If you predicted 49ers lineman Daniel Brunskill to be a budding star, good for you!
The San Francisco 49ers have a knack for developing less-known talent, and Daniel Brunskill is the latest in a long line of otherwise unheralded players who seemingly came out of nowhere to assume key roles for the franchise.
The offensive lineman’s road to the Niners was such a path. Undrafted out of San Diego State in 2017, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman signed on as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons and spent his first two years there on their practice squad. In early 2019, he then joined the San Diego Fleet of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, which San Francisco heavily scouted.
Turns out, the 49ers must have liked Brunskill enough once the AAF folded, signing him to a one-year deal to compete for a roster spot later that year.
But the idea seemed to be Brunskill serving little more than a camp-body role. Due to numerous injuries across the Niners offensive line, however, Brunskill ended up playing in 14 games and starting seven of them, seeing time at both tackle spots and at right guard.
His efforts prompted the 49ers to bring him back in 2020, and Brunskill could end up being a starter this upcoming season.
From an undrafted journeyman to a potential starter, that’s quite the story.
Heading into 2020, what should be expected of the 26 year old? Was 2019 purely an anomaly, or did the Niners find themselves another gem?
Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.
Why Daniel Brunskill improves with the 49ers in 2020
Pro Football Focus credited Brunskill with just two sacks and seven hurries on 233 pass-blocking snaps last year, which is quite the accomplishment. His 80.9 pass-blocking grade also ranked best on the team, too. But what stands out, even more, is Brunskill’s 97.5 pass-blocking efficiency mark, which is quite exceptional considering he never played a regular-season snap at the NFL level entering 2019.
It’ll be hard to improve upon those numbers. But one thing that might help is Brunskill being tabbed for one position, not a multitude of spots, which was the case a year ago.
Finding consistency, then using the time to jell with his fellow linemates on either side, should bode well for Brunskill if he’s able to secure the job after training camp.
Why Daniel Brunskill regresses with the 49ers in 2020
At 300 pounds, Brunskill is still a bit undersized for a top-quality offensive lineman, even though he did more than just hold his own while playing at tackle.
There’s going to be a bit more game tape on him, too, and teams are likely going to test the right side of San Francisco’s O-line this season with Trent Williams now manning the left tackle spot.
This could put more pressure on Brunskill to perform at a high level regularly instead of merely meeting the lower expectations of a fill-in backup. And while 2019 was a solid season, there’s always the idea he could end up reverting back to the kind of player who never quite cut it as a regular-season player before last year.
Daniel Brunskill’s projected role, impact with 49ers
While it won’t be the biggest story of training camp, seeing what the Niners do with their serviceable lineman will be fun to watch.
San Francisco bid farewell to its former starting right guard, Mike Person, replacing him with former New York Jets guard Tom Compton. Both Compton and Brunskill figure to be the top two candidates to start in Person’s wake, along with rookie lineman Colton McKivitz, and it’s a challenge Brunskill is openly accepting.
“I’m just ready to be starting at any position and ready to go anywhere and still focusing on all five positions,” Brunskill told 49ers.com earlier this offseason. “But I definitely take a few more reps at right guard and then also trying to focus on what I can do to be better at that position. And then what I can do to be better at all five positions as a whole.”
Given the 49ers need to be both younger and cheaper along the offensive line, Brunskill could be the favorite over a player like Compton.
But there’s more to it than that, especially considering the kind of play Brunskill flashed a year ago. If that trend continues, it’s likely the former undrafted and unheralded lineman winds up being a crucial starter for San Francisco for the foreseeable future.