49ers roster 2023: We were all wrong about Aaron Banks

San Francisco 49ers guard Aaron Banks (65)
San Francisco 49ers guard Aaron Banks (65) / Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Banks went from a 49ers NFL Draft bust in 2021 to a stalwart at left guard his sophomore season. Who saw that coming?

Forgive me; I can't quite recall which article it was on. But, a little over a year ago, someone had commented on a critical piece I had written on San Francisco 49ers offensive guard Aaron Banks, the former Notre Dame lineman whom the Niners grabbed in Round 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft but saw only five regular-season snaps after failing to earn a starting job his rookie year.

Yes, the word "bust" was used. Probably more than once, too.

Anyway, this keyboard warrior didn't hesitate to throw shade my way about criticizing Banks.

With the 2022 season in the rearview mirror, it looks as if that critic of mine was right, and I was wrong. A lot of us were with regard (and respect) to Banks.

See, Banks was never going to beat out Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson in 2021. Instead, San Francisco's plan was to let Banks marinate as a backup that year and then take over the starting left guard duties once Tomlinson departed as a too-expensive free agent the following offseason.

It worked. Banks was not only a much cheaper option. But, according to Pro Football Focus, Banks outperformed Tomlinson, who landed a hefty deal with the New York Jets instead of staying put in the Bay Area:

  • Aaron Banks PFF grade: 62.7
  • Laken Tomlinson PFF grade: 56.8

According to PFF, Banks finished the regular season allowing just one sack and two quarterback hits on 526 pass-blocking snaps. While Tomlinson had similar stats, the 49ers are still paying Banks his rookie-contract salary.

Significantly cheaper.

What is Aaron Banks going to cost the 49ers in 2023?

Being a second-round pick and not a Round 1 selection, the Niners won't be able to use a fifth-year option on Banks, which would have gone into effect for the 2025 season if he had been picked in the first round.

Yet San Francisco doesn't have to worry about Banks hitting the open market just yet, as he still has two more years on his rookie deal.

According to Spotrac, Banks will have a total cap hit of $1.929 millionHe'll in 2023:

The 49ers have typically rewarded players with extensions one year prior to their current deals expiring, so next offseason will be the time to monitor for Banks' hopes of cashing in on a long-term contract with the team.

What are the 49ers expecting out of Aaron Banks in 2023?

Banks went from being in danger of becoming a notable draft bust into one of the more reliable linemen on the Niners roster.

Granted, playing next to All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is a blessing in itself, and there's no doubting that fact helped make Banks a better player last year, his first as a true starter.

That said, the one thing San Francisco will want from Banks entering 2023 is consistency.

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Sure, there is room for improvement in some areas. Banks' run-blocking grade from PFF was 59.1, and that could be better, plus the lineman was hit with five penalties, too. Cleaning those up would help translate Banks into a much more well-rounded guard.

Banks will turn 26 years old this September, so he is hitting the prime of his career at the right time.

As long as he remains at or even slightly above his impressive level from 2022, the 49ers' decision to let Tomlinson walk and to promote Banks will continue to reinforce how so many of us (including me) were wrong all along.

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