The 49ers got almost nothing out of their second-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, Aaron Banks, but it’s possible he plays a massive role this season.
It’s more than fair to be critical of the San Francisco 49ers’ Round 2 selection of the 2021 NFL Draft, former Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks, who did almost nothing to impress his rookie season.
Banks, selected at No. 48 overall, didn’t do himself any favors by suffering a shoulder injury during the preseason, which led to him seeing only five offensive snaps during the regular season and found himself relegated to the weekly inactive list for nearly half the year.
There’s still a chance Banks, who was given opportunities to win the starting right guard spot in training camp, winds up going bust. And if he does, he’ll be yet another one of the failed draft selections made by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
But what if there’s another plan in place?
49ers could just be waiting to deploy Aaron Banks
Banks failed to beat out veteran lineman Daniel Brunskill for the starting right guard job in 2021. Yet there’s an important factor to note here.
At Notre Dame, Banks played left guard almost exclusively. It was his natural position.
This isn’t a Madden game. Guards simply aren’t interchangeable from the left side to the right and vice versa. Just ask Niners Nation’s Jordan Elliott, who made this same point:
"At times we tend to overlook just how hard the transition of moving from one side of the offensive line to the other is. All the mental reps you’ve taken and the muscle memory you’ve built up are now flipped upside down, and you’re starting from scratch."
It’s tough enough adjusting from the collegiate ranks to the pros. It’d be even tougher switching sides on the offensive line, and some may argue it’s much harder than switching from tackle to guard, or the other way around, provided you stay on the same side of the line.
The Niners potentially saw early signs Banks wasn’t going to adjust too well to switching sides on the O-line, possibly admitting the best thing for his development was to keep him in line to take over at right guard.
Which prompts the next part of San Francisco’s plan for him.
Are 49ers preparing to replace Laken Tomlinson with Aaron Banks?
Banks could have won the right guard spot. He wasn’t going to take over at left guard, though. At least not without veteran guard Laken Tomlinson in the way.
Tomlinson, coming off his first Pro Bowl campaign and having been a mainstay of the 49ers O-line since he was acquired via trade early in the 2017 season, is also hitting the free-agent market. After his best year as a pro, Tomlinson could easily command close to $9 million per season, a lot of money for a Niners team that’ll also need to extend star wide receiver Deebo Samuel and prolific EDGE Nick Bosa in the very near future.
To date, there haven’t been any conclusive reports about San Francisco exploring a new deal with Tomlinson, who’ll surely be a top target for many of the contending teams (such as the Cincinnati Bengals) in desperate need of O-line upgrades.
Sure, re-signing Tomlinson would be very smart from the 49ers’ vantage point. But they’ll have a walk-away price where they admit it’d be far too expensive to re-sign him.
It’s possible the Niners knew this was likely to be the case last spring, which prompted the decision to use a second-round pick on Banks.
Granted, Banks will have to improve upon what was otherwise a forgettable rookie year.
Still, if that’s the plan, it’d be safe to assume San Francisco prepared for it well in advance.