Posted: 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, 2013
By James Brady
San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley has had an up-and-down career to be sure, but thankfully, the former is what we've seen more of recently. Staley was a pretty solid tackle when he entered the league, but he made a lot of silly, immature mistakes on the football field. The problem: he kept making them until about a year and a half ago.
I don't know what pushed Staley over the hump to being a pretty good left tackle to being one of the best in the league, but thanks to it, the 49ers have the best offensive line in football. Not one of the best, not top five -- the absolute best. And Staley is the most important part of that line, even if he might not be the best player on said line (Mike Iupati, or perhaps even Alex Boone if he repeats 2012-13).
Pro Football Focus had Staley rated as the top offensive tackle in the NFL last year. They gave him a 12.7 pass block rating and a 25.0 run block rating. He was down at No. 17 in pass block, but had more than 10 points higher than the guy in second place for run blocking -- who just happened to be Anthony Davis at 14.0.
He's made the Pro Bowl in his last two seasons and is 28 years old, so he's got plenty of time left. The 49ers have him signed through the 2017 season given the nine-year contract he signed in 2009. So there's that.
Staley still gives up a decent amount of pressure in the passing game. He's an able run blocker -- one of the best, if not the best -- but there's a reason Alex Smith developed a tendency to run in a specific direction: allowing pressure from the blindside is a bad thing. Staley can definitely improve on this, and he might see a statistical improvement thanks to Colin Kaepernick being under center. Kaepernick is more mobile than Smith, and could make his offensive line look a lot better than they are because of it, resulting in an "improved" Staley.
On the other hand, Staley has a significant injury history and for me, that's his biggest concern. He's been just fine the past couple seasons but suffering an injury that puts him out or lowers his abilities is certainly a possibility. Additionally, he could struggle with Kaepernick at quarterback, though we didn't see much of that last season. Lastly, he's a year older, and age makes fools of us all.
Staley is the left tackle of now and of the future. He's signed for a good, long time and it would likely take multiple down seasons to fully unseat him as the starter. He's good to go and his chances of making it are absolutely 99.99 percent, with the .01 percent there only to account for an Aaron Hernandez-esque situation.