San Francisco 49ers

Thin at tackle: The secret of 49ers lineman Joe Staley's longevity

49ers tackle Joe Staley is one of just six players from the 2007 draft currently on an NFL roster.
49ers tackle Joe Staley is one of just six players from the 2007 draft currently on an NFL roster. Sacramento Bee file

The Sporting News thought the 49ers' 2007 draft was worthy of a B+ grade.

Linebacker Patrick Willis was a great top pick, the publication raved, but the team's other first-round choice, tackle Joe Staley, was a mere "workout warrior" and a "big-time reach."

Eleven years later, Willis and 25 other first-round picks from the 2007 draft are out of the league, but Staley still is going strong.

The 49ers left tackle turns 34 in August and admitted recently that he dealt with "body fatigue" issues during the team's 0-9 start that had him wondering how long he had left. But as was the case with anyone associated with the 2017 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo's arrival and the team's late-season surge served as a shot of adrenaline for Staley who is eager and excited about the two seasons remaining on his contract and perhaps could play a little longer than that.

"I'm so far gone from that right now," he said of what he called end-of-career thoughts. "And I'm just really looking forward to this year and then the next year of my career. And who knows? If I feel great, I'm going to play another two years, three, 18, I don't know."

Part of the reason Staley has lasted this long has to do with a decision he made during his third NFL offseason.

Early in his career, he felt he needed to bulk up to handle the Michael Strahans of the league and got as heavy as 330 pounds. Suddenly a guy who had begun college as a fleet-footed tight end saw himself as "real fat."

"I couldn't move. I felt sluggish all the time," Staley said recently. "I kind of made a change that offseason and was like, 'I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to sacrifice what made me an NFL player to try to be some kind of size that everybody thinks I have to be.'"

So he got down to the size he was while playing at Central Michigan. Last year, he said, he was 295 pounds, which must be one of the lightest — if not the lightest — weights for a starting NFL offensive tackle. He made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

That weight is not a problem for coach Kyle Shanahan, who wants his offensive linemen mobile enough to operate an offense built on outside-zone runs. In that way, the 49ers' current offensive line — first-round pick Mike McGlinchey is tall at 6-8, but he's a relatively slender 309 pounds — is a lot like the small-but-quick lines under Bobb McKittrick, the team's famed offensive line coach from 1979 to 1999.

Perhaps that return to the past shouldn't be surprising, considering that Shanahan's father, Mike, was the 49ers' offensive coordinator for three seasons when McKittrick was coaching the line and who once had an offensive line with the Denver Broncos that averaged 291 pounds.

Staley, meanwhile, has had a few offseason surgeries over his 11-year career but no major injuries. He's missed four starts in his last seven seasons. Staying as light as possible likely is one of the reasons for his good health, he said, and he never has taken long breaks. He's always been in training mode since his career began.

And, of course, there's one more important factor.

"And that's also luck, " he said. "I'm not going to step in and say I've done everything right. I've been really lucky that we haven't had anything major. So my knees and everything feel really good. I'm ready to go."

2007 first rounders who remain in the NFL

With pick, drafting team and current team

9th: WR Ted Ginn, Dolphins, Saints

12th: RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills, Raiders

18th: DB Leon Hall, Bengals, Raiders

21st: S Reggie Nelson, Jaguars, Raiders

28th: OT Joe Staley, 49ers, 49ers

31st: TE Greg Olsen, Bears, Panthers