When Joe Staley was moved from tight end to offensive tackle at Central Michigan, he says he cried.
“I am not afraid to admit it,” he once said. “Almost transferred, but then stayed. I gained weight, busted my butt and got drafted.”
Staley, in fact, was a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2007 and now, going into his eighth NFL season, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder – once a high school wide receiver and track standout – is among the NFL’s best left tackles.
Just recently, Staley was selected the league’s 75th best player in NFL.com’s annual ranking of the league’s top 100 players. The recognition goes along with his three straight selections to the Pro Bowl and being named All-Pro.
Current Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois – a former 49er who went against Staley often in practice – says Staley (who wears No. 74) is tough to beat. He’s athletic, all business and relentless.
“He’s a happy, jolly guy off the field,” he told NFL.com. “On the field, we’re dealing with a new player. We’re dealing with 74.”
As the 49ers now go through organized team activities (OTAs) and head toward minicamp and training camp, Staley is the foundation of a deep and talented offensive line that also consists of left guard Mike Iupati, right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis. Veteran Daniel Kilgore or rookie Marcus Martin will be at center, and former Dolphin Jonathan Martin has been added to the mix and should be able to provide quality at both guard and tackle.
But Staley has been a rock at left tackle, and his teammates and many opponents believe he deserves to be ranked among the NFL’s best players.
“He has talent,” says Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Greg Hardy, who was matched against Staley in the playoffs last season. “He has the mobility to stick with me, he has the size to, you know, counteract a lot of my moves.”
Said Jean-Francois: “His fundamentals will never break.”