49ers roster 2024: Spencer Burford faces crucial fork in the road

Can Spencer Burford finally lock down the starting right guard spot? Will he stay in a platoon role?

Or will the Niners' recent draft pickups challenge the third-year pro's spot on the depth chart?

San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Spencer Burford (74)
San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Spencer Burford (74) / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

After two lackluster seasons in which he couldn't seize a starting job, Spencer Burford needs to fully come of age entering 2024... or else.

Not long after the 2022 NFL Draft, it appeared as if the San Francisco 49ers found themselves yet another late-round gem who'd ascend into a notable role after 31 other teams mistakenly overlooked him.

Offensive lineman Spencer Burford, whom the Niners selected in Round 4 out of UTSA, appeared poised to grab the starting right guard spot for the long haul. Along with left guard Aaron Banks, who was drafted a year earlier, Burford was a sign San Francisco wanted to get younger along its offensive line.

Yet Burford ended up being a platoon player his rookie season, rotating with then-49ers uber-lineman, Daniel Brunskill, to the point of starting 16 regular-season games but getting in on 73 percent of offensive snaps.

OK, it made sense for a first-year player not used to the longer, more grueling NFL season.

But, even after Brunskill departed via free agency the following year, Burford couldn't stave off another Niners veteran, Jon Feliciano, who was brought in to replace Brunskill but ended up serving in the same platoon role with Burford down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Even Feliciano, who apologized for it later, blamed Burford for the crucial failed red-zone block that played a major role in San Francisco's Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last February

Another bad break to Burford's trajectory.

Additional changes to San Francisco's O-line depth chart in 2024 spell potential issues for Burford, assuming he fails to take that next-level leap in his third season.

Let's see what's at stake for the soon-to-be 24 year old.

What's working in Spencer Burford's favor in 2024?

Despite being in a platoon role with Feliciano for much of 2023, Burford still appeared on over 79 percent of the 49ers' regular-season snaps, a modest-but-noticeable increase over the rough 73 percent from his rookie campaign.

That indicates the Niners aren't relegating Burford to a mere backup role but are hoping he can step into a larger one after two years of acclimation.

Plus, Burford should be given every chance to succeed. Feliciano, who has mulled over retirement, is a free agent after this season. Banks is, too, along with reserve lineman Jaylon Moore, meaning Burford almost has to "step up" by default.

All he needs is an opportunity, and he'll receive just that.

What's working against Spencer Burford?

San Francisco, still poised to win a Super Bowl, won't adjust its starting lineup solely based on long-term development. If Feliciano is the better option out of training camp, he'll get the starting job over Burford.

Plus, the 49ers drafted two linemen last April, Kansas' Dominick Puni and USC's Jarrett Kingston, threaten Burford's precarious hold on a potential starting job. While the Niners' draft strategy for O-linemen seems a bit questionable, these two rookies are gunning for a starting gig right away, and Burford seems to be the most likely candidate to drop from the top spot on the depth chart.

Year three is going to be a turning point for Burford, either revealing his ability to finally hold onto a starting job after a somewhat-elongated development path, or it'll be the point where San Francisco realizes it needs to explore other options, thereby relegating Burford to backup duties.

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