The 49ers reinforced their offensive line depth via the 2022 NFL Draft and afterward, but the starting lineup should still primarily be comprised of veterans.
It’s always fun to look at a team’s recent NFL Draft additions (and even some undrafted free agents here and there) and automatically plug them into high-profile roles right out of the gate.
Except rookies don’t always translate that way.
Case in point, look at the San Francisco 49ers’ second-round selection of former Notre Dame offensive guard Aaron Banks in last year’s NFL Draft. Banks appeared to be a shoo-in to upgrade the right guard spot over Daniel Brunskill, given the former’s draft status, yet a so-so training camp and then a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason left Banks on the sidelines for almost the entire year.
Offensive lines are important. And Banks deserves a slight pass because he was a left guard in college, and he certainly wasn’t going to beat out Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson entering 2021.
With Tomlinson gone in free agency to the New York Jets, though, Banks has his best shot at earning a starting role.
Provided he doesn’t flame out in camp again, Banks should get it.
However, Banks will likely be the lone “young” player the 49ers start along their O-line to enter the upcoming 2022 season, at least preferably.
Let’s take a stab at what the ideal starting O-line would look like for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co.
X-factors at play for 49ers with regards to their offensive line
Tomlinson being gone means Banks has to step up. That’s a given.
What’s less a given are concerns about whether or not right tackle Mike McGlinchey will be 100 percent after tearing his quad last season, subsequently undergoing surgery. Signs are pointing to this being the case, though, and the Niners didn’t exactly grab a plug-and-play tackle in either free agency or the draft, further showing they’re comfortable with McGlinchey’s progress.
The other X-factor, however, is whether or not Pro Bowl center Alex Mack retires.
This is a little murkier, as San Francisco added two depth linemen in the draft, UTSA’s Spencer Burford and Fordham’s Nick Zakelj, although neither is a true center. Yet the 49ers did grab two undrafted free agents who could easily supplant Mack if need be, Mercer’s Jason Poe and Arizona State’s Dohnovan West, the latter a surprising draft snub who was frequently tabbed as a day-two draft target.
Great for the Niners to land West, right?
Mack’s future is concerning. But San Francisco could have acted much more aggressively if it was even remotely concerned about his looming retirement.
The fact the 49ers didn’t so much suggests he’s coming back.
49ers ideal 2022 starting offensive line
It’s important to acknowledge head coach Kyle Shanahan has long preferred veterans at center instead of upstart rookies, meaning someone like Poe or West would have a long way to go to secure a starting job if Mack indeed retires.
Even if he does, Brunskill would likely be the stopgap option.
However, that’s not an ideal situation. What is ideal would be this deployment:
- Left tackle: Trent Williams
- Left guard: Aaron Banks
- Center: Alex Mack
- Right guard: Daniel Brunskill
- Right tackle: Mike McGlinchey
Tomlinson swapped out for Banks is the only notable change from last year’s Week 1 group. No surprises, honestly.
Sure, Brunskill is going to be in some competition for his job with players like Burford and Zakelj. But with rookies being unproven rookies, especially day-three additions, the edge has to go to Brunskill, right?
However, there should be some truly entertaining depth battles to watch here during training camp. Burford, Zakelj, Poe and West will be looking to push out returnees like Justin Skule, Colton McKivitz and Jake Brendel.
Considering the 49ers dealt with some poor O-line depth a year ago, a little more competition here in 2022 has to be a good thing, right?
Ideally, the Niners won’t need that depth too much this season anyway, rather they’ll be looking to identify who the long-term starters will be for players like Mack and potentially McGlinchey.