Niner Noise finishes our “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 with a look at Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah and his fit with the offense this season.
The center position is one of utmost importance for San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and his outside zone-blocking scheme.
So it makes sense the Niners made a move by trading for former Baltimore Ravens center, and 2016 Pro Bowler, Jeremy Zuttah this offseason.
Zuttah broke into the league as a third-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2008. He spent six seasons there alternating between center and guard duties before signing on with the Ravens between 2014 and 2016.
San Francisco 49ers
The 31-year-old veteran was the biggest addition to a San Francisco offensive line, which finished 30th in pass protection and dead last in run support a year ago, per Football Outsiders.
Expected to compete with incumbent center, Daniel Kilgore, what should we expect out of Zuttah this upcoming season? What will the veteran have to do to pass over Kilgore on the depth chart, and what might hold Zuttah back?
Let’s take a deeper look.
Why He’ll Improve
Zuttah brings a Pro Bowl presence to a Niners O-line boasting plenty of question marks in its first year under Shanahan.
This includes Kilgore, who owned a 72.8 overall PFF grade before seeing his season come to a premature close.
But the biggest notable asset might be the familiarity with Shanahan’s offense, as pointed out by The MMQB’s Albert Breer:
For clarification, Zuttah has never played under Shanahan when the latter was a coordinator. Yet the outside-zone style, with focus on the center, is something Zuttah can count on as he looks to emerge as the No. 1 player on the depth chart at this position.
Why He’ll Regress
I’ve seen some buzz around the web saying Zuttah is more than a competent center but not anything exemplary. In a sense, he can handle both run and pass blocking well — as evidenced by his PFF scores — but is certainly a stretch when compared to other Pro Bowl-caliber linemen.
The other thing to consider is his age.
Being on the wrong side of 30 years old isn’t exactly a career-ender (just look at Staley), but it’s pretty safe to say the room for improvement is limited at best.
Plus, Zuttah will be learning how to jell with guards on either side of him. And neither returning veterans, Zane Beadles and Joshua Garnett, have been cemented as starters. This could be something to watch as training camp moves on.
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What to Expect in 2017
Zuttah already appears to be the favorite to secure the starting job this upcoming season. While Kilgore has been a decent option here, an unfortunate injury history has relegated the Niners to use backups more often than they’d like.
This includes former 2014 draft bust Marcus Martin, who is no longer with the team.
The good news is both Zuttah and Kilgore can play guard positions, which adds both versatility and improvement over the other options. Whichever player loses out in this camp competition might be in play to bump out to either guard spot. At worst, the other provides serviceable depth.
Zuttah is signed through 2018, and one should probably expect he sticks it out over the duration of his contract. The Niners may try to make a move a little less than a year from now to upgrade this spot, but it appears to be Zuttah’s for the time being.
And San Francisco can only hope its less-than-stellar O-line production receives a nice boost from Zuttah’s presence in 2017.