49ers were foolish to name Nick Zakelj, not Ilm Manning to 53-man roster

Ilm Manning played well during the preseason. Nick Zakelj did not (and that's an understatement).
San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Nick Zakelj (63)
San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Nick Zakelj (63) / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

The 49ers made a clear mistake by adding offensive lineman Nick Zakelj to their 53-man roster and passing up on undrafted rookie Ilm Manning.

The San Francisco 49ers had more than just one or two questionable decisions when it came to finalizing their first 53-man roster for the upcoming 2023 season.

One of the clearer choices that should have gone the other way was to name second-year offensive lineman Nick Zakelj to the regular-season squad even though it meant that undrafted rookie Ilm Manning wouldn't have a spot available to him despite impressing during offseason workouts, training camp and into the preseason.

Nothing against Zakelj. The former Fordham product has some upside, and the Niners held onto him as a weekly healthy scratch all of last season instead of cutting him and risking another team claiming him off waivers before he could land on the practice squad.

At the same time, the team elected to let Manning go with roster cuts, and the Arizona Cardinals subsequently jumped in and placed a claim on the lineman out of Hawaii.


Between Zakelj and Manning, the choice for a crucial depth piece for San Francisco's offensive line this season should have been clear.

And it wasn't Zakelj who looked good.

49ers got poor preseason play from Nick Zakelj, not so from Ilm Manning

Pro Football Focus might not be the end-all, be-all when it comes to evaluating offensive linemen. But, according to them, Zakelj was slapped with six pressures over the course of the three-game preseason period.

Manning, meanwhile, allowed only two.

Even worse, Zakelj was hit with five penalties, four of which were accepted and hurt the 49ers.

Manning didn't commit a single penalty. No flags for holding, nothing like that at all. If anything, the choice between the two should have been clear.

Even the eye test revealed that Zakelj was a liability. Getting into pass-blocking trouble frequently, holding a defender was frequently his last-ditch option, and it got to the point where Niners color commentator, Tim Ryan, called Zakelj out on the gaffes.

Earlier during offseason workouts, Zakelj was failing at San Francisco's efforts to get him to play center, frequently putting the ball on the ground.

And yet he was named to the 53-man roster. Manning wasn't.

Sure, head coach Kyle Shanahan and offensive line coach Chris Foerster have far more insight behind the scenes, and they have a plan that isn't even close to being fully disclosed to the public.

However, even if "they know what they're doing," it's awfully tough trying to justify Zakelj over the now-Cardinals Manning.

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