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Ranking the 49ers’ 25 best players: Nos. 20-16

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


We continue the countdown of the 49ers’ top 25 players with a spate of offensive linemen. The 49ers have a line which is defined largely by above averageness, with an elite left tackle. They improbably improved at that position following Joe Staley’s retirement, adding Trent Williams, and are poised to get a breakout season in year three from right tackle Mike McGlinchey. More on that in a moment.

20. Daniel Brunskill

It’s tempting to put Brunskill higher on this list. He was almost infallible last season, playing everywhere but center at a surprisingly effective level. His presence gave the 49ers legs through that brutal early stretch of the season when McGlinchey went down, and again when Staley was injured for the second time. He closed out the season at right guard when Mike Person’s neck injury became too much to bear, and he’s the favorite to start there this year.

He’s not exactly a domineering force in the run game, but he rarely makes mistakes. Brunskill is as driven and studious as any person in the offensive line group and makes up for his lack of raw athleticism with a commitment to learning. He’s the jack-of-all trades offensive line option, and his impact may have played a role in the team’s drafting of Colton McKivitz, another potential Swiss Army knife player.

19. Laken Tomlinson

Tomlinson is an obstreperous presence in the run game, and with Trent Williams next to him and George Kittle next to Williams, a fair number defensive ends and tackles will find themselves at the receiving end of some vicious zone blocking runs. His pass blocking leaves more to be desired, and he struggled against Quinton Jefferson in the final game of the regular season at Seattle.

For the most part though, Tomlinson is a reliable, athletic piece of the 49ers’ offensive line. He doesn’t draw much attention because he doesn’t make many mistakes. But when you see Raheem Mostert tear off those consistent 10-plus-yard runs, you’ll likely see Tomlinson with a key pull block to the right, or an early seal on the left.

18. Dre Greenlaw

There are still some things Greenlaw needs to clean up in his game, most of which will come from experience, but his rookie season was not one to find fault in. He was deemed instinctive, perhaps too instinctive, by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, but he managed to find a balance between his instinctive nature — the same force behind that goal-line tackle of Jacob Hollister — and a patience and understanding of the defensive scheme.

Greenlaw said this offseason that it was during that final stretch of the regular season and through the playoffs that he felt like he, for the first time, had a firm grasp of the defensive scheme the 49ers were running, and could play the style he wanted. His placement here is merely a result of the other players the 49ers have. Even though Greenlaw will probably be the SAM and not WILL linebacker (Kwon Alexander is likely to reclaim his spot there before being cut next offseason), he’s going to start at WILL again in 2021.

17. Mike McGlinchey

Sometimes McGlinchey leaves you underwhelmed, which is largely due to the fact that he’s played opposite Staley and was the ninth overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. He’ll be opposite Williams, now, who’s expected to be better than Staley was last season.

The thing that’s increasingly exciting about McGlinchey is that he’s almost fanatical in trying to improve, and got the benefit of two years tutorship under his all-time role model in Staley. He’ll have another all-time great tackle to learn from in Williams, and he already has the tools, and now the experience, to play with less pressure. Obviously he has the size and athleticism to make him the already formidable zone blocker that he is, but he also started to improve as a pass blocker after a shaky start.

But McGlinchey knows when he’s made an error and identifies why that error was made, before working to correct it. Most of the players on the 49ers do that, and it’s the only way to improve, but McGlinchey tends to be aware of those things as they happen. This figures to be a massive year for him.

16. D.J. Jones

It’s not hyperbole to say that Jones, if healthy, might be the best nose tackle in the NFL. His run-stopping prowess needs little introduction, but there’s reason to believe, as evidenced by his first two career sacks last year and shocking athleticism for his stature, that he can add some pass rush wrinkles to his game, too.

The biggest issue with Jones is that his athleticism combined with his large frame, at 304 pounds and only 6’0″, makes him prone to the injuries which ended his season early. When he went down, the 49ers struggled mightily in the run game. He’s almost as valuable right now for the 49ers as Javon Kinlaw, and entering a contract year, he stands to pull in a substantial raise if he can stay healthy and turn that sporadic, raw pass-rushing talent into tangible results.

**Nick Mullens

Mullens is listed separately because he played seven offensive snaps last season. Including him in one of these spots removes the opportunity to credit another 49ers player who played a significant role last season. We didn’t see Mullens with a fully healthy or improved version of the 49ers’ offense that Jimmy Garoppolo played with last season, so it’s hard to tell what to make of his rookie year.

What is clear is that Mullens is a more than capable backup, and if included in this list, he’d be in this group. The 49ers declined calls around the league for his services for a reason. If Garoppolo goes down, he provides an opportunity to remain competitive. He’s studious, intelligent and puts the ball where Kyle Shanahan asks him to. In training camp, as Garoppolo was still working back from his torn ACL, he looked for a few weeks like the best quarterback on the roster.

Again, not including him on this list is a reflection of the fact that he didn’t play last season, but he’s in this category, and closer to D.J. Jones’ slot than Brunskill’s.

 

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