49ers 2021 ‘Who is?’ series: Daniel Brunskill should revert to a backup
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers have a quality offensive lineman in Daniel Brunskill, but he appears better served as a backup than a full-time starter entering 2021.
The San Francisco 49ers should be hoping their Round 2 pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, Notre Dame offensive guard Aaron Banks, winds up winning the starting right guard position over the incumbent candidate, Daniel Brunskill.
This isn’t a knock against Brunskill, who has been one of the Niners’ unsung heroes who seemingly came out of nowhere once the Alliance of American Football folded and turned into a useful commodity at a number of positions the last two years.
Rather it’s San Francisco’s need to have Brunskill go back into that kind of role again this season.
Brunskill, 27 years old, found himself plucked from the defunct AAF ranks by the 49ers in April of 2019, then became essentially an uber-reserve player, filling in at both tackle spots as well as at guard during the Niners’ run up to the Super Bowl.
In that regard, he was notably solid, earning a solid 73.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus that year.
This gave Brunskill a shot to start at right guard last season, following San Francisco bidding farewell to right guard Mike Person during the offseason, yet a myriad of injuries once again forced Brunskill to back up more spots than he was otherwise intended.
Especially at center, where he essentially became a fourth-string option behind injured players like Weston Richburg, Ben Garland and Hroniss Grasu.
As a result, 546 snaps were played at center compared to Brunskill seeing 537 at right guard. Subsequently, with the added responsibility, Brunskill’s PFF grade fell to 61.7 in 2020.
But that doesn’t totally explain why Brunskill needs to stay in a reserve role. Instead, let’s take a look in Niner Noise’s “Who is?” series on him.
Why Daniel Brunskill improves with 49ers in 2021
Head coach Kyle Shanahan puts massive responsibilities on his centers, calling out protections and identifying blitzers within opponents’ defenses. It’s one of the reasons why Shanahan has long since relied on experienced veterans here rather than rookies or younger talent.
Adding veteran center Alex Mack should alleviate the need to play Brunskill here, and it was pretty evident he struggled in that role but didn’t at other positions the last two years.
That alone is a suggestion Brunskill should see a bump upwards in quality of play, lessening his workload and allowing him to focus on his strengths instead.
Why Daniel Brunskill regresses with 49ers in 2021
There’s still a very real possibility 2019 was more of an anomaly for Brunskill rather than an anticipation of what’s to come.
Brunskill, 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, is still a bit undersized to be considered for a full-time tackle role, and his pass blocking throughout the course of last year was noticeably inconsistent regardless of positioning.
Perhaps that’s why the 49ers added Banks, who didn’t surrender a sack his final year at college.
At this point in his career, it’s not likely Brunskill gets significantly better, and there’s always the risk a constant change in positions further downgrades his efforts.
What 49ers need Daniel Brunskill to do this season
So, why would the Niners want Brunskill to be so versatile and serve as a backup?
A prime reason is the torn-ACL loss of depth lineman Justin Skule, who was in the mix to be both an interior backup and swing tackle this season. Skule might have been on the roster bubble anyway, whereas Brunskill isn’t, but the lack of depth could ultimately be problematic.
Related Story: Predicting 49ers O-line depth chart after NFL Draft
Banks is the one San Francisco would like to see win out at right guard, though, thereby allowing Brunskill to serve as a swing-tackle candidate as well as someone who could support either guard spot.
That would free up an additional roster spot, potentially, to guard against some of the other injury-concern areas the 49ers currently have on their roster. And if we do the side-by-side comparison of 2019 to 2020, the evidence suggests Brunskill would be of more value to the Niners by serving in a reserve role.
Particularly if Banks is only relegated to guard duty and not playing at tackle.
All told, though, Brunskill is a player any team would like to have, particularly given his versatility and reliability since making his way out of the AAF as a relative unknown.