49ers 2021 ‘Who is?’ series: Aaron Banks can be an impact rookie

Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Aaron Banks (69) Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Aaron Banks (69) Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

In Niner Noise’s latest ‘Who is?’ installment, we look at 49ers lineman Aaron Banks, who could see more snaps this season than any other rookie.

The San Francisco 49ers‘ 2021 NFL Draft class will ultimately be defined by how well quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick, winds up performing in the coming years and whether or not he becomes a bona fide superstar.

Yet Lance isn’t projected to start right away. At least not while the veteran, Jimmy Garoppolo, is still in town.

Instead, the player who might end up providing the biggest impact, at least in terms of total snap count this season, is the Niners’ second-round draft pick, Notre Dame offensive guard Aaron Banks, selected by San Francisco at No. 48 overall.

Banks, 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, ended up being Indianapolis Colts All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson’s replacement at the collegiate level, ultimately becoming a 2019 first-team All-ACC starter and then a first-team Associated Press All-American in 2020, pushing him towards a day-two draft selection by San Francisco.

That pick might have been something of a surprise, given the 49ers already had two guards capable of starting, Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill, and there were other pressing needs like cornerback and wide receiver.

Still, it’s never a bad idea to invest in the offensive line early, and the Niners surely are looking at one of Banks’ top traits, which is a reason he could show some early improvement his rookie season.

Why Aaron Banks thrives with 49ers in 2021

Two traits should stand out the most when looking at Banks as a blocker: power and pass protection.

Banks didn’t allow a sack during his final year at Notre Dame. And given how San Francisco has had issues with interior pass-rushers the past two years, including having to face Los Angeles Rams perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald twice a year, it makes more than enough sense to get someone like Banks into the fray.

Just by looking at Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline’s scouting report, it’s hard not to get excited about this imposing rookie:

"Large, explosive lineman who is best suited for a power gap offense. Fires off the snap, blocks with proper lean, and easily controls defenders at the point. Opens up the running lanes, anchors in pass protection, and blocks down on opponents, completely smothering them from the action.Plays with a nasty attitude, keeps his head on a swivel, and always looks for someone to hit. Jolts defenders with a violent hand punch and easily knocks opponents from their angles of attack."

Banks isn’t just a quality pass protector. His mean streak extends into the run game, too, where he’s always looking to punish the defender opposite him.

For a 49ers team potentially looking to move away from lots of finesse and more towards some physicality, Banks is an excellent pickup.

Why Aaron Banks struggles with 49ers in 2021

Head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn’t employed too many power-run schemes during his tenure. On top of that, Shanahan’s scheme remains one of the most complex in the NFL.

While Shanahan doesn’t put as much emphasis on responsibility for his guards as he does tackles or centers, interior linemen are still tasked with properly executing pulls and bootlegs, thereby requiring some swift and precise movement.

In this regard, Banks could experience a lot of early troubles.

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Pauline also noted how the rookie “cannot slide in space” and will have trouble eliminating defenders while on the move. Additionally, Banks’ larger size could also cut into his mobility a bit, lessening the kind of impact he might otherwise have if he was a faster, more agile mover.

There’s a strong likelihood Banks will take some time to adjust, meaning it’s highly possible he winds up being a reserve in year one.

If he doesn’t, though, Banks could see more field time than any other rookie the Niners onboarded this season.

Aaron Banks’ likely role, impact with 49ers

Banks was primarily a left guard at Notre Dame, but early indications point to San Francisco pushing him towards taking over at right guard, presumably for Brunskill.

For the most part, at least during non-contact organized team activities, Brunskill has been working with the first-team unit, suggesting the 49ers aren’t simply giving Banks a starting job right away. He’ll have to earn it.

Ideally, though, Banks winds up taking over that spot by Week 1, allowing the Niners to revert Brunskill back to a highly valuable uber-reserve role he originally had back in 2019 and even thrived in.

Should this be the case, it wouldn’t be overly shocking to see Shanahan and the offense employ some more power-run looks this season, taking advantage of Banks’ immediate strengths.

With Lance not likely to see a lot of rookie-year snaps with Garoppolo around, and running back Trey Sermon probably featured as a rotational rusher, Banks could easily end up being the first-year San Francisco player who sees the largest number of snaps this season, emerging as the 49ers’ top-played rookie in 2021.

Over the long term, it’s possible the Niners envision Banks moving over to left guard as long as his maturation trajectory ascends positively enough.

Right now, though, he remains a key player to watch this season.

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