s even possible they could add a player who started every game for four consecutive seasons before he was limited to just seven starts in an injury-plagued 2014.
Anthony Davis has “guaranteed” an attempted comeback in 2016 after stepping away from the NFL last year to allow his mind and body a chance to heal. But if and how he fits into the Kelly’s zone scheme is a big question.
Davis has yet to file for reinstatement off the NFL’s reserve/retired list. There is no timetable for his return, according to a source close to Davis. And even when/if it does happen, it’s difficult to believe the 49ers’ offseason plan will be altered in the least. The 49ers cannot assume Davis will re-emerge as the same player they had in his prime.
Joe Staley is set at left tackle. Daniel Kilgore looks like the man at center. Andrew Tiller, Marcus Martin, Erik Pears and Brandon Thomas are set up to compete for the guard positions. However, Thomas did not show the ability to move well enough last year to make any impact in a zone scheme. He did not even earn his way onto the field last season.
Alex Boone started 13 games at left guard but does not figure to return in 2016. He is set to hit the open market. If the 49ers had designs on keeping him, they could have signed him to an extension at any point in the past two years.
Tiller, who took over for struggling Jordan Devey in the middle of the season, looks like a favorite to join Staley and Kilgore in the starting lineup. That would leave spots to fill at one guard position and right tackle.
Davis and Trenton Brown are the most likely options at right tackle. Brown showed some promise late in the season, but he is still very raw. Pears started 14 games at right tackle last year. If he holds onto a roster spot, it'll likely be as a guard or backup tackle.
It’s unlikely the 49ers can find a starting caliber lineman in free agency. Good offensive linemen are rarely available on the open market. At any point in the draft, an offensive lineman should interest the 49ers.
Obviously, the 49ers need better production from their line. Carlos Hyde averaged 4.1 yards a carry before he was sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot. For the entire season, the 49ers averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.
In eight starts apiece, Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were sacked 28 and 25 times, respectively. Philadelphia’s quarterbacks last season under Kelly were sacked 16 fewer times over the season.
It does not matter who starts at quarterback next season. Unless the offensive line provides a cleaner pocket, Kelly's short-passing game will never have a chance to take flight.