Ask almost anyone what they see as the biggest question facing the 49ers is for 2022, and most will tell you the interior of the offensive line.
San Francisco is going through a rebuild upfront, Laken Tomlinson left in free agency, Alex Mack retired, and Mike McGlinchey’s status is up in the air as he looks to return from a torn quad tendon.
At first glance, this makes total sense. After all, a quarterback is only as good as the protection he receives from his offensive line.
Not so fast.
The level of success the 49ers have in 2022 will depend more on the play of Trey Lance.
When the quarterback position has been right, San Francisco has won a lot of games under Kyle Shanahan. In 2019 they reached the Super Bowl, and this last season the 49ers took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
In 2020, San Francisco dealt with several injuries, including having to go through the entire season with musical chairs at the center position and right guard due to Weston Richburg’s inability to return from injury.
Despite the injuries and the constant rotation at center and guard, San Francisco had a squad capable of reaching the playoffs.
What held them back was poor quarterback play.
The 49ers lost Jimmie Garoppolo for most of the season due to a high ankle sprain in the first half of a week two victory or the New York Jets.
Garoppolo’s injury resulted from a hit allowed not by the center or right guard; instead, it was Laken Tomlinson.
With Garoppolo on the sideline, San Francisco turned to Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, who cost the 49ers at least four games due to their ineffectiveness.
In Mullens’ second start against Philadelphia, he missed wide-open receivers downfield early in the game and then sealed the defeat with an interception that was returned for a touchdown late.
Against Washington later in the season, a Mullens fumble late in the first half was returned for a 47-yard touchdown to give the Football Team the lead. On the final play of the third quarter, Mullens would have a throw to the outside intercepted and returned 74-yards to put the game out of reach.
It was more of the same the following week in Dallas, where a Mullens fumble on their second possession set Dallas up deep in 49ers territory, and two Mullens interceptions in the second half led to 10 points for the Cowboys. That’s 17 points off turnovers in a game San Francisco lost by eight.
After Mullens was injured late against Dallas, Beathard started the season’s final two games and turned in a stinker of his own in the finale against Seattle in a very winnable game for San Francisco.
In 2020, even with the issues up front, the 49ers allowed 39 quarterback sacks. Cincinnati just reached the Super Bowl last season despite giving up 55 sacks during the regular season, and Tennessee held the number one seed in the AFC while allowing 47.
San Francisco has one of the deepest rosters in the NFL.
Deebo Samuel is one of the best wide receivers in the game, and George Kittle remains near the top of the league among tight ends. Brandon Aiyuk and Lance connected on several deep throws during training camp last season. Elijah Mitchell averaged 4.7 yards per rush attempt as a rookie. Don’t forget about Kyle Juszczyk. The do-everything fullback adds much-needed versatility with his ability to block or make big catches down the field.
On defense, the 49ers return Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Jimmie Ward, and nearly all the other starters who held opponents to the ninth fewest points in 2021.
Sure, Trey Lance has made only two NFL starts, but asking him to be better than Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard isn’t too much, is it?