Niner Noise’s 2017 “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players shifts focus to free-agent pickup, offensive lineman Brandon Fusco, and his likely role this season.
Despite the San Francisco 49ers showing some moderate improvement along their offensive line in 2016, the team still needed to make a number of changes and depth improvements heading into this year.
One of those was to pick up free-agent, and former Minnesota Viking, offensive lineman Brandon Fusco.
Fusco, a former sixth-round pick of the Vikings back in 2011, is a four-year starter and is in line to compete for one of the interior O-line positions the Niners have up for grabs this season.
San Francisco 49ers
His primary competition will be with guards Zane Beadles, Joshua Garnett, Daniel Kilgore and Jeremy Zuttah.
Fusco finished last season with a 53.8 overall grade — No. 63 out of 72 qualifiers — per Pro Football Focus. Based solely on this number, Fusco is an immediate upgrade over Beadles (40.2) and Garnett (42.4).
Although it’s likely the Niners have slightly higher expectations out of the latter, given he’s a former first-round pick from a year ago.
So let’s dive a little deeper to see if Fusco winds up starting this season and what chances he has to make an impact for this revamped O-line in 2017.
Why He’ll Improve
Minnesota’s O-line was a joke last season and ranked a lowly 30th in run blocking, according to Football Outsiders.
Yet San Francisco’s was worse, finishing dead last in this same category.
With Fusco no longer being a part of the Vikings’ O-line plans, at least the 49ers can hope he’ll spike the competition for the underwhelming efforts seen along the interior a year ago. Fucso’s best attributes come in run support, where he can use his 6-foot-4, 302-pound frame to open up lanes for ball-carriers in a zone scheme.
With San Francisco likely to rely heavily on the ground game this season, it makes sense to have players capable of opening up these rushing lanes.
This plays into Fusco’s strengths, so the free-agent pickup makes a lot of sense here.
Why He’ll Regress
Fusco will turn 29 years old this season, and it’s safe to say what you see is what you get.
While his run-blocking abilities are decent, they’re not particularly exceptional. One of the notable problems, considering his size, is the inability to effectively block at the next level. He’ll hold his own in run support at the line of scrimmage, but one shouldn’t expect too much more.
And his pass protection? It’s not good. This was one of the notable issues PFF pointed out in their assessment of Fusco joining the Niners ranks.
Sure, the league is shifting its pass-rushing tendencies to the edge. But Fusco’s inability to provide regular protection within the interior will be a problem if he winds up being a regular starter this season.
What to Expect in 2017
Fusco may be a slight upgrade over guys like Beadles and Garnett in run support, but not by much. And it’s unlikely San Francisco is willing to give up on Garnett now. Maybe a season or two, but not at the moment.
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Meanwhile, both Zuttah and Kilgore will compete for a starting center job this offseason. The loser may wind up bumping out to guard, and either figures to be much better at both pass and run support than Fusco.
All this means Fusco, at best, is a serviceable backup for the interior. He hasn’t played center at the NFL level, so that likely means he’s reserved for guard duties only.
And it isn’t as if he’s a lock to make the roster either. With the aforementioned competitions taking place, Fusco could easily wind up being the odd man out. It wouldn’t be a shock.
Depending on what happens between now and Week 1, expect Fusco to either be a fringe depth option or not make the 53-man roster altogether.