On Tuesday, new 49ers guard Joshua Garnett held a Twitter chat with fans and noted at one point that a player he tried to model his game after is former 49ers standout Mike Iupati.
It seems likely, too, that Garnett, a Stanford standout the Niners traded up into the first round to get, will provide the same thing Iupati did: a punishing, physical run blocker.
Garnett was the nation’s Outland Trophy winner as the best college lineman last season and was graded by many NFL scouts as the best run-blocking guard in the entire draft.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus said it graded Garnett No. 1 in the nation against power-five conference competition and gave him the top run-blocking grade.
The Pro Football Focus scouting report on Garnett notes that he gets low and moves defenders at the point of attack, can “destroy unsuspecting defenders” on pull blocks, moves well as a pulling guard and when getting into the second level of a defense and has the potential to be among the NFL’s best run blockers.
But, PFF adds the caveat that Garnett would likely play better in a power-blocking scheme rather and a zone-blocking system. New head coach Chip Kelly’s spread attack is mostly a zone scheme, so Garnett may have an adjustment period.
PFF also noted that Garnett isn’t as good a pass blocker as he is a run blocker and “gave up more pressures than you’d like to see.” That was Iupati's weakness, too, though his run-blocking earned him Pro Bowl status.
The 49ers took some criticism from some NFL analysts for trading back up into the bottom of the first round to select Garnett. ESPN’s Mel Kiper, for one, questioned the move by general manager Trent Baalke and called it “a little bit of a surprise and a clear reach for me.”
But Kelly said the 49ers believed Garnett “was the best interior run blocker in the draft.” If that proves to be true, San Francisco’s running game could get a huge boost in 2016 from Garnett’s presence. The Niners ranked just 21st in the NFL in rushing in 2015, averaging only 96.5 yards per game. Kelly has said he wants the 49ers to run the football, and his offenses with the Philadelphia Eagles and University of Oregon were successful running teams.
To Kelly, plugging a guy like Garnett into one of the guard slots will be a big plus. He noted Garnett’s abilities as a physical run blocker, his agility and his intelligence as reasons for his selection, and said that when he saw Garnett on film – especially on short-yardage and goal-line situations – he was terrific.
“You look at Josh who’s literally three inches off the ground just driving guys out of there, it’s impressive to see,” said Kelly.
The way Garnett talks about himself, too, should have 49ers fans excited to see him in action.
“I’m a mean, nasty player,” Garnett told a writer for the team’s website. “I like to finish blocks, get the juice going and bring the intensity.”