So it was no surprise when they used two first round picks to bring in Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. It wasn’t even a surprise that both men found themselves starting all 16 games and becoming the talk of the unit: Davis for his sub-standard play, and Iupati for his punishing run blocking.
But there were other stories on the line. While 49er fans bemoaned losing Joe Staley to injury for a large portion of the season, and saw the highs (run blocking) and lows (pass protection) in David Bass’ switch to center, their best performer went quietly unnoticed.
It’s with little surprise, therefore, that our Secret Superstar for the San Francisco 49ers is none other than right guard, Chilo Rachal.
Doing the right thing
It wasn’t until his third year at USC that Rachal got on the field. After redshirting year one and backing up in year two, he took full advantage of the opportunity to start, earning second team All Pac 10 honors in 2006. A year later, he had moved up to the All Pac 10 first team, despite missing three games of the 2007 season. His development was coming along very nicely indeed.
Then real life got very real. Family reasons forced Rachal to declare for the draft so that he could do, what he would later describe to be, what was “best for his family.” It was a noble act and left him the only underclassmen at USC to leave for the NFL.
USC’s loss was to be some NFL team’s gain. That team was the 49ers, who made Rachal the first guard off the board in round two. He went on to start the last six games of the season at right guard and appeared in another two. During that period, he looked every part the rookie. At times he was dominant (Week 14 versus the New York Jets, for example,) and at times he was terrible (Week 13 at Buffalo). There was enough there, though, to think he could be a building block for a better ‘Niners offense.
Wake up call
2009 didn’t start well for the Compton native. He played poorly for the first half of the year, earning his benching after their bye week as Coach Singletary rode him in a similar, but less publicized, fashion to that of Vernon Davis. He still saw action in the following week’s game against Houston, but in just 16 pass-blocking snaps he managed to give up a sack and QB hit. Adam Snyder’s lacking performance as his replacement at right guard played a big part in Rachal’s return to the lineup the next week.
A different Rachal wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass.
Over the last half of the season, the error count dropped. After giving up 11 pressures before his benching (including the Houston game), he went on to give up only eight more over the last 10 games of his season. His run blocking wasn’t dominant, but it had improved significantly. The promise shown in his rookie year was starting to be fulfilled.
Mauling his way to the top
The third year is often when we start to see what players really have to offer. While attention shifted to the rookies, the ‘Year No. 3’ version of Rachal became the player we had expected to see out of college.
When San Francisco traveled to Atlanta, he manhandled Jonathan Babineaux and Vance Walker. In a Battle of the Bay, he used Tommy Kelly’s desire to get up field against him, opening holes for his back to run through. In both games against Arizona, he was just too strong for Darnell Dockett.
After two years of teasing his talents and developing his skill set, Rachal had arrived. Finally dominating in the run game, his rating for the year was higher than any other right guard (with only Carl Nicks finishing ahead of him amongst guards in this regard.)
The knock on him coming out of college was that he could struggle in pass protection, and while struggle would be too strong a word, he had his issues. He ended up allowing five sacks and a further 15 hurries as he finished with a negative pass blocking grade. Not terrible, and outside of a schooling at the hands of Gerald McCoy, no single player put a severe beating on him. But there is room for improvement.
Most eyes are fixed now on the shiny new rookies, but more should be seeing that the real star of the 49ers offensive line is a guy many had written off 12 games into his career. The scary thing is, at just 24 years of age, we may only be seeing a glimpse of what Rachal is capable of. Close to our Pro Bowl team this year, it won’t be long before his performance (correct voting permitting) earns him these kind of honors and more.
Until then though, Chilo Rachal remains a Secret Superstar.