What can San Francisco 49ers do to help QB Trey Lance? Focus on OL during 2022 NFL draft

NFL Draft News

The position that’s most unsettled on San Francisco’s roster is both the most important and the position that’s the least likely to get an upgrade in the 2022 draft.

That would be quarterback, where current starter Jimmy Garoppolo has underperformed and will likely be traded at the end of the season and the backup, rookie Trey Lance, is expected to get his shot at the full-time job next season after being selected with the No. 3 overall pick.

Consider the following:

  • The 49ers rank 20th in passing yards and 17th in passing TDs and have the 17th-most total yardage despite giving up the fifth-fewest number of sacks.
  • The team has the sixth-most rushing yards and yards per carry and the third-most rushing touchdowns.
  • The defense ranks No. 5 and No. 11 for fewest passing yards and rushing yards, respectively, and has given up the fourth-fewest total yards and ranks No. 9 for fewest points allowed.

It makes you wonder if San Francisco’s record would be better than 6-5 with more stability at the QB position.

Still, a look ahead shows six starters who are expected to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, including two along the offensive line – left guard Laken Tomlinson and injured right tackle Mike McGlinchey – and four players on defense, including linebacker Fred Warner, who was first-team All-Pro last season.

Look for San Francisco to do everything it can to make Lance’s life relatively easy next season, starting with the offensive line. The 49ers don’t have a first-round pick, but they have two third-rounders and are expected to finish with four picks in the top 125.

Round 2: G Sean Rhyan, UCLA

Is he a guard or a tackle? That doesn’t really matter, as San Francisco needs both – especially if McGlinchey signs elsewhere.

The 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior has started every game this season at left tackle, so it shouldn’t be a huge adjustment to slide inside to left guard. He’s been compared to former USC OT Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was drafted with the No. 14 overall pick this past draft by the New York Jets. Vera-Tucker has similar measurables at 6-foot-5, 308-pounds and was moved inside to guard, where he’s become one of the few bright spots this season for the Jets.

And therein lies the problem: Rhyan might not be available when the 49ers pick in the second round.

Dane Brugler, who covers the draft for The Athletic, says Rhyan is likely a top-60 pick as a guard. Dalton Miller of Pro Football Network, though, tabs Rhyan as a future first-round pick as a tackle. From Miller: “Sean Rhyan has an NFL frame ready to take on powerful pass rushers. He’s adequately flexible and has vast reserves of athleticism in his Batman-style gizmo belt. In fact, there are times when his combination of power and athleticism provide awe-inspiring results on the field.”

Round 3: CB Alontae Taylor, Tennessee

CB Emmanuel Moseley, who went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2018, is a great story and solid player, and the age-less Josh Norman is still getting close to 70 percent of the snaps at the other cornerback position. And don’t forget about Jason Verrett, who the team re-signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, only to lose him for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the Week 1 win over Detroit.

But Norman and Verrett will be UFAs at the end of the season.

San Francisco, though, isn’t short of young CB talent. Deommodore Lenoir, a fifth-round rookie out of Oregon, is receiving almost 30 percent of the team’s snaps on defense, while Ambry Thomas, a third-round pick out of Michigan, has mostly made his mark on special teams. Both should get significantly more playing time next season, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for another potential starter in Taylor.

The 6-foot, 193-pound senior has 60 tackles, 2 interceptions and 6 passes defended this season, giving him a four-year line of 162-4-15. He started as a wide receiver his freshman year, eventually earning playing time that season as a cornerback. He’s also considered a leader at Tennessee, both on and off the field. Taylor is the two-time vice chair of the SEC Football Leadership Council and a two-time Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll student.

And, oh yeah, he can play, too. From FanNation’s NFL Draft: “The top senior cornerback in the nation, Taylor’s skill set will allow him to play a very long time in the NFL. He is going to check every box in terms of size, length and speed. Teams will also get a scheme versatile player, who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the run game. In the SEC, Taylor hasn’t backed down from first-round caliber receivers and that experience will make his transition to the NFL that much easier. He should be one of the first cornerbacks off the board.”

Round 3: Zion Nelson, Miami

The 6-foot-5, 316-pound junior is one of the most polarizing prospects in the upcoming draft.

Some evaluators see his frame and athleticism and see a player who’s a first-rounder on traits alone. Others see him as a raw Day 3 prospect.

The 49ers will find out quickly how pro-ready Nelson is if the team doesn’t re-sign McGlinchey. The player filling in for McGlinchey at RT is former RG Tom Compton, who will also hit free agency at the end of the season. Therefore, Nelson might start right away.

Round 4: S Nick Cross, Maryland

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior is expected to put up good numbers at the Combine if he enters the draft early, so he could be a fast riser in the months to come.

Cross has 63 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INTs and 2 PDs this season, giving him a line of 131-3-5-10 in his three years at Maryland.

And if not Cross, then it could be a safety like Cincinnati’s Bryan Cook or Northwestern’s Brandon Joseph, both of whom could be available when San Francisco goes on the clock late in the fourth round. That’s because starting safety Jaquiski Tartt is also an UFA at the end of the season.

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