Late on Day 1 of the NFL draft of 2016, the 49ers saw an opportunity they didn’t want to fumble. Still on the draft board was Stanford guard Joshua Garnett, the winner of college football’s Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman, a unanimous choice as a first-team All-American.
Garnett was seen as a terrific run blocker with what some classified as a “mean streak.”
So, then-general manager Trent Baalke traded back into the first round with the Chiefs, at pick No. 28, to select Garnett, whom they hoped would blossom into a foundation of a rebuilt offensive line.
So far, however, things haven’t panned out that way for the 49ers or Garnett.
Garnett got off to a slow start as a rookie. He appeared in 15 games at right guard, starting 11, and received mixed reviews. He wasn’t the difference-maker the Niners hoped he’d be. Then, in 2017, he was injured. The 49ers placed him on injured reserve, and the new leadership tandem of GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan told Garnett they’d like him to spend the season re-shaping his body to get leaner to better fit into an offense that asks guards to pull and get outside in a zone-blocking scheme.
Now, reports are that Garnett has lost some 25 pounds to about 302 and has come into the offseason program ready to compete for a starting spot against the likes of Laken Tomlinson and Jonathan Cooper. If Garnett can win a job and start playing the way he did at Stanford, the 49ers will finally have the inside force they’ve been looking for at guard since the exits of Alex Boone and Mike Iupati.
This week, draft analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com indicated he believes that may happen. He included Garnett in his list of five first-round picks from the 2016 draft who will have breakout seasons in 2018.
Wrote Zierlein: “Garnett might not be a sexy pick for this list as an interior O-lineman, but I expect him to make the 49ers and their fans – who are in desperate need of a quality guard – very happy.
“He has dropped about 25 pounds, according to a video he posted on social media last month, and might be in the best shape of his life. Garnett proved to be a proficient zone-scheme blocker at Stanford and with his newfound weight loss and added quickness, he should win a starting job. He’ll fit right into Kyle Shanahan’s zone scheme, which will bolster the 49ers’ rushing attack and help take pressure off of (QB) Jimmy Garoppolo.”