The reigning NFC runners-up have developed an elite offensive line over the past few years, as evidenced by the remarkably consistent success of Frank Gore, as well as the fact that the unit allowed the fourth fewest quarterback pressures in 2013. It’s worth considering how the unit will look heading forward into 2014 and beyond.
The 49ers finished 2013 with nine offensive lineman on their active roster. Although San Francisco chose not to re-sign returning starting center Jonathan Goodwin, the team added USC center Marcus Martin via the draft. While the rookie will likely provide quality depth at both center and guard, three-year veteran Daniel Kilgore figures to slide into Goodwin’s vacated starting role. In fact, Kilgore’s February three-year extension, which was covered by our own Luke Adams, would suggest that the 49ers perhaps have similar intentions to groom Martin for multiple seasons before bumping him up to a starting role when Kilgore’s contract expires.
Former first-rounder Jonathan Martin was another significant offseason acquisition for the 49ers, when the team sent the Dolphins a 2015 seventh-round draft pick for him. Although Martin does not figure to start away with elite tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis already on the roster, the Stanford product immediately becomes one of the league’s best backup tackles.
One interesting subplot to watch after next season will be the 49ers’ treatment of former All-Pro left guard Mike Iupati, who will become a free agent next March after establishing himself as one of the predominant guards in the NFL. Should the 49ers decide to cut ties with Iupati, one could reasonably expect Marcus Martin, Kilgore, or 2014 draft pick Brandon Thomas to fill his vacated spot. Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin has no experience at guard, but suggested he has heard that making a transition toward the interior of the line is easier than moving from guard to tackle. So while the team may lose an elite lineman next offseason, they have four high-upside, talented replacements waiting in the wings — or in Kilgore’s case, about six inches to Iupati’s right on Sundays.
It is undeniable that the 49ers have learned how to cultivate homegrown superstar lineman, a reality exemplified chiefly by perennial All-Pros Staley and Iupati. As good as the last few years have been on the San Francisco offensive line, the future looks just as bright.