The scouting combine begins next week, and the 49ers will be busy. They are projected to have a league-high 12 picks and could use help at just about every position. Over the next few days we’ll look at every spot on the team as well as which college prospects might fit with the 49ers.
Need level: moderate to high
Under contract: Trent Brown, Colin Kelly, Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin, Erik Pears, Ian Silberman, Joe Staley, Brandon Thomas, Andrew Tiller
There probably are only two spots along the line at which the 49ers feel comfortable writing a starter’s name in ink: left tackle and center. In Staley and Kilgore, the team not only has two dependable players but linemen who have the athleticism to fit into the zone-blocking schemes Chip Kelly likes to use (and which the 49ers, who had been a traditional power-blocking team, mixed in last year).
The best you can say about the other three spots is there will be competition. Martin, Pears, Silberman, Thomas and Tiller are all candidates to start at guard. Martin split time last season between center and right guard, and the team has seemed eager to find him a starting spot. Coaches last year thought Silberman, a sixth-round pick in 2015, had potential but needed more seasoning. The 49ers originally signed Pears to compete at guard, but he ended up playing most of the season at right tackle after Anthony Davis unexpectedly sat out the season. The unsung Tiller, who began the season on the practice squad, brought stability when he finally became a starter.
Jordan Devey, who started nine games last season at right guard but struggled, is an exclusive rights free agent. That means the 49ers easily could get him back if they want him to compete for a spot. Alex Boone, a starter since 2012, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers and his agents will meet in Indianapolis next week but it’s unlikely they get a deal done before free agency begins March 9.
Davis must apply for reinstatement with the league office before he can rejoin the team. If he does and he is in playing shape, he presumably would compete at right tackle with Brown, who showed promise in two end-of-season starts. Then there’s the potential for a draft pick or two.
Staley made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and hasn’t missed a start since 2010. He’s signed through the 2019 season at a very reasonable rate. Still, the No. 7 pick is where a team can grab a big-ticket item such as a future left tackle and Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley could be available. The Eagles’ first draft pick under Kelly was tackle Lane Johnson, who was described as the ideal lineman for Kelly because of his length and quickness. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds that year, second best for an offensive lineman.
THE 2016 CLASS
T Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi: He’s huge, athletic and has the feisty nature evaluators love to see in a potential starting left tackle. Tunsil has a good chance of being selected first overall by Tennessee, where he would protect Marcus Mariota’s blindside.
T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame: He played right tackle before being moved to the left side at Notre Dame. The 49ers could follow the same pattern and make Trent Brown their swing tackle. Or perhaps Stanley could bide his time at guard before a spot at tackle opens up.
T Jason Spriggs, Indiana: If the 49ers waited until the second round, Spriggs might be available. He’s similar to Staley in terms of athleticism and would seem to be a good fit on a zone-blocking offensive line. He also has good length with arms that measure 34 1/2 inches.
G Joshua Garnett, Stanford: He’s a wide-bodied interior lineman who is well-versed in power blocking and who was very good at getting downfield to deliver blocks with the Cardinal.
G/T Cody Whitehair, Kansas State: Team captain type played left tackle for Kansas State last year but could play just about every position on the line.
G/C Nick Martin: He’s the younger brother of Cowboys lineman Zack Martin. While Kilgore has played well at center, the 49ers have struggled when he has been injured. Martin, a mid-round pick, would provide stability at two spots.
MONDAY: The 49ers’ options at quarterback.
TUESDAY: Which running backs will help Hyde?
WEDNESDAY: The 49ers have few proven receivers.
THURSDAY: Chip Kelly favors WRs over TEs.