The 49ers signed offensive lineman Senio Kelemete in a bit of an emergency, but he could go beyond just being another training camp body in 2021.
But when the Niners lost backup offensive lineman Justin Skule to a season-ending ACL tear during organized team activities, grabbing someone to help round out the offseason depth chart became a necessity.
So, Kelemete it was, joining San Francisco on a one-year, $1.075 million free-agent deal.
Kelemete has bounced around the league a lot since being a fifth-round NFL Draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals back in 2012 out of Washington. And while he’s never been a true full-time starter at right guard or any other position, he has seen some modest starting experience, including 14 games with the Houston Texans back in 2018.
|4 yr||4 yr||NOR||57||22|
|3 yr||3 yr||HOU||30||20|
|1 yr||1 yr||ARI||1||0|
At 6-foot-3 and 301 pounds, Kelemete is right in the mix of backups who’ll compete for one of three, perhaps four reserve roles behind the 49ers’ presumed starters.
It won’t be easy or automatic for him to crack the roster. But he certainly stands a better chance than many of the other depth members who are in a similar situation heading into training camp.
Why Senio Kelemete improves with 49ers in 2021
Kelemete seems to be one of those fringe players who could be a starter in a pinch but will never rise above the ranks of being an average reserve. Hence why he’s bounced around the league a lot over his career.
That said, there are merits to doing this.
Kelemete has played in a variety of offensive systems. And while his run-blocking efforts apparently haven’t been over the top, this post-2017 analysis from Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle highlighted Kelemete in a positive way:
What he lacked in run-blocking, five-year veteran Senio Kelemete made up for in pass protection in 2017. In his career-high 314 pass-blocking snaps at guard with the New Orleans Saints last season, Kelemete allowed just eight total pressures (five hurries, two hits, one sack), which was good for a 98.0 pass-blocking efficiency. While he also earned a 38.5 run-block grade, Kelemete proved his worth on passing downs, so much so that he received a three-year, $12 million contract and likely a starting job from the Texans this offseason.
Kelemete wouldn’t see the end of that contract, of course, being cut in a cap-savings move from Houston.
But this does suggest, as do many of the Niners’ offseason O-line moves, that pass protection will be far more a point of focus.
Good for Kelemete.
Why Senio Kelemete regresses with 49ers in 2021
Kelemete recorded a career-best 73.8 run-blocking grade from PFF in 2019, but last year’s 52.7 mark in this category is more indicative of his entire career.
For pass-heavy offenses, that might be OK. Yet head coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t going to deviate from his “bread and butter,” running the ball early and often, meaning Kelemete might not necessarily thrive in this particular department.
And that 2017 season, where Kelemete was exceptional in pass protection, might be an outlier, too. After all, PFF gave him a relatively pedestrian 62.7 pass-blocking grade in 2020 despite him not being credited with allowing a sack.
Beyond all that, though, Kelemete is joining a complex San Francisco offense on the short timeframe. Aside from the rookies, effectively every member of the 49ers O-line competing for depth jobs has been immersed in the system for over a year. Even those first-year players had an additional few weeks to grasp the complicated terminology.
Kelemete having played in various systems helps, but he’ll have a lot of catching up to do.
Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster
One could make the argument Kelemete is a slight upgrade over the player he replaced on the offseason roster, Skule.
But like Skule, Kelemete is anything but guaranteed a roster spot. With zero in guaranteed money, the Niners can easily part ways with the veteran if they feel another player is worth stashing on the depth chart and provides even modest upside in one form or another.
As such, look for Kelemete to be competing primarily with reserve-caliber players like Tom Compton, Colton McKivitz, Jaylon Moore, Dakoda Shepley and Isaiah Williams for the chance to crack probably the last available spot on the O-line depth chart.
Based on his experience alone, Kelemete does have a slight advantage here. While his age works against him in a lot of regards, Kelemete could end up flashing that pass-protection skill that gained notice a few years ago, potentially pushing him ahead of players like Compton, McKivitz, Shepley and Williams.
That might be enough to crack the roster, making Kelemete a player to watch between now and Week 1.