49ers rookie review: Nick Zakelj’s building year
The 49ers didn’t utilize offensive lineman Nick Zakelj much during his rookie season. That was likely the plan all along when they drafted him No. 187 overall out of Fordham.
Zaklej spent his college career playing tackle at Fordham. He was primarily on the left side, but he did play on the right side during his freshman campaign. His future with the 49ers is likely somewhere on the interior, which is why his playing time was relatively sparse as a rookie. He played in just five games, and only logged offensive snaps in two of them. When he did play on the offensive side, he was lined up at left guard. The 49ers also worked him out at center during the year and he played both guard spots during the preseason.
The 2022 campaign was Zakelj’s opportunity to make a positional change without being thrown into the fire of live NFL snaps. This season will be a chance for him to step into a larger role, though it’ll likely be as a reserve with starting guards Aaron Banks and Spencer Burford returning.
Zakelj may need to make the permanent move to center if he’s going to carve out a starting role on the 49ers’ offensive line. Even though there could be an opening at right tackle, the team didn’t seem inclined on playing him at his more natural spot. Center is the only spot going into the offseason that could conceivably see a new starter, though it’s hard to see the 49ers letting C Jake Brendel walk in free agency with no sure option behind him.
The goal for Zakelj should just be to climb up the depth chart this offseason. It’d be a nice step for him if he can join the active game day roster every week in 2023 and get some special teams time while working in as the team’s top reserve lineman on the interior.
Reordering priority of 49ers offseason needs
49ers already preparing for life without Robbie Gould
Report: Robbie Gould won’t return to 49ers next season