If the 49ers want to climb to the top of the NFC West in 2018, they’ll have to deal with the Los Angeles Rams.
And the Rams — who have been very busy this offseason adding talent to a division-champion roster — now have the best defensive tackle combination in the NFL with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald. To run on the Rams and protect quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the interior of the 49ers offensive line will have to play much better than it did in 2017.
The Niners have upgraded at center with the addition of former Giant Weston Richburg, but the lineup at guard will need to be sorted out between a trio of former No. 1 picks, Joshua Garnett, Laken Tomlinson and Jonathan Cooper.
There’s also the possibility that the top-ranked guard in the upcoming draft, Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame, could fall to San Francisco with the ninth overall choice, especially if there’s a flurry of picks and trades at the top to nab passers in this quarterback-rich draft.
Though Nelson is large at 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds and extremely strong — he bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times at the NFL combine, the second-best total ever for an offensive lineman — he’s also agile, which could make him a fit for Kyle Shanhana’s system that stresses mobility up front. ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner noted that Nelson’s strength and conditioning coach at Notre Dame has called him a “bizarre blend of grace and power” with the “balletic” moves of a grizzly bear.
Nelson could be long gone before the 49ers pick, but there is the chance he slips. If that’s the case, Nelson himself makes the case that he’s talented enough to be a difference maker at guard, a spot that often is undervalued in the impact it can make in handling elite defensive players.
“I think I should be talked (about) in that regard, the top-five (draft pick) conversation, because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, that have just working on interior guys,” Nelson told Wagoner. “You need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys.
“You talk to quarterbacks and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw. A lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that. That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the turn through my nastiness. And establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”
Especially with Suh and Donald on the schedule twice each season.