49ers roster: Why Aaron Banks takes over starting guard in 2021

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 /

The 49ers’ second-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, Notre Dame’s Aaron Banks, should be in line as the first rookie to start this season.

While the overwhelming majority of the San Francisco 49ers‘ 2021 NFL Draft class will focus on the No. 3 overall pick, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, the one rookie who might make the biggest immediate impact this upcoming season is the player the Niners selected in Round 2, Notre Dame offensive guard Aaron Banks.

Banks, selected 48th overall during the draft, was part of a massive movement by San Francisco to upgrade its offensive line over the course of the offseason.

Even in that regard, Banks is a third-tier move. The 49ers’ previous transactions to retain left tackle Trent Williams while inking center Alex Mack have garnered more attention. But at least in terms of which rookie could carry the most load in 2021, Banks has to be the pick.

Lance isn’t projected to start right away, as that job is currently slated for the veteran, Jimmy Garoppolo. The Niners’ two third-round picks, running back Trey Sermon and cornerback Ambry Thomas, could possibly start this season but have far more competition between now and Week 1 with which to compete.

As far as plug-and-play options go, Banks is as surefire a selection San Francisco has this year.

49ers are banking on Aaron Banks starting right away in 2021

The 49ers aren’t simply handing Banks the starting gig right out of the gate. No, he’ll have to earn it.

During OTAs, Banks primarily spent time working with the second-string unit, while the starting right guard position was being filled by the versatile veteran Daniel Brunskill. But Brunskill is far more valuable to the Niners as an uber-backup, someone capable of supporting both tackle spots, either guard position or even serving as a direct backup to Mack at center.

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Sure, Brunskill would probably like to start, and there’s nothing wrong with that assessment. But considering San Francisco’s investment in Banks isn’t just a late-round flier, the best way to maximize the return would be to let Banks start while keeping Brunskill around as a primary reserve player.

Banks might have seemed like a bit of a surprise draft addition when the 49ers selected him, especially considering they could have added either a wide receiver or a cornerback in Round 2.

That said, Banks’ notable pass-blocking abilities at Notre Dame, ones which resulted in him not allowing a sack in 2020, have to be on display sooner rather than later.

Yet there’s another key reason why the Niners would have a key interest in Banks winning the starting right guard gig out of the gate.

O-lines typically take time to jell, and a constant rotation of players at varying positions can make life much more difficult for players who otherwise secured starting spots. San Francisco was no stranger to this last season, particularly at center and at right guard, where Brunskill bumped back and forth to alleviate losses at center, which opened up a rotating door at guard as a result.

Consequently, right tackle Mike McGlinchey endured arguably his worst season as a pro.

While McGlinchey’s own development in year four of his professional career will be a talking point throughout the rest of 2021, getting some consistency immediately to his left should only serve to help his maturation and prowess.

This, instead of a rotation of players at right guard in and out of the lineup.

Granted, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Brunskill won the job outright, relegating Banks to a backup job in year one with the potential hope of taking over in 2022. But to aid McGlinchey now, as well as getting the maximum return on the 49ers’ second-round investment, the best possible outcome would be for Banks to earn that starting gig in training camp, thereby solidifying the O-line and answering the last key question the team has with this particular unit.

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