Tuesday, June 19, 2012
What West has to show for putting it on line
By Mike Sando
NFC West teams have loaded up on offensive linemen over the past several seasons.
They used first-round choices for Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Jason Smith, Levi Brown, Russell Okung and James Carpenter since 2007.
Only the AFC North (eight) and NFC North (seven) have used as many first-round choices for offensive linemen over the same span.
It was a little concerning, then, to see only one NFC West player on Matt Williamson's list of 15 offensive linemen with the brightest long-term futures. Iupati, entering his third season as the San Francisco 49ers' left guard, was sixth behind Jake Long, Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey.
"This is the season that Iupati will establish himself as one of the elite guards in the NFL," Williamson wrote. "A project coming out of college, Iupati has progressed well and is loaded with great tools for playing the position. He is huge, extremely powerful and nasty. Run blocking isn't a problem at all, and his pass protection has consistently improved. Iupati and Joe Staley quietly make up one of the best left sides of any offensive line in the NFL and should continue to improve going forward."
Staley, the 49ers' left tackle, earned Pro Bowl honors last season. Williamson gave Staley and Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung honorable mention outside the top 15. Williamson has previously been extremely high on Okung, but injuries have made it tougher to project Okung's fortunes for the longer term.
Williamson was projecting for the 2015 season. The seven NFC West linemen mentioned above should remain in their prime years at that time. A quick look at where each of them stands heading toward 2012 training camps:
- Staley, 49ers: started all 16 regular-season games and two playoff games last season after missing 14 games over the previous two.
- Iupati, 49ers: played all but four snaps last season and has started all 32 games.
- Davis, 49ers: improved last season and should benefit some from increased familiarity with the offense.
- Smith, Rams: Rams think he'll benefit from Paul Boudreau's coaching in what could be a make-or-break year for Smith.
- Brown, Cardinals: improved late last season and must continue on that trajectory after receiving $7 million signing bonus.
- Okung, Seahawks: talented and possesses a nasty temperament, but hasn't been able to stay on the field.
- Carpenter, Seahawks: devastating knee injury threatens his 2012 season, while Breno Giacomini's emergence could relegate Carpenter to guard.