The 49ers may have a serious problem at center if Alex Mack retires, meaning Jake Brendel could quickly go from an afterthought to a full-time starter.
You might be surprised to read that veteran offensive lineman Jake Brendel has been on the San Francisco 49ers for two years now and is entering his third season with the team in 2022.
Unless you regularly comb through the Niners roster (and kudos to you if you do), you might not even recognize the name. And you could be shocked realizing he’s entering his third season with San Francisco, too.
The former undrafted free agent out of UCLA who joined the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 and then bounced around the league in the years since eventually signed a one-year deal with the 49ers in 2020 but elected to opt out that season in light of the pandemic.
Last year, Brendel initially failed to make the 53-man roster but was subsequently signed to it a few days later prior to Week 1.
Overall, the 29-year-old lineman has seen plenty of training camps and offseason workouts, but his actual game-day experience is notably limited, particularly when looking at his shortlist of actual regular-season starts:
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Now, Brendel is on the verge of being a full-time starter despite having started just three games his entire career.
Why Jake Brendel makes a dent with 49ers in 2022
The Niners may have no other likable option but to start Brendel at center this season. This is in light of the reality veteran Pro Bowl center Alex Mack could easily retire between now and Week 1.
Mack’s pending decision will have a large ripple effect. But if he elects to depart, Brendel might be the next best option for head coach Kyle Shanahan.
San Francisco didn’t take a true center in the 2022 NFL Draft, only adding undrafted free-agent center Dohnovan West out of ASU. And while West is promising and easily could have been drafted, Shanahan has a long history of going with veterans at center instead of rookies or even second-year pros.
Two years in the system should give Brendel a bit of a leg up over someone like West, and it’s possible the former is just another example of a player who needed a few years of refinement before finding a bona fide role.
Why Jake Brendel doesn’t quite cut it for 49ers
Again, all this is predicated upon Mack’s pending decision. Should he return, Brendel will likely be relegated to the same kind of role he held a year ago: a primary backup to the 49ers’ veteran starter.
However, while it’s admirable Brendel has been able to hang around the NFL for a few years despite being a perennial bubble-watch player and reservist, that’s usually a good indication he’s nowhere near adequate enough to be a full-time starter.
On top of that, boasting just three regular-season starts over his career isn’t exactly a sign of confidence, and that could prove even more problematic for the Niners’ intent of surrounding second-year quarterback Trey Lance with as much help as possible.
San Francisco, too, might like what it sees out of West. Or it might go with the same contingency option it utilized in 2020, moving right guard Daniel Brunskill over to center even if it creates a void in Brunskill’s original spot.
Chances Jake Brendel makes 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2022
It’s essentially been the same for Brendel for the duration of his pro career, always being on the fringes of a roster with the strong possibility of him being out of a job at any point.
However, there are some signs working in Brendel’s favor, including the aforementioned point about the 49ers not drafting a pure center last spring. Sure, West is a threat here, but UDFAs are just that, undrafted unknowns.
Brendel sticking around for the entirety of the 2021 regular season is good news, too, and the Niners seemed comfortable relying on him as insurance to guard against a would-be Mack injury, which never happened.
Considering the sheer lack of true centers on the roster right now, should Mack retire, San Francisco would want someone who could immediately fill the void.
This probably means Brendel is safe, at worst a backup and trending towards being the starting option at center if Mack retires.