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Spencer Burford
NFL

Spencer Burford: A Potential Impact Rookie You Need To Know

  • Justin Melo
  • August 10, 2022
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San Francisco 49ers rookie guard Spencer Burford has taken every first-team rep at right guard throughout the offseason, according to reports. The job is Burford’s to lose, and no viable competition has revealed itself throughout the 49ers’ first 11 practices. Burford appears on track to start at right guard against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Burford is a mid-round rookie on a postseason contender you should be paying attention to.

The No. 134 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Burford is replacing Daniel Brunskill at right guard, who has moved to center on a full-time basis in a position battle alongside veteran Jake Brendel to replace the retired Alex Mack. Brunskill struggled mightily at right guard last season, and a move back to guard doesn’t appear to be in the cards. 

Moving away from Brunskill at guard was partially motivated by a hopeful improvement in pass protection. Brunskill was credited with giving up five sacks last season, via Pro Football Focus. Burford’s 34 3/4-inch arms, a length that ranks in the 94th percentile of NFL offensive linemen, should help stifle opposing pass rushers. Brunskill is a versatile offensive lineman that’s played his best snaps at center previously. Knowing that Brunskill isn’t being considered at right guard provides Burford with a rare sense of comfortability for a fourth-round rookie.

It also means the entire interior of San Francisco’s offensive line has been reworked. Last year’s starting left guard was Laken Tomlinson, who signed a lucrative contract with the New York Jets in free agency. Second-year player Aaron Banks is the favorite to replace Tomlinson. A Notre Dame alumni, Banks played a grand total of five offensive snaps last season. The youth movement inside adds additional pressure to Burford’s first-year performance.

Burford entered his first professional training camp with certain benefits in his favor. At UTSA, Burford helped operate an offense that featured an abundance of outside-zone running plays. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan runs an extremely similar system. For Burford, it’s more about fine-tuning his skill set and familiarizing himself with Shanahan’s version of an offense he already has a baseline understanding for. It’s partially why general manager John Lynch identified Burford as an ideal fit for the 49ers, and it’s helped him hit the ground running.

The process for Burford has also included readapting to his most sensible positional fit. Burford played two years at guard at UTSA before shifting over to left tackle for his final two seasons. It’s not rare for a smaller program like UTSA to ask their best offensive linemen to play the ever-important tackle position, even though Burford always seemed likely to kick back inside at the next level. 

On tape, Burford’s aggressive mentality and sheer power in run blocking assignments leaned favorably inside. Burford’s current stranglehold on the right guard job indicates he’s made a seamless transition back to guard. The 49ers should be thrilled with that development because it wasn’t a guarantee given Burford hadn’t played guard since 2019.

The 49ers are entering a critical season. They’re expected to compete alongside the Super Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West division title despite it being a transitional period for Shanahan’s squad. They’ve handed the reins over to sophomore quarterback Trey Lance, who is replacing Jimmy Garoppolo. Lance’s success or failure will heavily depend on the performances of the supporting cast that surrounds him. That includes every non-QB position on the offense. Burford will play a big role in the outcome. 

His first official in-game test occurs Friday in San Francisco’s preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. We’ll be monitoring his progress closely.