49ers roster: Flexibility is key for Daniel Brunskill entering 2022

San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill (60) Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill (60) Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers appreciate Daniel Brunskill’s ability to play any spot along the offensive line, and that flexibility is what makes him oh-so valuable in 2022.

We’re not playing betting odds here, but let’s go ahead and set the odds for San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill at 80-percent odds he lines up at right guard to start the season.

However, to make things interesting, let’s also give 10-percent odds he winds up being the Niners’ starting center in 2022.

For the completionists out there, the remaining 10 percent goes to Brunskill lining up somewhere else on the offensive line or reverts back into being a backup.

The second point should be of interest, as San Francisco still isn’t sure (at least publicly) whether or not veteran Pro Bowl center Alex Mack will retire before Week 1. Mack hasn’t been in attendance during the 49ers’ opening week of organized team activities, which isn’t a big deal. But it doesn’t boost the chances of him coming back either.

The Niners experienced something similar entering 2020 when then-starting center Weston Richburg was still out with a serious injury suffered the previous season, one which led to his own retirement. But after a rotating door at the position, head coach Kyle Shanahan finally elected to bump Brunskill over into Richburg’s stead.

That might have to be the play again in 2022 depending on Mack.

Fortunately, Brunskill has gone from that relative unknown out of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football into an unheralded-yet-quality O-lineman for San Francisco over the last three years.

What should be expected out of Brunskill this upcoming season?

Why Daniel Brunskill improves for 49ers in 2022

Brunskill is likely entering his third year as a full-time starter for the 49ers after fending off 2021 rookie guard Aaron Banks for the starting right guard spot a season ago.

Daniel Brunskill Games Table

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Generated 5/30/2022.

Continuity is generally a good thing for an O-lineman, but that’s not always going to be the case for a player like Brunskill whose versatility is valuable in itself.

Remember, Brunskill has now played all five spots along the O-line dating back to 2019. And while center wasn’t exactly his strong suit, at least he can do it.

As a full-time right guard last year, Brunskill’s overall Pro Football Focus grade was 61.4 with five sacks allowed, which isn’t overly great but not at the point where he’s a massive liability either, suggesting this is probably the best fit for him if he continues to start.

This means either Mack has to return or the Niners wind up going with another contingency plan at center instead of Brunskill.

Why Daniel Brunskill regresses for 49ers in 2022

Brunskill was somewhat shaky during his extended interlude at center in 2020 amid a year in which San Francisco dealt with so many injuries, including plenty of them on the line.

However, should Shanahan decide Brunskill is the best option to replace Mack, it’s possible the 28-year-old former AAF standout winds up being the top pick to go back to the center spot and banks upon his prior experience to improve.

It’s just as likely he struggles again there, too, though.

There’s also a remote chance Brunskill winds up being less impressive than one of the two O-linemen the 49ers selected in this year’s NFL Draft, Spencer Burford and Nick Zakelj, both of whom were day-three picks and will have a longer road towards securing a starting job but nevertheless offer challenges anyway.

Should either of those two outperform Brunskill in training camp, the latter might wind up being relegated back into a backup role.

Daniel Brunskill’s projected role, impact for 49ers this season

Shanahan typically doesn’t like moving his linemen around the O-line if someone is absent, the argument of not downgrading multiple positions if one spot opens up. True, Shanahan did this in 2020 with Brunskill moving over to center, but the sheer number of injuries forced his hand there.

Speaking of the Niners’ other contingency options, it’s just as possible another backup lineman, Jake Brendel, winds up being the emergency go-to choice to fill in for Mack, thereby leaving Brunskill to defend his job at right guard.

San Francisco might also hope undrafted rookie Dohnovan West winds up being a candidate to support the center role, too.

As for Brunskill, he might not be viewed as a must-start lineman despite entering his third year of being a projected starter, yet the 49ers sure do appreciate his ability to do so. Just as much as they appreciate his ability to back up virtually any other spot on the O-line.

Since we’re projecting, though, the strongest assumption will be him remaining at right guard in 2022.

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