Nine brand new members of the San Francisco 49ers via the 2022 NFL Draft – and only one can earn the title of “Surprise Gem” from the rookie class.
This new group of first-year players has their own strengths — from overwhelming defenders to blasting top defenses to demonstrating positional versatility to the most important part, filling a need from the 49ers.
Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton dived into who he predicts will become the lone “Surprise Gem” of each team from each franchise’s rookie division on Monday, May 30th. However, Wharton’s selection for the 49ers was not one of their top three picks. Rather, it’s a perspective he believes “fits perfectly” with what head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to do.
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Wharton’s pick: The 29th pick from the fourth round of Spencer Burford’s draft.
The 6-foot-4, 304-pounder was praised by nfl.com’s Lance Zierlein for his long arms, footspeed and ability to position himself in multiple spots on offense during his stint between Texas and San Antonio.
As for the versatility aspect, Wharton believes that trait will give Burford the upper hand in this critical area for the 49ers next season: He replaces Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson.
“It’s not uncommon for offensive tackles to transition to inside line positions in the NFL. Tackle position has specific arm length standards that disqualify most collegiate starters. Former UTSA star Spencer Burford crossed the preferred arm length threshold at 34.375 inches, but the 6’5″, 300-pounder is ripe for a move to guard for the San Francisco 49ers,” Wharton wrote.
Currently, Aaron Banks was in the early mix to fill Tomlinson’s vacated spot. The 2021 sophomore and a Bay Area native (played his high school soccer at nearby El Cerrito High) also played some tackles in the past. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster told The Athletic’s Matt Barrows on Friday, May 27 that he’s optimistic about Banks’ potential to take over the starting spot left by the New York Jets’ newest guard – and added that Banks revised his 330-pound frame to prepare for the role.
However, Barrows credited Burford as one of the top five rookies with the best chances to start this fall and play for the 49ers, which is mentioned in this Heavy on 49ers story. Wharton also believes Burford shouldn’t be left out either.
Though Burford spent most of his snaps on tackle and with an amazing wingspan that measured 82 inches at the combine, tackle may not be immediately in Burford’s future for the 49ers.
“With the 49ers already possessing star veteran tackles in Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey, moving Burford inside to cover the loss of Laken Tomlinson makes sense,” Wharton wrote. “The fourth-round pick had above-average relative athletic results that project even better into the role of an interior designer. Guards who can explode from the snap with quality lower-body power are doing well in the NFL, and Burford has eliminated every barrier that could raise a red flag.
Lastly, Wharton addressed why Burford’s fit makes him the “surprise gem” for this 49er rookie class.
“Kyle Shanahan’s zone-based offense requires athleticism and a certain amount of malice to succeed. Burford fits in perfectly with his plan and will immediately challenge to start at the guard,” he wrote. “The former UTSA bulldozer is competitive and seems to enjoy ending plays with emphatic strength.”