Jettisoned By Lions, Laken Tomlinson Thriving With 49ers

He's a whole lot richer now too.

Will Burchfield
September 13, 2018 - 11:10 am

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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The Lions will get their first look at Laken Tomlinson this weekend since trading their 2015 first-round draft pick to the 49ers last August. What they see might not be what they remember. 

Tomlinson, who struggled over two seasons in Detroit and lost his job as the starting left guard in 2016, has become a mainstay on the 49ers offensive line. Dealt to San Francisco for a 2019 fifth-round pick just before the start of the 2017 season, he learned the team's playbook on the fly, started the final 15 games of the year and was rewarded this offseason with a three-year, $16.5 million contract. 

He's the eigth-highest paid left guard in the NFL.

In other words, he's lived up to the potential he never fulfilled in Detroit. 

“Laken has been great for us," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said on Wednesday in a conference call with local reporters. "We had an issue at guard last year going into the season and we knew we needed to add someone. Just studying (him) a lot out of college, we always liked his ability and how he could move. We thought he would fit our scheme pretty well. It was tough to see just because all of his tape in Detroit he had done things a different way than how we were going to use him. But we knew he had the ability to do it." 

The 49ers run a zone-blocking sheme, which values mobility. Tomlinson had mostly played in power-based schemes with the Lions and before that at Duke. Despite excelling in college he never caught onto things in Detroit, evenutally ceding his starting position to Graham Glasgow, a third-round pick in 2016. Glasgow still holds the job today. 

Shanahan thought Tomlinson would be a better fit in San Francisco. He had scouted him closely in advance of the 2015 draft as the offensive coordinator of the Falcons, and believed Tomlinson could “open up and run.” Turns out Shanahan was right. 

It also helped that Tomlinson proved to be a quick learner. Shanahan was aprised of Tomlinson's intelligence prior to the trade by 49ers personnel executive Martin Mayhew, who drafted Tomlinson as GM of the Lions. 

"Once we got him here, it was a huge credit to Laken because it takes a while to learn all this stuff," Shanahan said. "He missed all of training camp and OTA’s, got here a week before (the start of the season). It took him one week before we made him a starter."

Shanahan was particularly impressed, he said, with how much Tomlinson improved week by week and how quickly he picked up on the offense. 

"He’s very intelligent. He has the ability to do everything we’re asking. Just going through trial and error of reps, some good ones and some bad ones, and how he responded, by the end of the year we thought he was playing at a very high level and wanted to make sure he was a guy we kept around here.”

Having been demoted to second string last preseason with the Lions, Tomlinson was in danger of being cut from the 53-man roster. A year later, he's a cornerstone of the 49ers rebuild.

He told the San Francisco Chronicle of his time in Detroit, “I mean, it was a learning experience. But I love it here.”

Of the Lions' seven draft picks in 2015, only two remain: Ameer Abdullah (second round) and Quandre Diggs (sixth round). Diggs recently signed a three-year extension after a terrific 2017 season, while Abdullah, who was inactive for Monday's season-opener, is likely in his final year wtih the team.