The 49ers ideally get some promising production from sixth-round NFL Draft choice Nick Zakelj, and OTAs might be when he showcases his value the most.
As one moves further and further down the list of any given team’s NFL Draft picks, the likelihood of said players surviving the cut and making a 53-man roster diminishes.
For San Francisco 49ers rookie offensive lineman Nick Zakelj, grabbed by the Niners out of Fordham in Round 6 at No. 187 overall, this is certainly the case.
San Francisco spent considerable effort reinforcing its offensive line depth during the offseason, highlighted by the two NFL Draft selections, Zakelj in Round 6 and UTSA’s Spencer Burford before him in Round 4. Of the two, Burford certainly stands the better chance of hanging around on the regular-season roster.
But, with organized team activities kicking off next week, Zakelj can surely put his stamp on surviving cuts, too.
49ers O-line depth chart is full but very fluid
For the most part, the 49ers have their starting O-line cast set in place: Trent Williams, Aaron Banks (probably), Alex Mack, Daniel Brunskill and Mike McGlinchey from left to right.
The depth behind that fivesome, however, is very much in the air.
Burford and Zakelj figure to compete against returning veterans like Colton McKivitz, Justin Skule, Jake Brendel and Keaton Sutherland, along with undrafted rookies such as Jason Poe, Dohnovan West and Sam Schlueter.
Among the veterans, there aren’t exactly any names who stand out as surefire 53-man roster additions in 2022, meaning the competition should be wide open for players like Zakelj to climb the depth chart as early as OTAs.
Why OTAs will be vital for Nick Zakelj, 49ers’ other fringe O-linemen
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, there’s to be no physical contact during OTA sessions, meaning no tackling and no aggressive blocking. Players will wear helmets and cleats, yes, but they won’t don the pads until training camp.
This isn’t always ideal for offensive linemen, but Zakelj can showcase some of the upside traits that made him a Niners draft target nonetheless.
As described in his NFL.com draft profile, Zakelj’s footwork in pass protection and general feel for the pocket are above average for a rookie, particularly one selected on day three of the draft. While his pad level and blocking balance can fairly be questioned, those won’t be focal points during the non-contact nature of OTAs.
In short, Zakelj will have the chance to display his positive attributes first, potentially putting himself higher on the depth chart over others like Skule, Moore or McKivitz.
Of course, this won’t be the end-all, be-all. Zakelj will still have a long way to go in order to fully secure a spot once training camp and the preseason roll around.
Still, a strong showing during OTAs will surely go a long way towards him being part of the regular-season roster.