49ers Standout Named a Top-30 Free Agent Target for 2022

Jimmy Garoppolo and Laken Tomlinson

Getty Jimmy Garoppolo and Laken Tomlinson after winning the NFC title game on January 19, 2020.

Laken Tomlinson has played himself into a Pro Bowl-caliber year for the San Francisco 49ers — with the offensive guard seeking an online push to play in the game that recognizes the top players of the year.

One former 49ers standout, who knows a thing or two about stout line play, is a huge endorser of Tomlinson’s play: Joe Staley.

But that’s not the only place he’s pushing himself toward. Tomlinson is playing into a new contract.

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The 29-year-old is set to hit the free agent market for 2022, as he’s in the last year of the three-year, $16.5 million contract he signed. With his run blocking prowess plus playing some of his best football in his seven-year career, one national analytics website believes Tomlinson is a top 30 free agent for 2022 — and the 49ers’ highest free agent priority.

Where Tomlinson Ranks Among Free Agents

From Pro Football Focus, Tomlinson is the league’s No. 28 ranked free agent among a pool of 75 projected players expected to hit the market come March 2022.

That makes him the 49ers’ top free agent. Here’s what PFF wrote about Tomlinson:

Tomlinson has picked up where he left off in 2020, earning a second consecutive grade above 70.0. He has yet to allow a sack through Week 13 of the 2021 season. Tomlinson has surrendered a quarterback pressure on just 3.8% of pass-rush snaps, the 16th-best mark among guards with at least 200 snaps on the season. The former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2015 may be in for a bigger deal this time around than his early extension signed in 2018 for three years, $16.5 million.

The 6-foot-3, 315-pounder has often been tasked to handle some of the 49ers’ most difficult run blocking assignments, as noted by David Lombardi of The Athletic:

He’s among the best options on the 49ers’ line when they need someone to make a pancake.

But Tomlinson is not only clearing running lanes for a run-oriented offensive attack, Tomlinson has been among the league’s best guards when it comes to pass blocking according to PFF. He hasn’t allowed a sack this season on 421 total pass blocking attempts.

Tomlinson rates as the second-best guard prospect in free agency per the analytics website. Brandon Scherff of the Washington Football Team is the highest ranked at his position (No. 12 overall).

The 49er has his strengths on why he should be a hot commodity in free agency. But he does have his flaws that were pointed out.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Again, anyone who watches the 49ers operate on offense knows head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers to pound the ball with the ground game — and that’s where Tomlinson’s upper body violence comes in handy in the trenches.

But here are the weaknesses noted by PFF: Durability, pass blocking on true pass sets and locking into targets on the move. Regarding durability, Tomlinson hasn’t missed significant time since 2018-19, but that was when he was recovering from an MCL injury.

PFF additionally believes Tomlinson thrives better in a zone blocking scheme — identical to what the 49ers run.

Projected Value

Tomlinson is projected to not receive an added year increase for his next contract. PFF says he’ll be stuck at three years on his next deal.

However, they predict this financial elevation through his next team: $27 million with $16.5 million guaranteed. The outlet concludes their evaluation by saying:

“After a slow start to his career, Tomlinson developed into a high-end starter and his most recent work ranks him among the league’s best guards. He’s a valuable asset in the run game and a strong pass protector who has plenty of good football left as a starting guard.”

Tomlinson was the only 49er listed. And he was rated ahead of names like Teddy Bridgewater and Odell Beckham Jr. The entire PFF article with the complete list can be read here.

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